On Unanswered Prayers

1 Peter 3:12 (ESV)
"For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” 

In this verse, Peter is drawing upon the 34th Psalm in which David expresses thanksgiving for God’s protection and serves as a reminder to all that those who live out their lives with a trust in Him will also see such deliverance. The unbeliever has only the things of this world to offer comfort in times of pain and suffering; but for the believer, His grace will strengthen and uphold them in times of suffering (2 Corinthians 12:9; Hebrews 4:16).

While we cannot fully grasp the sovereignty of God nor can we determine who He chooses to answer prayers of who He will not, there are many Scriptural references regarding unanswered prayers, whether they are a believer or not. Just because we check a box and call ourselves a Christian does not mean we are henceforward cloaked in righteousness, especially if we live a life far from Him. 

Consider the following:

When we pray out of selfish motives (James 4:3); or from a heart that is unrepentant and remains in sin (Psalm 66:18; Isaiah 59:2; John 9:31); or live a life that forsakes God (Jeremiah 14:10-12); when we refuse to answer His call on our lives (Proverbs 1:24-25, 28); when we ignore God’s law (Proverbs 28:9; Zechariah 7:11-13); when we ignore the poor (Proverbs 21:13); when we practice violence (Isaiah 1:15; 59:2-3); or practice idolatry (Jeremiah 11:11-14; Ezekiel 8:15-18); when we have no faith (James 1:6-7); or live hypocritical and self-righteous lives (Luke 12:1; James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5; Luke 18:11-14), we have no reason to expect our prayers to be answered.

Scripture tells us we have Christ as our mediator (1 Timothy 2:5; 1 John 2:1; Hebrews 4:14-15) and if only we believe in Him we can obtain access to the Father. When we are in right standing, we can be assured our prayers will be answered. However, we must also understand that prayer is answered according to His will for our lives, not ours. If we ask anything according to His will, He hears and responds to us. A believer’s prayer is in harmony with the Divine will when it is in harmony with Scripture or is prompted by the Spirit. Since we know that He hears and honors requests in accord with His will, we know that we will be granted such requests offered to Him in prayer (1 John 5: 14-15).

Take comfort when you experience unanswered prayers, for the Bible has a few good examples of those who faced such circumstances. For instance, we join the company of:
  • Jesus, who prayed, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; nevertheless not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42). 
  • We join also the company of Paul, who asked the Lord “three times” that his thorn in the flesh be removed, but it was not; rather, the Lord told him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:8–9). 
  • We join the company of David, who prayed for his son’s life to be saved, but it was not, so he “went into the house of the LORD, and worshiped” and said of his son, “I shall go to him, but he will not return to me” (2 Samuel 12:20, 23). 
  • We join the company of the martyrs throughout history who prayed for deliverance that did not come, for they “loved not their lives even unto death” (Revelation 12:11).
Just don't let unanswered prayers halt your prayer life. If anything, this is a time to grow it. Seek His will through prayer and solitude. Consider fasting. It was a very positive experience for me at a time when I needed much direction. When we let go of physical needs, our spiritual needs can become more clear.

Above all, keep your heart focused on Him.