Disappointment with God Part 4
When Prayer Goes Unanswered
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
February 9, 2003

Back when I was a student at Bethany Bible College in Sussex, NB, I lived in one of the dormitories. They’ve since renovated the dorm, but when I was there we had two pay phones in the dorm… one on the second floor, and one on the third. The one on the third floor worked fine, but the one on the second floor had a problem. It only worked one way. I could talk to someone on that phone and the person on the other end could hear me, but I couldn’t hear them. So we all kind of got in the habit of answering the phone whenever it would ring, and without being able to hear the person on the other end we would give them the phone number for the other payphone on the third floor and tell them to call it.

Sometimes when we pray, it feels like we’re using that phone. We’re saying words and assuming that they’re getting through, but it doesn’t seem like God is answering us. Or at least we can’t hear Him.

• I can remember praying for a young girl with leukemia to recover and she died.
• I’ve prayed for couples who were having tough times to stay together and they got a divorce.
• I’ve prayed for people to respond to a message and accept Christ and they didn’t.
• I’ve prayed for the Toronto Maple Leafs to win and they lost.

Why doesn’t God answer all our prayers? And when he doesn’t what should our response be? Good questions. This morning we’re going to explore these questions a bit. You can use your notes provided in the Sunrise Update to follow along with the message.

When our prayer goes unanswered, what should we do?


When Prayer Goes Unanswered…


1. Examine Yourself

Sometimes our prayers aren’t answered because there’s something wrong with us. You need to ask yourself some questions. Let me give you five of them:

• Is there sin in my life?

This is not always the reason for unanswered prayer, but the Bible’s quite clear that unconfessed sin can become a hindrance to God hearing our prayers.

Isaiah 59:1-3 (NLT)
Listen! The LORD is not too weak to save you, and he is not becoming deaf. He can hear you when you call. But there is a problem—your sins have cut you off from God. Because of your sin, he has turned away and will not listen anymore. Your hands are the hands of murderers, and your fingers are filthy with sin. Your mouth is full of lies, and your lips are tainted with corruption.

We’re living in a world today that likes to remove anything that casts blame or makes anyone feel uncomfortable. We’re not held responsible for our actions anymore. If we do something wrong or have a problem in our lives, it’s because of our parents or some traumatic event that happened when we were young. Even our view of sin has softened… we now call it a mistake, a lifestyle choice, an option.

But the truth is that while we’ve softened our view of what sin is, God’s view of sin has remained the same. He’s still aware of it, He’s repulsed by it, and He knows just how devastating sin can be in our relationship with Him. It’s a roadblock to our communication with Him. So we need to confess our sins to God, apologize for hurting Him, and allow Him to forgive us and restore us into relationship with Him.

Psalm 66:18 (NLT)
If I had not confessed the sin in my heart, my Lord would not have listened.

“Spirituality is not how little you sin, but how quickly you repent when you do sin.”
~ Tim Elmore

“You don’t have to be perfect for God to hear your prayers, but if you are living in deliberate defiance… if there is a closed closet in your life that you will not allow Christ to enter… that acts as a barrier to prayer.”
~ Bob Russell

What are some sins that can hurt your relationship with God?
Violence (word, thought or action)
Snubbing God
Lust, etc.

• Is this a consequence to something I’ve done?

(2 Samuel 12)

Last week we talked briefly about King David in the Old Testament. We talked about how he’s referred to in the Bible as a man after God’s own heart. But he wasn’t perfect. One spring evening while his troops were off to war, David was having a hard time falling to sleep. So after he tossed and turned for a while, he got up and went up onto the roof of his palace for some fresh air. As he was walking around, he looked over toward some homes and saw a beautiful woman bathing. And he watched her.

He did a bit of research and found out that her name was Bathsheba. she was the wife of Uriah, one of the soldiers in David’s army. Well, Uriah was off to war so he sent for Bathsheba and they had an affair. Come to find out, she got pregnant. David tried to cover it up, and eventually arranged for Uriah to be placed on the front lines of war so he would be killed. David had an affair with a married woman, got her pregnant, and then arranged for her husband to be killed. Then David took Bathsheba as his own wife and they had a son.

After this, God sent the prophet Nathan to David to confront him about what he has done. David confessed, and Nathan told him that God had forgiven him. But there would still be a consequence. The child would become sick and die. David prayed and fasted for days, but the consequence remained, and the child did die.

Galatians 6:7 (NLT)
Don't be misled. Remember that you can't ignore God and get away with it. You will always reap what you sow!

Even if you are forgiven, you may still reap what you sow. There will still be consequences to your actions.

“God requires obedience right up to the very end of life, even on the part of His most faithful servants… Earthly sin always brings earthly consequences.”
~ Bob Russell

• What are my motives?

James 4:2-3 (NLT)
You want what you don't have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous for what others have, and you can't possess it, so you fight and quarrel to take it away from them. And yet the reason you don't have what you want is that you don't ask God for it. And even when you do ask, you don't get it because your whole motive is wrong--you want only what will give you pleasure.

Are you asking out of pride or selfishness or greed? Are you asking just so you get some recognition or praise from others? What are your motives for what you’re asking for?

God is not a vending machine. We don’t put a quarter in, push a few buttons, and get exactly what we want. We don’t say “abracadabra” and magically have our prayers answered. There are no incantations or rituals that guarantee that we get exactly what we want from God.

“The Christian must continually evaluate his prayer life to make certain that his prayers spring out of a desire for God’s glory and not from self-interest.”
~ Vernon Doerksen (Bible Commentator)

What are your motives?

• Do I believe God can answer?

James 1:6 (NLT)
But when you ask him, be sure that you really expect him to answer, for a doubtful mind is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.

Believing doesn’t mean that we are positive God will do exactly what we ask the way that we ask, but it does mean that we trust that He’s capable of doing anything and will give us what is best. But when we pray and don’t believe that God is capable of answering our prayers, we actually place ourselves in a position where we can’t receive an answer. Our doubting says that we don’t trust God, and we actually cut ourselves off from the blessings that He wants to give to us.

I grew up in a family of five: my parents and a brother and sister. And we all had different friends, so we’d all receive different phone calls. Of course, this was before cordless phones became popular. So if the phone rang and my sister answered it while she was upstairs and found out that it was for me, she might go to the top of the stairs and yell downstairs for me to pick up, and then forget to hang up on her end. Or I’d be downstairs and answer the phone and find out that it was for my brother. I might run upstairs and get him, and then forget to go back downstairs to hang up. And eventually we’d wonder why we weren’t getting any more phone calls.

While the phone was off the hook, we weren’t prepared to receive any calls. That’s what doubting does with our prayers. It leaves us unprepared for Him to respond. So when we pray, we need to believe God hears our prayers, is fully capable of answering our prayers, and wants to answer our prayers.

• Do I have a strained relationship?

If you have a grudge against someone and refuse to forgive them, that can be a hindrance to prayer. Or if someone else has a grudge against you that you haven’t tried to take care of, that can hinder your prayers.

Mark 11:24-25 (NLT)
“Listen to me! You can pray for anything, and if you believe, you will have it. But when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins, too.”

Matthew 5:23-24 (NLT)
“So if you are standing before the altar in the Temple, offering a sacrifice to God, and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there beside the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God.”

This may mean that some of you need to visit someone this afternoon. Or maybe you need to make a phone call. Maybe you need to do it right now. If so, my cell phone’s on the back counter. This is one of the occasions when I won’t be offended if you get up and walk out on me. Our relationships with others play a huge role in our relationship with God, so make sure that as far as it’s up to you your relationships are free from conflict and bitterness.

How you treat your spouse can play a role in whether or not your prayers are answered:

1 Peter 3:7 (NLT)
In the same way, you husbands must give honor to your wives. Treat her with understanding as you live together. She may be weaker than you are, but she is your equal partner in God's gift of new life. If you don't treat her as you should, your prayers will not be heard.

If you can’t be tender and understanding and forgiving with your spouse, how can you expect God to treat you that way?

So the first thing we should do when our prayer is going unanswered is examine ourselves. If we’ve done that and there doesn’t seem to be any answer there, we need to try to see things from God’s perspective.


2. Try to see things from God’s Perspective.

Maybe God’s not answering our prayer because it isn’t in our best interest in the long run. Maybe there’s something in the big picture that we don’t see because of our limited vision. Let me give you some possible reasons God may not be answering your prayer like you expect Him to.

• God could be teaching you.

Remember the apostle Paul. He had what he called a “thorn in the flesh” that he prayed three times for God to take away, but He didn’t. Check it out in 2 Corinthians 12…

2 Corinthians 12:7-10 (NLT)
But to keep me from getting puffed up, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from getting proud.
Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, "My gracious favor is all you need. My power works best in your weakness." So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may work through me. Since I know it is all for Christ's good, I am quite content with my weaknesses and with insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

God allowed Paul to endure this “thorn in the flesh”, whatever it may have been, in order to teach him to rely on God and to teach him humility.

• God could be working things out in His timing.

Jesus had a friend by the name of Lazarus. Lazarus had two sisters, Mary and Martha. One day while Jesus was doing whatever he was doing, he received a message from Mary and Martha that Lazarus was very sick. They wanted Jesus to come and heal him. But you know what Jesus did? He waited two whole days. I don’t know about you, but when someone I love is very sick I want to be there for them. I want to get to them as soon as possible. But Jesus didn’t go for two whole days.

Why? Because the timing wasn’t right. After those two days, Jesus went to meet with Mary and Martha. Jesus knew that Lazarus had already died and had been buried. In fact, Lazarus must have died shortly after the messengers went to find Jesus because we find out that by this time Lazarus had been dead for four days – one day for the messengers to find Jesus, the two days He waited, and a day for Him to travel to them.

So when Jesus finally did arrive, a group of people went with Him to the grave, which was a cave with a stone rolled in front. Jesus had the people roll the stone away, despite the objections about the smell from a body that had been dead for four days. And then he called for Lazarus to come out, and out came Lazarus wrapped up in his grave-clothes. Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead, and many people came to believe in Him on that day. But it all happened because Jesus worked things out according to His perfect timing.

• God could have a special purpose for you.

Just before Jesus was taken away and nailed to the cross, he spent some time praying to His Father. He knew what was ahead for Him, he knew the suffering he would have to endure. Listen to what He prayed…

Luke 22:42 (NLT)
"Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will, not mine."

Jesus did not want to be nailed to the cross, but He knew it was necessary. It was His purpose. And sometimes we don’t get what we pray for because God is working things out for the greater good… because He has something special in store for us or because He has something special He is going to accomplish through us.


Sometimes you can’t see any purpose. And when that happens...

3. Keep trusting God.

Why? Because He is trustworthy. He has proven that over and over again. Throughout history God has proven trustworthy. We may not always understand why our prayers aren’t answered, but we can trust God’s providence. Keep a positive attitude even though you don’t understand.

Deuteronomy 31:8 (NLT)
Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the LORD is the one who goes before you. He will be with you; he will neither fail you nor forsake you.

And from the passage Shera read for us earlier:

Isaiah 55:8-9 (NLT)
"My thoughts are completely different from yours," says the LORD. "And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.

I found this online… (From Bill Hybel’s The Mystery of Unanswered Prayer)



If the request is wrong, God will say, “No.”
Thank Him for this.

If the timing is wrong, God will say, “Slow.”

If you are wrong, God will say, “Grow.”

When all is right, God will say, “Let’s go!”




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