7 Reasons for Unanswered Prayer
Prayer can be powerful. As Spurgeon said, it can be “the slender nerve that moves the muscle of omnipotence.” But prayer can also be impotent and not get past your ceiling! We need to know the difference between the two because there will be times when we have to wait. In that waiting time, how do you we know if we are actually waiting for God’s working to become manifest, or we are just wasting time because God is not going to answer that prayer?
Jay Adams is the father of the modern Biblical counseling movement. In his book,(comma) A Theology of Christian Counseling, Adams states that one of the most common answers people give when asked what they have done about a problem they are dealing with is “pray.” When people then add, “and nothing happened,” Adams puts forth 7 Biblical reasons why God does not go to work in such praying. It is a helpful list that defines the types of praying that we can be sure will bounce off iron skies. God will not “hear” these types of prayer, meaning God will leave them unheeded because in some way there is a bigger issue of sin that is undermining the whole affair. God wants to deal with sin, not answer prayers that rise up out of sinful cauldrons. See if any of these 7 reasons are tripping up your praying.
1. God doesn’t hear hypocritical praying
Sometimes people will have no intention whatsoever to stop a particular sinful action. This is like the person who goes on a diet but keeps their donut stash right where it is. God is not going to go to work for a person who keeps lying in his bed of sin. If there is a hidden sin that is being cherished, you can be sure that God’s power will be withheld. All that this person should expect is God’s fatherly discipline.
2. God doesn’t hear unbelieving prayer
The book of James states this plainly. “The one who doubts…that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord” James 1:6-7. Faith is the central element of the Christian life, so much so the Bible says we live by faith. What does it mean if we begin to call into the question the character and power of God, the two most certain realities of the universe? It means we have a massive problem that will affect every other aspect of life. The only thing we need to pray for in these times is to have our minds renewed to a true apprehension of who God is.
3. God doesn’t hear resentful prayer
God is serious that we pursue the second great command to love your neighbor as yourself. One of the key ways this happens is through your forgiveness. If you hold resentment against someone, you have forgotten how much God has forgiven you. Because of that, “Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone…” Mark 11:25. While the other person may still need to repent so that an official two-way transaction of forgiveness and reconciliation can happen, the call of this verse is to have forgiveness ready and in place in your heart to offer at any moment to that person. Bitterness, resentment, and anger must not be abiding in you. If this is not in place, God is not going to mess with the hangnail of some situation until the cancer of unforgiving resentment is cut out.
4. God doesn’t hear pharisaical prayer
Adams writes that there were two features that dominated the praying of Pharisees. First, it was praying to impress other people, and secondly, it was in reality praying to himself to tickle his ears with his own virtues. Perhaps the more mundane version of this kind of praying is just praying as duty. You are supposed to pray, so you pray. Job done. If someone asks you about prayer you can show them your spiritual checklist. If your own conscience convicts you of coldness, you can tell yourself that you pray. But God is not interested in prayer, he is interested in you. He wants your heart, and that poured out before him. This is a relationship, not a checklist of duties to finish.
5. God doesn’t hear self-centered prayer
Jesus calls us to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. Therefore, James tells us “You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.” James 4:3. Just as you don’t want to throw gas on a fire, God does not want to answer prayers of the self-centered because praying like that is the opposite of what is good for you. You don’t exist for yourself, therefore God wants to free you from such shackles, not make them thicker. When this is understood, and the heart of our praying is “thy will be done,” the Christian can rejoice when God answers opposite of our desires knowing His great love and wisdom are nonetheless at work.
6. God doesn’t hear unbiblical prayer
God truly has spoken about a plethora of issues in his Word. We can know God’s heart and God’s desire about so many things. Therefore, to pray off the top of your head and make random guesses about what should be prayed for is a waste time. Perhaps we should spend more time praying for insight into God’s word so that our praying for all other things hit the center of the target of God’s will. God knows we are dust and our understanding of Him, His will and His Word is frail and limited, but if we only toy around with his Word, our prayer will reflect our disinterest in really seeing God work.
7. God doesn’t hear self-addressed prayer
We pray in Jesus’ name. This must not be only a closing statement for your prayer, it must shape prayer from beginning to end. The name of Jesus is his character, his glory, his commitments, his actions and more. The name of Jesus is all that he is, and our prayers must accord with him. What shapes your prayers? Is it the pressing need of the moment? Is it those who are listening to you pray? What would prayer sound like if you were trembling before the throne of His blazing glory as He makes his enemies his footstool? Pray like that. Pray as though Jesus is the Lord of lords, his glory is the greatest good, the cross is the only hope, and all you want to see is him magnified.
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