If we’re honest, most, if not all, of us have felt as this young woman feels. We may not have spoken the words aloud, but we have thought them—in the privacy of our hearts when the night is dark and our fears loom large. We read verses like John 14:14, “You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it,” and conclude that either God is a liar or we’re missing something. We pray for good things—healing, provision, protection, deliverance—but see little results. We conclude, rightly so, that sometimes God chooses not to answer our prayers. Some will argue that a no is an answer, and it is, but that’s not what we’re asking. We’re asking, like the young woman in my example, why doesn’t God say YES to my prayers?
Scripture gives us several reasons why God doesn’t say yes:
1. We harbor sin in our lives. Psalm 66:18 says, “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.” We often willfully ignore God and his principles until we need something, and then protest when we doesn’t deliver what we ask.
2. We ask for selfish reasons. James 4:3 nails this one: “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” I’ll be the first to admit that many of my prayers are SELFISH—along the lines of “Get me out of this; it’s too HAAAAARD,” rather than asking God to teach me, grow me, and enable me to walk through the challenges of life with grace and faith.
3. What we ask for isn’t good for us. A parenting analogy comes to mind. I like to think that most of the requests I said no to from my children were because they weren’t good for them. No, you can’t play ball in the road. No, you can’t eat ice cream for breakfast. No, you can’t ___________(fill in the blank). Mercifully, God is so much wiser than I am, and I can trust that when he says no to one of my requests, it’s because he knows it’s not good for me.
4. He has something better in mind. I gain great comfort from the fact that God also said no to one of Jesus’ prayers. “Father, let this cup pass from me,” he prayed in agony in the garden of Gethsemane (Mat. 26:39). And to two of his dearest friends, Mary and Martha, “Lord, the one you love is sick. . .” (John 11:3). In both cases, the prayers were smaller than what God intended to do, so he overrode them by saying no. Both answers, not what either had prayed for, involved miraculous resurrections. I try to keep this in mind when one of my dreams seems to die.
5. I don’t ask in faith. Many times I’m guilty of asking in fear and panic, not really believing, but asking anyway. There’s a difference between recognizing God’s sovereignty over the outcome of my request and asking while doubting. The first is an act of faith and submission—I ask for what I believe is best and trust God with the answer. The second prays yet doubts God’s ability or desire to act on our behalf.
Often times someone with this lack of faith will say something like, “I guess I’ll pray: it can’t hurt.” Their prayers are the equivalent of rubbing the lucky rabbit’s foot or doing a good deed in an attempt to curry God’s favor. James 1:6 tells us God sees right through weak faith.
“But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord.”
The good news is that even a tiny bit of genuine faith is enough. Jesus said, "If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it will obey you” (Luke 17:6).
6. We don’t ask according to his will. This is a tough one. How do I know what God’s will is? The same way, for the most part, that my children knew what my will was for them—they got to know me. They spent time with me. They listened to my voice, learned my passions, discovered what made me glad, and what made me sad.
“This is the confidence that we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us--whatever we ask--we know that we have what we asked of him.'' (1 John 5:14-15).
Prayer is a mystery, but it’s not as mysterious as we make it out to be. The Bible is full of instruction and insight into how to know God so well that our requests become his requests and vice versa. When we know God intimately, we have greater insight into how to pray according to his will. When we do this, God’s Word promises that we will experience a powerful and effective prayer life. We’ll be partnering with God through our prayers to accomplish his perfect will in our lives and the lives of those around us.
What have you learned about prayer? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Leave a comment below and bless us all.
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