Unanswered Prayers

God tells us to pray continuously about all our concerns, but he grants only those petitions that align with his will.

Since we cannot fully comprehend God’s will from our earthly viewpoint, we often ask him for things that are outside the scope of his intentions.

Unanswered prayers raise doubts about God’s trustworthiness.

So, why does he tell us to pray about everything when he knows that many of our petitions will seemingly go unanswered and thereby diminish our trust in him?

Primary Purpose

God does not encourage us to pray so he can stay informed of our latest wishes. He already knows our desires before we disclose them.

God tells us to pray because prayer is integral to our communion with him. It positions us to experience true contentment.

Prayer turns our attention from ourselves to God. It represents an opportunity to worship him humbly, align with him morally, convey gratitude for his blessings, and express faith in his goodness.

The model prayer that Jesus gave us—The Lord’s Prayer—indicates that God wants us to incorporate these themes into our prayers whenever we can, but especially amid affliction.

Expressing these thoughts to God, even when we are submitting requests or lodging complaints, conditions our heart to commune with him and experience true contentment.

God tells us to pray about everything because he considers the true contentment we derive through communion with him to be more important than the distrust that may arise in the wake of unanswered prayers.

Volitional Freedom

What should we conclude about God when he seemingly disregards petitions that we know coincide with his will?

For example:

  • We know God wants everyone to be reborn spiritually, so we pray that a friend will comply with his salvation plan. Instead, they die as an unbeliever.
  • We know God condemns hate, so we ask him to protect the weak from the bigotry of the strong. Instead, their oppression continues.
  • We know God detests rank hypocrisy, so we pray that his public advocates will forsake their sinfulness and live righteously. Instead, their duplicity persists.

Unanswered prayers like these do not signify that God is aloof, powerless, malevolent, or non-existent.

Instead, they evidence his utmost respect for the moral autonomy of the will.

God so esteems the volitional freedom of those we lift up in prayer that he willingly subordinates his preferences and our desires to their moral choices.

He gives them opportunities to refrain from unrighteousness. He prompts them to choose virtue over vice. But in the end, he defers to their will.

God likewise respects our will when we make moral choices that conflict with his preferences and deviate from the desires of those who pray for us.

Personal Circumstances

So, does God ever change our personal circumstances in response to prayer? Or does he only use prayer to change us?

God does indeed improve individual situations in response to prayer. Perhaps, not as often as we would like. Or in the way we want. Or as quickly as we prefer.

But if we could see everything he was doing in the lives of reborn believers worldwide, we would realize that he frequently makes life better, providently and miraculously, in answer to prayer.

Amid affliction, we should ask God to change our circumstances and us. He responds to both requests as he deems best.

But here is the caveat.

God’s best encompasses more than the immediate goodness of our current situation. It also includes our understanding of his excellence and the effectiveness of our ministerial influence.

God utilizes our suffering to produce redemptive goodness in us as we walk in harmony with him. He uses our response to suffering to produce the same goodness in the lives of those within our orbit.

God may allow our distress to continue after this redemptive goodness blossoms in our lives because it has yet to germinate in theirs.

He may let our misery persist, despite our pleas for relief, because he is still using it to produce redemptive goodness in others through our example.

Walk By Faith

We will understand the rationale behind God’s responses to all our prayers, including the seemingly unanswered ones, once we settle into heaven. We will agree with his logic.

Until then, we reconcile the disparity between our requests and God’s replies by faith.

We believe God is truly good and benevolent—even though we may not feel this way—because we choose to base our judgment on what he was revealed about himself through nature and in the Bible, rather than on what we might infer about him from his seeming indifference to our desires.

We walk in harmony with God through the aftermath of unanswered prayer because we presume he is executing a plan that is superior to ours.

We trust that God will help us endure the resulting distress and produce goodness from it, until he brings about his intended conclusion.

God Cherishes Faith

God delights in the warm sentiments we express about his excellence during good times, but he cherishes the faith in him we exhibit in the wake of unanswered prayer.

Related Questions

What Can We Expect From God?  If we cannot count on God to always answer our prayers as we wish, what can we rightfully expect from him? Read more here.

Why Does God Let Us Suffer So Much?  If he truly loves us, why does he not use his power and authority to make life easier for reborn believers. Read more here.

How Should We Pray?  Jesus gave us the template for prayers amid affliction. It is commonly called The Lord’s Prayer. It is not reserved for liturgical church services.