How to Handle Unanswered Prayer

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Summary: Sometimes we don’t know how to interpret God’s answers to our prayers. Scripture tells us He answers. We may not like His answer.


In my previous post, I described how to use Scripture to pray to God. In this post, we will address unanswered prayer and how to handle it.

Sometimes when I pray, I don’t receive an immediate answer from the Lord. I find this is one of the most common problems with prayer on among the people who ask me about prayer. This post is all about that.

We must clarify whether God answers our prayers first. Then we will move into God’s most common answers to our prayers. Let’s dive in to discover how to interpret God’s answers to our prayers.

God Answers Our Prayers

First, does God always answer our prayers? Yes. The Bible affirms God hears our prayers and answers them (Psalm 4:1; 17:1; 143:1, for example). Why would we pray if we did not think God answers prayer?

Some people who do not believe throw up a prayer as a last resort, thinking if there is a God, maybe He will answer their prayer. But believers in Jesus pray because they see Jesus praying and answers to prayer within Scripture.

Next, we need to discover how to interpret God’s answer to our prayer. When we don’t receive an immediate response, as our culture, with its texting and instant chats, expects, we need to have a way to interpret how He speaks His answer.

God’s Answer Is Yes

One of God’s answers to our prayer may be yes. God grants the desire of our heart that we raise to Him. We get an immediate response to our prayer. There are many examples of this answer in Scripture.

Elijah is on Mount Caramel (1 Kings 18:20-40). He asks God to confirm that He is the God of Israel and Elijah is His prophet (1 Kings 18:36-37). God immediately confirms these truths by sending fire from heaven to consume his offering and altar.

No one can question God’s answer. Elijah had servants drench the altar twice with water in the middle of a drought. God immediately responds by sending fire from heaven to consume the altar. Everyone responds by turning back to God, away from the prophets of Baal.

One reason God responds so quickly to Elijah and others who have their prayers answered immediately is that they were people of faith. They trusted God to reveal His answer swiftly and prayed within His will.

When Elijah prays for God to confirm that He is Israel’s God and Elijah is His prophet, he prays within God’s will. God wanted the people of Israel to know that He is their God. And He wanted them to know that Elijah was His prophet. When we pray within God’s will, He hears our prayers and answers them.

At a later time in Israel’s history, one of their greatest kings, Hezekiah, finds out from the prophet Isaiah he is going to die because he has a sickness he will not recover from (Isaiah 38:1). When Hezekiah finds out, he prays to the Lord earnestly and weeps bitterly (Isaiah 38:2-3).

The Lord responds by sending Isaiah to him once again to tell him that God will add 15 years to his life (Isaiah 38:4-6). God then gives Hezekiah a sign that this will happen (Isaiah 38:7-8). When God answers prayer, it is immediate or very close to the time of the prayer.

God’s Answer Is No

One of God’s answers to our prayers that makes us question Him or think He did not answer our prayer is when God says no. There are several reasons God answers our prayers with no. Here are some possibilities.

First, consider the possibility that your sins hinder God’s response to your prayer. Sin separates us from God and makes it much harder for God to respond with a positive answer. You must confess your sin to God and receive His forgiveness (1 John 1:9).

Next, consider that your prayer is not in line with God’s will. He will not answer positively if you pray this way. Praying for selfish desires or something that goes against God’s will requires Him to answer no.

For example, Jonah did not want to go to Nineveh because he knew God would relent from his judgment and save the people (Jonah 4:1-2). Then he asks God to take his life. This was not in line with God’s will. He is merciful to us when we cry out to Him.

God will answer, “No” when our request is not part of His plan for us. Sometimes we pray our wants more than our needs. These are our desires but not gods for us. So He will answer, “No.” He also answers, “No” when we ask for things that don’t represent His character.

Although these are some possibilities for why God answers no to your prayer, there may be other reasons He gives. You must seek Him to find out why He answers your prayer this way.

God’s Answer Is Not yet

One of God’s answers to our prayers we don’t understand is, “Not yet.” We may at first think this is a no to our request, but God sometimes answers this way because it doesn’t fit into His plans at the moment we ask.

God may have these plans later down the road and our future. So, He answers, “Not yet.” Another reason God may answer with, “Not yet” is that He plans to answer our prayer in ways we don’t expect.

Have you ever prayed to God asking Him for something in a specific way you think He wants to answer your prayer? We don’t get to make our prayers made to order. God answers them in His time the way He wants to answer them.

Think of baking a cake. There are steps to take in order. If we take the steps out of order, the cake will not turn out the way it’s supposed to. If we put the eggs on top of the cake right before we bake it, the cake will taste strange. If we don’t put flour in a flour cake, it will really not taste right.

For example, I am a quadriplegic and ask God often to heal me. When He does, I know it will be extraordinary. But I don’t ask Him to heal me in a certain way. I believe God will receive much glory from my healing because I have been repeatedly told by doctors it is impossible.

God may heal me in a crowd of witnesses that see me rise out of my wheelchair firsthand. This will be so He has many people to tell of what has happened. Later, when I testify to His healing me of paralysis, anyone who questions it can talk to others who saw it.

But I don’t really know how God will answer this prayer, or when. Our limited human perspective does not allow us to see all God’s plans we are unaware of. But I am a firm contender that God answers our prayers.

Growth Challenge

If you have unanswered prayers from the Lord, consider these other answers of no and not yet. Could it be that you have misinterpreted God’s answer? Ask God again and ask for clarification on His answer to your prayers.

Up Next

Now that we have clarified unanswered prayers and how to handle them, we will go through the Lord’s Prayer, or what I call the Model Prayer.

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