3 Biblical Reasons for Unanswered Prayer

Let not that man supposed he will receive anything from the Lord – James 1:7unanswered prayer 2

These are strong words from the Lord’s brother, and to be honest, not very encouraging.

I know that I’ve written this verse as a fragmented thought, but it’s on purpose. The point that I want to get across is that there are certain conditions that need to be met in prayer. If those conditions are not met, James tells us what we should expect: not to receive anything from the Lord.

Unfortunately, this is not taught very often in the church today. Many will encourage people to pray, and if it doesn’t look like their prayer is being answered, they are told that God is in control and to just accept the fact that sometimes the answer is “no.” While both of these answers can be technically correct in some cases, most often the way they are used are in direct contradiction with the Word of God, as we will soon see.

Now before I go on, I want to mention that some of the things that am I going to say will bring about implications that are not pleasant. My purpose is not to offend, but to speak the truth in love. We live in a harsh and evil world, and not everything turns out the way we would like it to sometimes. Sometimes it’s our own fault, and sometimes it’s not. We recognize this when it comes to natural things; we also need to recognize this when it comes to spiritual things. However, we also need to remember that God is extremely gracious, and even if everything goes wrong, and even if it’s our own fault, God still loves us, and will forgive us, and will welcome us into His eternal heavenly home. (So remember: Even if everything goes wrong, never let go of Jesus!)

Let’s look at the full context of our text:

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like the wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. – James 1:5-8

Notice that this verse is about prayer: “let him ask of God.” And notice that this verse also shows us the character of God regarding answering prayer: “who gives to all liberally and without reproach (without finding fault – NIV).” It also addresses the end result of effectual prayer: “and it shall be given to him.” And it addresses the conditions that must be met in order to offer effectual prayer: “Let him ask in faith, with no doubting.” It then gives us the result of prayer offered without the conditions met: “Let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord.”

There are a few reasons why prayers go unanswered. We need to know what they are so we can learn to offer prayer that is effectual, that is, prayer that brings it’s desired effect.

What are some reasons we don’t receive answers to our prayers?

1. We don’t pray according to the will of God.

It’s very important for us to know what the will of God is when we pray. We can’t pray in faith without knowing what the will of God is. If you don’t know what the will of God is, it’s essential that you find out.

Look at what the Apostle John tells us:

Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, 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 the petitions that we have desired of Him. – 1 John 5:14-15

Contrary to the idea of some, we can know what the will of God is. If we couldn’t then John would just be teasing us with this verse. But I’m sure that John is speaking in sincerity.

Some people say that God’s will is a mystery, and that we will only know it when we get to the other side. But the scripture says that He has ‘made known to us the mystery of His will.’ (Eph 1:19)

No, God’s will is not a mystery. If it was, then He would have never given us a bible. God could have kept us in the dark about what He wants, but He has been very gracious to give us His book that is full of exceedingly great and precious promises (2 Pet 1:4). God’s will is revealed in what He has said. God doesn’t lie, nor change His mind. If He says something, He means it. His Word is His will. If He has said, “Do not murder,” you can be sure that it is His will for your life not to commit murder. If He says, “ask for wisdom,” then you can ascertain that it is His will for you to have wisdom. This is not hard to understand.

We also need to understand that the will of God does not automatically come to pass. In fact, the perfect will of God is very rarely accomplished on earth. There was only one person who ever walked completely in the perfect will of God. I bet you can guess His name.

We need to pray for God’s will to come to pass, otherwise it will not. This is exactly what is implied in 1 John 5:14-15. We have to know what the will of God is for our lives, then we have to ask for it.

How can we know the will of God? We must search the scriptures. We must be biblically literate. If you don’t know what God wants, then you’ll never be able to offer effectual prayer.

2. We don’t pray in faith.

James makes the character of God very clear to us. He is a gracious Heavenly father that is eager to give. However, we see from scripture that praying with doubt will keep us from receiving anything from God.

But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like the wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord – James 1:6-7

What does it meant to pray in faith? Jesus tells us in Mark 11:24.

Whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them. – Mark 11:24

Praying in faith means that we go to God in prayer with the end result already in mind, that is, that we will receive whatever we pray for. Jesus makes this clear to us:

Ask, and it shall be given to you – Matthew 7:7

Praying in faith means that we don’t take ‘no’ for an answer. And, of course, there is no reason to take ‘no’ for an answer, for all God’s promises are “yes” and “amen” (1 Cor 1:20). When we know the will of God about something, we should go to Him with bulldog like tenacity, boldly approaching the throne of grace for help in our time of need (Heb 4:6).

Some people may not like this, or understand this, but this is exactly how Jesus taught us to pray. Jesus gave us two wonderful illustrations on prayer that teach this very thing.

The first is the parable of the friend at midnight. This story is told in answer to the disciples request, “Teach us to pray.” It’s found in Luke 11:

He said to them, “Which of you shall have a friend, and go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has come to me on his journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within and say, ‘Do not trouble me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give to you’? I say to you, though he will not rise and give to him because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will rise and give him as many as he needs. So I say to you, ask, and it will be given you…

Look at this man who is so bold to go to his friends house at midnight! His friend hollers back at him, “Go away, I will not give you what you want.” Does the man accept ‘no’ for an answer? Never! When his friend finally realizes that nothing can be done, and that his mind will not be persuaded, his rises up and gives him all that he needs. That is faith! Refusing to take no for an answer!

Do you think this is unbiblical? Do you remember the story of the woman who’s daughter was demon possessed? What did Jesus say to this woman in response to her request for help? First He ignored her, then He called her a dog! Most modern Christians would bow out, taking ‘no’ for an answer. But not this woman! She was not to be denied. She rose up and said, “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the Masters table.” Look at her boldness! Look at her refusal to be denied! Was the Lord upset with her? Not at all. But what does He say? “Great is your faith! Be it unto you even as you have desired.” (Matthew 15:22-28)

And don’t forget the parable of the persistent widow. Take the time to read the story. Once again, it is a story of a person that refused to take no for an answer (Luke 18:1-8).

This is how Jesus taught us to pray.

Once we know the will of God on a matter, we must latch on to God and not let go until the answer comes. This is faith.

3. We aren’t cleansed of sin.

The final reason we fail so often to receive from God is because we are living in rebellion.

One who turns his ear away from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination – Proverbs 28:9

God knows the hearts of every person. He knows those who are harboring known sin in their lives. These people can pray all they want, but it will be to no avail. First they must obey God by turning from their sin and being cleansed by the blood of Jesus. Then they may offer their prayer to God in faith.

If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me – Psalm 66:18

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that God only answers the prayers of those who have lived perfectly righteous. Nobody has done that. I’m saying that those who refuse to confess and forsake their sin will not be heard by God. This can be confusing to some. For example, it may be that a drug dealer comes into the church off the street. He smells like smoke, he’s dressed like a thug. But as he listens to the Word his heart is convicted. He falls down on his knees, repents, and cries out for mercy. This man is now eligible to pray the prayer of faith.

However, think of a little old lady who has been going to church for 50 years. She’s been at every bake sale, she’s at every prayer meeting. She never misses church. She seems like the perfect saint and the person that, if God would answer anyone’s prayers, it would be her. But little does everyone know that her son married a girl 25 years ago that she didn’t approve of. She decided that she didn’t like her and never was going to like her, and was sure to make it known whenever they would come to visit. This women is unqualified to pray the prayer of faith. Her religion is a farce. She’ll never pray effectually until she repents of her bitterness and learns to love her neighbor as herself. And there’s little doubt in my mind that this old lady will be soon in Hell if she doesn’t repent (1 Jn 4:8,20)

God hears the prayers of the righteous (those cleansed by the blood of Jesus). James bears witness to this:

The effectual prayer of a righteous man avails much – James 5:16

God so desires to answer our prayers! Just like a earthly father desires to give to his son, so does God long to give to us. When we meet his conditions, He can then wisely give to us. Learn what His will is, pray in faith, and keep your heart clean. Then you will ask, and you will surely receive. Amen

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