Why are prayers not answered? Psalm 22, March 27th 2022

Why are prayers not answered? Psalm 22, March 27th 2022

Unanswered Prayer 3

2 Cor 1:3-11; Psalm 22; Luke 2:25-35

Unanswered Prayer 3 – Why are prayers not answered.  

‘My God my God why have you forsaken me.’ Jesus honestly brings his prayer to his Father in heaven.

Jesus shows, as David had prayed centuries before when we wrote Psalm 22, we can ask God why?

Today and next week we are going to explore why aren’t our prayers answered.  We will explore a number of possible reasons. We will focus on: God’s world – the way it seems to work; God’s will and how it interacts with our free will; God’s war – spiritual warfare…

1.Common Sense:

Some prayers are not answered because they are not sensible.

Proverbs 20:4 ‘Those who lazy to plough in the right season, will have no food at the harvest.’’ It suggests the farmer who does nothing in his fields, and then prays for crops, will not be answered; the student who does not study for an exam and then prays for good grades may not be answered.

However. Some situations we face, the sensible thing, is not to pray – logically what can happen? But, our God is the God of the impossible. Surely we invite the Lord to act in situations when, sense says there is no chance of change.  We are invited to cast all our cares on the Lord, as 1 Peter 5 reminds us.

But. Some prayers are not answered because they are not sensible…


Some prayers are not answered because they contradict other prayers.

There are over 3 billion Christians. That means millions of prayers are rising simultaneously to God, with  logically, 1000s of prayers contradicting each other.

There is disagreement between many Western Christians and how the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church view the war in Ukraine. Both churches pray to our heavenly father.

Abraham Lincoln said before a battle in the American Civil War – a war where there were Christian soldiers and generals on both sides – that ‘both sides pray to the same God, but God cannot answer both sets of prayers.’ 

Also. We think of other, lighter topics. Praying for parking spaces. Or in the past few years, you have the bride and groom praying for sunshine on their wedding day, while farmers look at their land or crops and pray for rain… Does God intervene in such occasions? Does he mostly leave the weather systems operating as they are?

Well if God has a light touch on such events, why pray?

Well a) we are encouraged to bring whatever troubles us to the Lord (Phil 4). I have prayed for the weather – at one of our outdoor services last year, when the predictions was not good, I was asking God that it would be fine – I was concerned.

b) God may act to answer one of our tiny prayers – in a supernatural way – because he knows it has major implications for us. So eg the car park space prayer. Two drivers praying for a space. One is arriving for job interview; the other man is about to have a heart attack, on the way to a regular appointment. As Pete Greig says: ‘’In such situations I have no problem believing that God might intervene and answer the prayer of the second man, because this trivial prayer, unknown to him, is not trivial at all.’’

Some prayers are not answered because they contradict other prayers.

3.Complexity of Creation – the Laws of Nature

Some prayers are not answered because they would be detrimental to the world and lives of others.

God has created laws of nature.

Today there are many storms, hurricanes, typhoons. And many will pray about those.

Now, most of those prayers will not be answered, due to an important reason. Storms help the balance of the climate. If there were no storms, the tropics would get hotter, which would lead to increasing desertification,  the Arctic would get colder, Crucial winds would die down, lightning would remain trapped in clouds making air travel dangerous.  That would be some of the hard consequences if every prayer against every storm was answered. Can God control weather systems – yes, of course – drought fell on Arab and the kingdom of Israel, rain fell on Noah, and the winds dropped and all was calm in Galillee.

But if every prayer to banish every storm was answered, it would affect the balance of creation for millions. So you could say, that with the laws he has created, God at times – maybe often – says no to many prayers for the sake of the majority of people.  

Some prayers are not answered because they would be detrimental to the world and lives of others.

4.Life is Tough

Some prayers are not answered because a decaying creation means life at times will be hard.

Jesus when teaching about trust, says : therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow can worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.’

 Life can bring trouble, Jesus followers are not immune from it, it is their attitude which will matter. We pray for the perfect marriage – when we know all marriages have conflict – we pray for perfect kids who will fit in with our every wish hope and requirement, well we know that ain’t true – we pray for jobs to go smoothly etc. Now these are all important things to pray for, but we know, there are times it does not go as we hoped.

Greig asks us: ‘Perhaps we should accept what older people and poorer people and many of those with disabilities already know; things are probably going to be very difficult today and just as hard tomorrow. Maybe be adjusting our expectations we can reduce the sense of disappointment, isolation, and unfairness riding on the back of unanswered prayer.’

I remember I traveled to Ukraine when I served with OM. There were problems trying to get my visa. So a couple of days later I tried again. Now I could have focused my praying on ‘Lord let’s get this fast, like in a Dutch or UK embassy’. Nope. It was pretty disorganized and not very efficient – but my focus my prayer – Lord I need to get it today – no matter how long it takes I will be here waiting.

CS Lewis says: ‘Lay down this book and reflect on the fact that all the great religions were first preached and long practiced in a world without chloroform.’’

In the West we perhaps can be influenced by how good our lives have become, which can influence our attitude to our prayers – we expect lives to go well – and so any inconvenience disrupts us.

  Some prayers are not answered because a decaying creation means life at times will be hard.

5. Faith and the Fall

Some prayers are not answered the way we think they should be, because we are in a fallen world, we live in the here and the not yet.

Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego are before Nebuchadnezzar.

 The final opportunity to worship the gold statue.

16 Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, ‘King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. 17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us[c] from Your Majesty’s hand. 18 But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.’

This is faith.

On one hand.  Our God is able to save and deliver. He ‘will’ deliver us from your Majesty’s hand. So he is able to do it, and he is willing.

After these amazing words, they then say ‘but even if he does not, we will not serve you gods.’

They have faith for a miracles. They also have a deep faith – that refuses to be shaken if God does not do what they would like, they will not be shaken by unanswered prayer…

What scripture points to – summed up in the words to Mary by Simeon in Luke 2 – that a sword will pierce your own soul. Her pain for taking on God’s call.  Paul and Timothy tell the church, that their hardships were so harsh they ‘despaired even of life’.  Jesus at the last supper: ‘’I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble, but take heart I have overcome the world.’’

We live in the space between the Fall and the Redemption. We acknowledge suffering = like Mary, Paul, Timothy and Shadrach Meshach and Abednego.  ‘’Like these three men, we trust that the God we are able to serve is able to save us. We insist on the possibility of miracles.’’ Paul goes on to say, that God has delivered them in response to the prayers of the church. 

We insist on the possibility of God intervening.

But to this faith we add faithfulness , so that if our brave words and prayers fall flat, if our prayers are not answered as we wanted, and we feel we have fallen into the fire of suffering, we will still trust God.

Margaret Lee was a lady diagnosed with throat cancer.  When people would visit she responded with a note:

‘’This is not the worst thing to ever happen. Cancer is so limited. It cannot cripple love, shatter hope, corrode faith, eat away peace, destroy confidence, kill friendship, shut out memories, silence courage, quench the Spirit or lessen the power of Jesus.’’ Greig p.140.

God hates suffering.  Revelation anticipates a time when the dwelling place of God will be with us and there will be no more death mourning or pain, for ‘the old order of things has passed away.’

But until that day, we live in the gap. The kingdom has broken in. We are in the kingdom now. But the kingdom is here and not yet; it is still fully to come. It means sadly sometimes we get sick, our expenses may greatly increase due to war, our homes may be flooded etc.

But yes, at times God acts. A miracle breaks in. The storm calms.  The Blind man sees. The fishing line comes with hooks! And when it happens we are given a foretaste of the new creation, the kingdom to come…

Some prayers are not answered the way we think they should be, because our understanding and expectations of God are misguided.

We move onto God’s Will.

6.God’s Best

Some prayers are not answered because God has got something even better for us.

Pete Greig: ‘’Sometimes we have to admit that God really does know the best for our lives. … How tragic it would be if our destiny were limited to the projections of human logic and the meager possibilities created by our own temporal imagination.’’ Greig p.148-149.

In Acts 16, Paul, Silas and Timothy are on the second missionary journey. We can only assume Paul had prayed over the direction of the work. But they thought they were to go to province of Asia, and the Holy Spirit kept them from preaching. And they tried then to go to Mysia and the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. They ended up in Troas. Waiting for God’s plan. Paul’s best – and a very good set of ideas – was to preach in unreached areas of Turkey.

God’s best was for Paul to go to Europe…

I have shared a few times about my journey to be ordained. But when that first thought landed about serving God full time, it was in summer 1995 and over the coming almost 10 months, my focus, my praying was on becoming a Christian student worker with what we know here as IFES. I was turned down for that post. And then a few days later, God spoke, which pointed me to Operation Mobilization.  I cannot imagine how my life would have been with IFES. But I am so thankful that I did work with OM, in Hungary. 

My best was IFES. God’s best was OM,

 the friends I was blessed with and the way that work shaped me into who I am today.

PT Forsyth: We shall come one day to a heaven where we shall gratefully know that God’s great refusals were sometimes the true answers to our truest prayers.’’

Some prayers are not answered because God has go something even better for us.


Some prayers are not answered because they are in fact, selfishly motivated.

There is a book called ‘Mountain Rain’ which was about James Fraser and his work among the Lisu people in SW China.  After 5 years could not understand why his prayers were not being answered.  None became believers. 

He wrote ‘’Unanswered prayer has taught me to seek the Lord’s will instead of mine own.’’ Fraser realized that his priorities, which seemed right, were subtly wrong.

When our prayers over a period of time fail to bring breakthrough, we may need to ask, like Fraser, if we are really pursuing the Lord’s will in the Lord’s way or merely our own ambition?

Fraser reoriented his prayers. He did not presume any longer to know God’s will and way in every situation. So he took time to ask God how he should pray. Slowly he saw fruit with converts and then after 8 years of hard work, many of the Lisu became Christians.

The content of his prayers had not changed. But his heart behind his prayers had changed. He discovered that in prayer, ‘’its always more important why we pray than how we pray and what we say.’’

John says in 1 John 5:14-15.

14 This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us – whatever we ask – we know that we have what we asked of him.

When we pray according to his will, he hears and acts.  This is where our personal walk with the Lord is key – we get to know God, we discover what his will is, his desires. This then powerfully unlocks our ability to pray in his name – whether about huge issues or day to day challenges. 

Some prayers are not answered because they are in fact, selfishly motivated.


Two areas why our prayers are unanswered. God’s world and God’s will. Reasons why our prayers are not answered can be: 

Some prayers are not sensible


Complexity of Creation

Life is Tough

We live in the here and the not yet

God’s Best for my life.

Wrongful Motives

Shall we pray.

‘Today, O Lord, I yield myself to You.

May Your will be my delight today.

May You have perfect sway in me.

May Your love be the pattern of my living.

I surrender to You my hopes, my dreams, my ambitions.

Do with them what You will, when You will, as You will.

I place into Your loving care my family, my friends, my future.

Care for them with a care that I can never give.

I release into Your hands my need to control, my craving for status, my fear of obscurity.

 Eradicate the evil, purify the good, and establish Your kingdom on earth.

For Jesus’ sake, Amen’.