Prayer Problems: When God Refuses to Answer

It’s like talking to a wall.

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There are times (for the honest among us) when prayer seems empty, like God is not listening.

Prayer is so important to the working of God in human affairs, that he has left us with the simple promise: “pray and it will be done for you”.  So why is it at times that our efforts at talking to God seem like echoes off granite walls? It might come as a shock, but perhaps that is because prayer can become just that—wasted breath.

Although few want to hear what God has to say about this subject, it is nevertheless addressed repeatedly throughout the Bible, and is worth considering for those interested in hearing back from God when they pray.

If your prayers, or those within your church, seem little more effective than random chance, you might want to consider whether or not God might have something to say to you first.

The first point should be obvious. You must profess faith in Jesus as Lord of your life before you should expect his promise to answer your prayers to come true. As the Bible describes some of those who attend church, “many live as enemies of the cross”, and therefore should not think that their prayers will amount to anything more than a humidifier. As a curious thought, it might be a garlic humidifier if that person had Italian food for dinner.

One of the strongest cautions in Scripture comes from the Apostle Peter and is directed specifically to husbands, although the point is equally valid to both parties. How a man treats his wife will directly impact the effectiveness of his prayers. If he is inconsiderate, shows little respect or gentleness for her weaker condition, or disregards her as a partner in life, it could “hinder your prayers”. Sadly, many church-members slog through life with dysfunctional marriages without realizing that their prayers are held captive by their sin. As Paul pointed out, this same caution holds true for how each of us, male or female, treats the “Bride of Christ”. Those who reject the Bride in favor of worshiping God on their own, might want to change their tune if they want their prayers to ever be heard again.

Perhaps the questions is, Why should God listen to us, when we won’t demonstrate listening to him first by how we apply his words to our circumstances and relationships?

Many prayers are little more than hedging-our-bets. Many have almost become numb to the silence, but don’t want to lose out on the off chance of things working out, so they pray. In response, God says he will not answer because “they do not cry out to me from their hearts but wail on their beds”. Prayer must be a passionate expression from our deepest parts, a cry of our hearts, not some casual hope-I-win-the-lottery request. That doesn’t mean we have to squirt tears or flail about to get his attention, it just means he wants us to be serious, to have considered well how our desire may or may not fit with what he has already revealed in his word, to have measured our lives in obedience before we plead our case. We are talking about the Almighty God here, not some random vending machine.

Praying according to God’s will is essential to hearing anything in return.

The double-minded “should not think he will receive anything from the Lord”. That would include those who doubt, as well as those who try to live for the world while living for Jesus. A split focus would also include those who worship material self-interests like “Mammon” along with God (something “Christians” might attempt to double up on). Those who are caught up in living the good life, entertaining themselves from one thrill to the next, shouldn’t bother with prayer—it would just be a waste of breath.

In spite of what is often touted by global evangelism efforts, Jeremiah, Jesus, and John all record God’s restriction on random prayers for others. Three times in Scripture, the statement is made that God will not answer prayers about those he does not intend to bless. The point is that we must always seek the Spirits direction on who to pray for. Assuming that we should pray for everyone violates the word of God and those who persist in it, shouldn’t expect God to answer their other prayers while they continue in their rebellion. Think before you leap, even in prayer.

Jesus taught that some “expect to be heard” when they babble on with repeated phrases in prayer. In contrast, he called his faithful to ‘’not be like that”. Although he encouraged us to be like the persistent widow in our prayers, he draws a line when it comes to excessive chanting or magical incantations. Like superstitious pagans, some “Christians” have become deceived with the notion that God can’t resist responding to certain phrases. Babblers should expect to hear only their echo in reply to their prayers.

Those within the church who take the Lord into their life in an “unworthy manner”, should not only expect to have problems in their prayer life, but to suffer with weakness, sicknesses, and even premature death. Prayers are especially hindered when dead. The prescription: “if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment”. In other words make an assessment of your walk as a Christian, make appropriate adjustments, and THEN expect God to answer your prayers.

The problem is that under certain circumstances God has “covered [himself] with a cloud so that no prayer can get through”.

Perhaps the most widely proven restriction in Scripture is that of rebellion. Those who harbor closet sins that no one else knows about, should expect silence in response to their prayers. Those who excuse gluttony, greed, gossip, or other cultural “white-sins”  that don’t seem as sinister as the black ones, should enjoy their own voices, because that is likely to be all they will ever hear of their prayers. And churches who collectively disobey the word of God by ordaining ministers contrary to God’s instructions, or who refuse to deal with member conflict according to biblical guidelines, or who insist on promoting Judaic laws like tithing, should expect frustration and even rejection to their pleadings.

Those who repent of the above should make their requests in the morning and eagerly await God’s blessed answer.

Where can you improve the strength of your Prayer connection?

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About grahamAlive

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4 Responses to Prayer Problems: When God Refuses to Answer

  1. Richard Elfers says:

    Kevin, Interesting take on prayers. I laughed out loud when you noted that being dead hinders your prayers! Indeed.

    To not tick women off, I think I’d use the words delicate or fragile rather than “weaker” (vessel). It’s probably a clearer meaning without being demeaning to women.

    I also see in Luke 10:11-14 Christ tells us that he will give us whatever we ask–by giving us the Holy Spirit. Our answer may not be what we ask for, but the ability through the Holy Spirit either to cope with what we don’t have, or to find a way to deal with the problem ourselves.

    I’m also sending you my September *Messenger* article (church newsletter) as a partial response to your blog–the flip side of the “you’re probably sinning” approach to unanswered prayer.

    Thoughtfully in Christ, Rich

    • grahamAlive says:

      Thanks again for your input.

      Yes, I recognize that “weaker” can imply something offensive toward the fairer sex, but I’m not sure that changing it to something like “fragile” fits as well with how the Bible uses it in context. I would agree with the likely abuse of the term as a put down, which in Scripture it is not, but with regard to husband/wife and even male/female relations “weaker” appears to be a reference that ties all the way back to the garden of Eden (see 1 Tim 2:14 and 2 Tim 3:6 as a few of several examples in how the Bible interprets itself). With regard to sin, we all are equally broken, but this word is referencing an awareness-of-vulnerability distinction. I know it is awkward, but even if some readers take exception with it, it is the translation used in numerous English versions of the Bible, and it does appear to imply a recognition of vulnerability toward sin that is not the same in the other half of humanity. Thanks for bringing it up, however. Perhaps this further explanation might help people consider more carefully what God actually wants us to “hear” in that word.

      I look forward to reading your article for its own sake, but this post was not written to teach on all the reasons our prayers may not get the answer we want or be delayed. It was limited to that narrow slice of truth that is repeated from Genesis through Revelation on God refusing to either hear or answer certain prayers at all. It is not a subject anyone is likely to ever hear preached in Church, but it is nevertheless the breath of God. Some reasons do involve personal sins, but others have to do with seeking God’s will rather than our own, and other reasons have to do with the necessity for obedience (in good things) before expecting His response.

      If, as you say, “you’re probably sinning”, then yes, repent (see Pro 1:28-33). If someone else is sinning, then it shows spiritual maturity to restrain our desire to pray according to what Scripture teaches (see 1 Jn 5:16). In the absence of known sins, if a divine answer appears to be restrained, it might also be worth checking our own “hold to my teachings” application, which for the more mature in Christ shouldn’t be about sin but about growing in our application of his nature (see 2 Pet 1:5-8 or Isa 58:6-9).

      I try not to write book-length posts, but it does mean that some of the supporting evidence on difficult topics is somewhat hidden between the lines, I guess. Thanks for helping me to improve the focus of His light.

  2. Dena Rootes says:

    Forgive me for focusing on just one point, but I would like to suggest a thought for consideration. Women are indeed “the weaker sex” physically. Years ago I read the results of some (scientific) research that found that the average man is four times stronger physically than the average woman. When that is the focus that is used, it helps define the husband/wife relationship wherein the man is supposed to protect and help his wife. Anyway, seems to me at least one major clarification. And if God tells me that I am “weaker,” why would I be offended? Christ said that in His Kingdom, there is neither male nor female. And, as an afterthought, Eve was deceived by Satan — which is where much of the blame should lie. However, both Adam and Eve were shown the two trees — (1) tree of life (obedience to God), and (2) tree of the knowledge of good and evil (man doing what seems right to him) — a choice each and every one of us makes in our lifetime. Anyway, thankfully, God is in charge, and He will do whatever He pleases to bring His children to success. Thank you for listening.

    • grahamAlive says:

      Yes, Dena, the average male is structurally different than the average female, and it may well be, in support of what you suggest, that God was intending multiple references in this passage with regard to putting husbands on notice to treat their wives differently than the average male. However, if it were primarily about physical structure, then the command portion of the phrase “treat them with respect” carries little meaning, because it would imply a need for men to form a deeper reverence for smaller muscles. And, in that case, “respect” would be better replaced with “treat gently”, which is not what it says. In context, Peter just finished a list of admonitions toward the wives that clearly emphasizes non-physical attributes, even to the point of instructing women to turn away from such outward concentrations. He has not likely shifted focus to physical (or even emotional) issues (but yes it is possible to include those as well).

      The imperative to “treat them with respect” is framed on the other side of the “weaker” attribute so that the respect is to be developed with an eye toward the wives “equality” as an “heir with you of the gracious gift of life”. That suggests that Peter had in mind an instruction toward husbands to be careful to not view their standing before God as something “more deserving” or “better positioned” or “stronger with regard to entering eternity”. I’ll suggest below why some men may have developed that kind of a view toward their wives by the time Peter was writing.

      Again, I would encourage you to add to your observations here, what the Bible says about the differences between men and women, like those listed in 1 Tim 2:14 and repeated in 1 Cor 14. Peter comments in his letter about the “hard” teachings of Paul, which he was obviously familiar with. I’d suggest that Peter was aware of Paul’s inflammatory (to some) teaching on why women should keep silent in church. He may also have read Paul’s comments on why women are not made in the image of God like men have been made (1 Cor 11).

      With those statements in mind, I’d recommend that Peter was cautioning men to not take such difficult statements as if they were “better” than their wives in terms of the Kingdom. Rather than a demeaning word, as some take it, Peter appears to be reminding men to uphold their deep respect for women/wives who he seems to believe are just as worthy as men to bear the Light of God. To view women as anything less would be to undermine the man’s own standing with God by hindering his prayers.

      In other words, this whole issue appears to be point in the favor of women, of which men need to be reminded.

      Thanks for your interest Dena in God’s word and your willingness to hold us all to it.

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