It is fair to say that virtually all believers have asked themselves the question above at one point in their lives. I think it is important to find out why certain prayers are not answered and not just forget about them. In order to give some insight into this all too common question, I decided to get deep into Scripture and discover how one can pray more effectively.
I present to you my findings. I have put some of the these Biblical principles to practice and found them to be effective. Hopefully they can help you experience consistently good results in your prayer life.
The Cambridge dictionary defines prayer as the act or ceremony of speaking to God, especially to ask for help and express thanks, or the words used in this act.
According to Strong’s Concordance, prayer from the Greek word proseuchomai literally means “towards, exchange”. From this we understand that there is an exchange of what we say to God and how he responds to us.
To most of us prayer is simply speaking to God about our concerns or thoughts. More often than not we are asking for his intervention in our situations and this is where I will to put the focus. I also must add that throughout the post, I will use ‘answered prayer’ to mean you receive what you prayed for as opposed to simply getting a response from God.
The kind of prayers that we pray
These are small and not so significant prayers. We usually are not too concerned when we don’t get a positive response and glad when we do. For instance we may pray that a meeting with a client goes well and it does. We are glad when it happens but since it was not life-changing we soon forget about it. Or you could ask God to help you find the right outfit for an occasion and you do, but one year later you’ll probably not remember.
Important time-sensitive prayers
Prayers that need to be answered before a given date can be classified with the above label. They are important because if the deadline is not met, there will be much difficulty in our lives. A good example is if someone lost a job yet needs to pay up their house rent by a certain date, and they do not have the money.
Important non time-sensitive prayers
In this case, something is important to you but no one has put a deadline on it. The prayer may be for resources for example. It is important because there are goals and aspirations you want to fulfill but there is no time limit set.
Critical time-sensitive prayers
These prayers must be answered usually in a short space of time and could significantly determine the outcome of a person’s life. It may be that someone with an incurable condition needs healing within a certain number of weeks or even days; it will be vital that God answers the prayer within this time.
According to the Bible, the above classes of prayer can be said in two major ways:
The first is ‘speak the word’: when we command a situation to be as we want it. Jesus did this a lot as he healed the sick, commanded storms and spoke life into the dead. The other being supplication: when we ask God to intervene in a situation and do as we have requested.
Since we want to have our prayers answered, let us start by looking at some…
INSTANCES OF ANSWERED PRAYER IN THE BIBLE & WHAT THEY TELL US
Joshua asked for daylight to remain during war
Joshua was at war with five kings as the children of Israel took possession of the land of God’s promise. Since the opposing forces were so numerous, the soldiers of Israel needed more time to fight while it was still daylight. So in prayer and faith Joshua said, “Sun stand still over Gibeon…” and the sun stood still until they defeated their adversaries (Joshua 10:12). The prayer Joshua used was a command or ‘speak the word’ type of prayer which he did in faith.
Why God answered Joshua’s prayer
To begin with, if you read the text prior to this, you will discover that it was God who instructed him to fight these five kings. He was doing what was asked of him, so when the challenge came up, he had full authority and confidence to ask for help.
Secondly, he did it in faith and God always responds to unwavering faith. In the New Testament Jesus says if you command a mountain to cast itself into the sea and do not doubt, it will obey you (Mark 11:23). Asking the sun to stand still and it obeys is not very different.
Hannah prayed for a son
Hannah had been barren for a good number of years and the Bible says God closed her womb. It is likely that her husband Elkanah had waited for her to give birth for a long time. Since he wanted children to remove his reproach from society, he married another: Peninah and she bore him children. However Elkanah still loved Hannah. It is probably for this reason that Peninah provoked her every time they went to the city annually to make offerings. It only made Hannah more desperate for children and she prayed for a son.
Year after year she prayed but nothing seemed to happen. Until one day when she cried out to God in tears and made an oath to dedicate the child to him if he answered her. At that time, there happened to be a priest called Eli who discovered that she was asking for a child and he said to her, “Go in peace, the Lord God of Israel grant your petition” (1 Samuel 1:17). After this she was no longer sad, she left content.
Why God answered Hannah’s prayer
Let’s look at that very important phrase “God closed her womb.” The Scriptures explicitly state that it was not sin or even the Adversary that made Hannah barren but God. Hannah’s prayer was always going to be answered because the whole thing was divinely ordained. It was meant to push her towards the vow that she would make to offer the child for the Lord’s service.
There was also Hannah’s persistence in prayer. Although she initially did not have the faith she needed, we have to credit her for being resolute in her pursuit for an answer “year after year” (1 Samuel 1:7). Eventually, God provided a way to boost her faith through the priest Eli. He endorsed her prayer and the sadness left, even though she had not received the manifestation yet. That tells us something about the proof of our faith.
A poor woman’s prayers answered through Elijah
There was famine in Israel and God sent Elijah to Zarephath to a widow’s home. When he reached the place, he found a woman and asked her for a cup of water. As she was going he told her to bring him some bread as well. The woman replied that she had only enough flour and oil to make bread for her son and herself; they would eat and die of hunger afterwards. Elijah insisted that she make him some bread before adding that according to the word of God, her flour bin and oil jars would not run out until the famine had ended. She believed him and did as he had asked. Afterward she indeed had more flour in the bin each morning and her oil did not run out.
Why God answered the poor woman’s prayer
Although she was in a desperate situation, she waited on God. She remained at her home and did not opt to get food through ungodly ways. The woman was willing to die of hunger if God did not deliver her.
The widow had faith. There was severe famine but she still gave up all she had and believed Elijah’s word that God would provide.
David prayed for protection when Saul pursued him.
Saul was pursuing David in the wilderness of Maon to take his life. As he fled farther into the wilderness, Saul ordered his army to encircle him. Saul’s men were in much greater number than those who were with David so it was only a matter of time before they caught up. However just as it begun to look hopeless, God answered David’s prayer. A messenger came to Saul and told him the Philistines had invaded the land. Saul had no choice but to call off the pursuit and return to defend his kingdom.
Why God answered David’s prayer
God promised to give David the throne, and if he had allowed Saul to capture and kill him, the promise would not have been fulfilled. God was protecting the integrity of his word.
This narrow escape would make David realize that he could depend on God and so it was to build his faith. He would later record the experience as a Psalm (Psalm 54) and in divine foresight, it was for the benefit of all future believers. Furthermore David was in God’s words, “a man after his own heart”, the Lord was honoring one who loved him.
Solomon prayed for wisdom
When he had just taken over his father’s throne, Solomon felt overwhelmed by the challenge of leading his people who were great in number. He was young and inexperienced, so when God spoke to him saying, “Ask what shall I give you?” he asked for wisdom. He wanted to be able to rule with justice and truth and discern what was right for the people. God granted his request and made him wiser than all kings of the earth and added wealth and honor to him.
Why God answered Solomon’s prayer
It is clear that Solomon asked with the right motives. He was not thinking selfishly but about the good of his people. God usually answers prayers that are said towards the good of others.
Hezekiah prayed for healing
The prophet Isaiah came to king Hezekiah when he was gravely ill and said, “Thus says the Lord, set your house in order for you shall die and not live.” Hezekiah was sorrowful but did not despair, he instead appealed to God to have compassion on him and wept bitterly.
Shortly afterward God sent Isaiah with a different message saying, “I have heard your prayers, I have seen your tears, surely I will add fifteen years to your days” (Isaiah 38:5). Hezekiah was not young, so fifteen additional years was more than he would have expected to live. He received his healing and praised God.
Why God answered Hezekiah’s prayer
Compassion was the main reason. God saw his tears and was moved. Added to that, he was pleased with Hezekiah having enough confidence in his loving-kindness as to disregard the word of the prophet. There was an aspect of faith in God’s goodness which always pleases him.
Daniel prayed for revelation of the king’s dreams
Nebuchadnezzar had a dream that troubled him. He asked some of his advisors and sorcerers to tell him what the dream was and then interpret it. None of them could and he ordered that all wise men and advisors be killed. Daniel was among them and he soon found out that the king had commenced executions. He went to Nebuchadnezzar and asked for more time so as to receive revelation from God, it was granted him. Daniel went to his three companions, Hananiah. Mishael and Azariah and asked them to seek the Lord with him. They complied and soon the king’s dream was revealed to Daniel, he then narrated it to Nebuchadnezzar.
Why God answered Daniel’s prayer
Daniel prayed in faith. We have to remember that if he did not receive the revelation within the time he was given, Nebuchadnezzar would have him killed. It would have been safer for him to go in hiding and pray. He however prayed from his house, where he could easily be found.
Daniel was fully dedicated to God. He lived a life of integrity and righteousness. It is fair to say serving God was his passion. A Note: Although it is wrong to think that our lifestyle can earn God’s favor, we know that living according to his ways puts us in position to receive all the good he has for us. Daniel also prayed in agreement with his companions which strengthens faith.
Jesus and the fig tree
Jesus was hungry so he walked to a fig tree to see whether he could find some fruit. He looked and there were only leaves. So he said, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again” (Mark 11:14). By the following morning, the tree had dried up from the roots.
Why God answered Jesus’ prayer
He spoke in faith without any doubt. God also wanted him to demonstrate to the disciples plus whoever would read the Scriptures how to receive what they pray for.
Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth had been praying for a child for a long time. When they were older probably in their sixties, the Angel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah while he was in the temple. This is what the angel said, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth” (Luke 1:13-14). Zechariah initially doubted and said, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” But afterward he believed and went to his home. God indeed fulfilled the promise: Elizabeth had a son and it brought them much joy.
Why God answered Zechariah
Although he doubted the words of the angel at first, Zechariah later believed and because of his faith, he received the son he had prayed for. Furthermore John would prepare the way for Jesus according to prophesy, therefore God was keeping his word which he had declared many years before. Luke also tells us that the two of them were both “righteous before God” meaning they lived according to his precepts.
So that’s a few of the answered prayers from the Bible. How about when God did not answer prayer? Now let us focus on…
SOME UNANSWERED PRAYERS IN THE BIBLE AND WHAT WE LEARN FROM THEM
King Saul prayed to God for reassurance for victory
Saul was about to go after the Philistines in battle and inquired of God through a priest whether they should attack. He got no answer that day. When he inquired further, he discovered that someone’s transgression was hindering his request. Ultimately he found out that his son Jonathan had broken an oath that he enacted (1 Samuel 14:37).
Why God did not answer Saul’s prayer
He wanted the king to first deal with his own transgression. Saul was a man more concerned about the opinion of men rather than that of God. He almost got trapped by his unnecessary oath when he found out that the transgressor was his son. If it was not for the people, the young man would have been killed. God was probably directing Saul to follow his commandments rather than making some of his own—to impress men.
Moses asked God to enter the Promised Land
In his prayer to God Moses said, “O Lord God, you have only begun to show your servant your greatness and your mighty hand. For what god is there in heaven or on earth who can do such works and mighty acts as yours? Please let me go over and see the good land beyond the Jordan, that good hill country and Lebanon.” And God answered “Enough from you; do not speak to me of this matter again.” But afterward said, “Go up to the top of Pisgah and lift up your eyes westward and northward and southward and eastward, and look at it with your eyes, for you shall not go over this Jordan” (Deuteronomy 3:23).
Why God did not heed to Moses’ request
Moses had not honored God in front of the Israelites when he was told to speak to the rock that it may yield water. Instead he struck it with his staff. And immediately God let him know that both him and Aaron would not enter the Promised Land (Numbers 20:12).
God also wanted the transition of leadership to be smooth. If Moses had gone into the Promised Land, the Israelites would remain attached to him. Joshua was supposed to succeed Moses and God thought it best to install him before they crossed the Jordan.
David prayed for the son he got from Bathsheba to be healed
David took Uriah’s wife and she conceived his child without the knowledge of her husband. To conceal his sin, he killed Uriah and afterward married Bathsheba. The child that was born to them then became ill and David fasted and prayed for God to heal him (2 Samuel 12:16). The child ultimately died.
Why David’s plea was not granted
Earlier the prophet told David “Because by this deed you have given great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme, the child also that is born to you shall surely die” (2 Samuel 12:14).
God had a better plan; Solomon was the preferred choice not the child David tried to save. God was preparing the right heir for him.
Paul prayed that God would remove his thorn in the flesh
As a result of a nagging condition or circumstance he had, Paul sought the Lord that it may depart from him (2 Corinthians 12:7-9). However God did not grant him his request. After praying three times about it, the Lord said “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
Why God said no to Paul
He wanted to keep him grounded. Paul himself said, “To keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:7).
The Lord intended for Paul to experience his strength which could only be made apparent in weakness. It was also for our benefit since God knew that it would become a part of the Scriptures.
MAKING IT ALL CLEAR
Having seen instances from the Bible where God answered prayers and when he declined, we notice that God’s responses vary from time to time and from one person to another. To make sense of it, let us come to conclusions based on what you have read above.
How God Responds To Our Prayers
We saw earlier that God answered the prayers of Joshua, Solomon, Hannah and some others. He did exactly what they asked and in Solomon’s case even more than he asked. When God answers your prayer the way you asked, it delights him to see you rejoicing and happy. Like any loving parent, it gives him pleasure to give us the genuinely good things we ask for.
Yes but wait
I know this one is not popular but whether we like it or not, there are some answers that just have to wait. Hannah waited for several years and endured the provocation of someone who had what she desperately wanted. At the right time, God gave her the son she longed for and later on more sons and daughters.
No, it is not my will/ it will not be good for you/ it will not have a good outcome
When God says no it can be hard to take. Again most of us have experienced at least one “no” from God. Here he closes the door completely and lets us know it is not what he wants for us. When Moses asked to see the Promised Land, God said no because it was time for Joshua to lead the Israelites. There’s always a good reason why God says no. More often than not what we are asking for will do more harm than good but we cannot see it. In these cases if we submit to God, he will give us better than what we are praying for.
Seek me first
Sometimes we are not ready to handle what we want and God will say “seek me first.” He says this because seeking him means learning his ways and developing spiritual maturity. We may lack attributes like faith, wisdom, honesty, genuine love, patience and self-control.
Say you want to get married and are asking God to help you find a wife/husband. He will want to make sure you are ready for the challenges in that relationship. Since God wants the marriage to succeed, you will need to first grow spiritually.
Why God answers prayers
Again looking at the above instances where God answered the prayers of people in the Bible, we can arrive at core reasons why God answers prayer.
- To further his purpose.
- Keep his promise and the integrity of his word.
- To give us joy and satisfaction.
- Demonstrate his power.
- To enable us give testimony and glorify him.
- To honor those devoted to him.
WHAT WE SHOULD PRAY FOR AND HOW
So now that we have an idea how and why God answers prayer, let’s look at the proper way to pray. And there’s no one better to learn from than Jesus himself. He always had success with prayer.
The Lord’s Prayer shows us what the contents of our petitions to God should generally look like, a blueprint if you will.
9 “This, then, is how you should pray:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.”
Going by Jesus’ example, the basic structure of our prayers should:
- Acknowledge God as our Father but also in his power and sovereignty (Our Father in heaven, hallowed or honored be your name).
- State your requests plainly (Give us our daily bread).
- Be in line with God’s will—your will be done.
- Be said from a heart free of bitterness and unforgiveness or any other sin that we have not confessed to God—forgive us our debts (trespasses or sins) as we forgive our debtors.
Jesus had more to say about prayer
Go into your room
Prayer should not be done as a show. We do not have to display our passion for God to everyone in Church. Besides, it is good to have peace and quiet to keep your mind on God, so let it be in a place where you cannot easily be distracted. Of course we can also pray from Church but we should not make a spectacle of it.
Do not repeat unnecessarily
Too many repetitions always point to a lack of faith. If you were asking a friend to do you a favor, how many times would you say their name? And how many times would you explain what you have asked for? So, do we think that God cannot hear us well? Jesus says he knows what you want even before you ask (Matthew 6:8). No need for meaningless repetitions.
Believe you have received
Jesus told us that whenever we pray we should believe that we have received. This is the lesson from the fig tree (Mark 11:24). The way we can make sure our prayers are answered is to believe that we have received—not that we are going to or may receive. I will explain more on this ahead.
Pray in agreement
You may opt to say your prayer with someone else. “Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven” (Matthew 18:19). This is another way we can receive answers to our prayers. Find someone you can agree with and pray knowing that you have this Scripture as your foundation.
Ask in his name
“Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” (John 14:13-14). When we ask in someone’s name we are backed by their authority and everything they represent. We are in essence asking on their behalf. If a Head of State gave you permission to use their name somewhere, you can be sure that whatever you request will be granted. How much more when we ask in the Son of God’s name? We must remember however that these requests still have to be in line with God’s will. More on that ahead…
Yes Jesus did teach us to be persistent and patient in prayer. Remember the widow who continuously asked the unjust Judge to give her justice? (Luke 18:1-8). The simple lesson here is that we should persist as we wait for the answers to our prayers.
Fast in certain circumstances
There are certain times when we need to fast in order to strengthen our faith. Jesus stated this when the disciples were unable to help the father of a boy with a deaf and dumb spirit (Mark 9:29). If you are able, fast for at least three days or a week. Thereafter you can say your prayer with strong faith. As you fast, remember to spend time reading the Word. It makes no sense to deny yourself food and indulge in things that may hinder your faith.
HINDRANCES TO RECEIVING WHAT YOU PRAYED FOR
Lack of enduring faith
You will notice I did not say lack of faith. We can all have faith for one minute after we’ve said a prayer. We get excited and feel sure that God will answer, but what about three days later? Or two weeks after? Is the faith still there? Sadly for most of us it barely endures for a couple of days then we start to find our own solutions. In my experience, God will rarely answer prayers immediately, and most answers have come when I am not even thinking about what I asked for. I left it in God’s hands and trusted—then he came through.
Solution: Increase your faith
Asking against God’s will
This is simply asking for something against what God purposes or desires for you. It may not necessarily be a bad thing, but it’s not part of God’s plan. This is true especially of prayers that determine the direction of your life. It is important to first establish whether God would want what you ask of him. Remember, he knows what is best.
Solution: Find out if it is God’s will, ask him to show you and he will somehow.
This is similar to the above but more to do with intentions of sinful nature. In James 4:3 it says, “and even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure” (NLT). This is talking about self-centeredness and catering for only you. Answers to these prayers would lead us away from God and into sin.
Solution: Check your motives make sure that they are not selfish or sinful in nature.
Not abiding in God/living a sinful lifestyle
To make the above clear, it does not mean you never put a foot wrong—we all do. Abiding in God simply means allowing our lives to be guided by his ways as outlined in the Scriptures. It means we do our best to live according to what he recommends. Yes, God gives us Grace, but we need to be doing our part as well. It doesn’t matter if we fail once in a while, the important thing is that we are moving in the right direction.
Solution: Let God lead you
Pride and self-will
The Word clearly states that God resists the proud but gives Grace to the humble (James 4:6). Someone with pride wants the answers to their prayers at their convenience; the way and time they prefer. They are not too concerned about God’s will. When the answers are not forthcoming, they are quick to do things the world’s way.
There’s always a degree of humility needed to receive answers to our prayers. Most times we have to lay down our bright ideas and trust God. It may even require you to endure the ridicule of your family, friends or workmates for a season.
Solution: Humble yourself and God will exalt you in due season (1 Peter 5:6).
HOW EXACTLY TO PRAY: THE PRACTICAL SIDE
Go to a quiet place
If what you are asking God for is important to you, then find a quiet place from which to pray. It could be any room or even outside as long as it’s peaceful and you are not distracted. This is obviously not a rule because there are times when your prayers cannot wait and you are in a busy place, God is reasonable he relates to us with our circumstances in mind.
Clear up possible hindrances
Check that none of those hindrances listed above remains before you pray.
Accompany your prayer with Scripture
Can you find some verses to back your request? If you can, then go ahead and accompany your prayer with those Scriptures. If you cannot find any particular verses but you are sure it is a good thing (your conscience is crystal-clear) then that is fine.
Say a clear and simple prayer, without unnecessary repetitions, ask for what you want plainly.
Let your prayer be simple and clear. It is important that you are very specific in your request so that when the answer comes you know it was from God and not some kind of ‘good luck’. Do not repeat yourself unnecessarily. If it’s applicable, tell God how the answer to your prayer will be good: mention the positive things that can result from him answering your prayer, this builds your faith. As an example, if you are applying for a big position in an organization, what good will you do with the extra income you earn?
Thank God for answering your prayer
We are supposed to thank God before he answers our prayers because once you’ve prayed in faith it is as good as done. Believe that you have received.
WHAT TO DO AFTER YOU HAVE PRAYED
If your need is urgent and critical, pray continually but always envision a good outcome. Keep speaking words from Scripture that back your prayer. Read the Word and stay in the presence of God as much as you can.
If it is not critical, consider it done: go about your business. Act like God has taken care of whatever you requested. To illustrate how you should do this, read the short story below.
In times past, there was a man who worked in the diamond mines of Southern Africa and earned very little. He had given many years of his labor to these mines and was very dependable and honest. One day, he was handed a special envelope by one mine owner. When the man opened it, there was a document and it had the following information.
The owner of the mine had been very impressed by the dedication and honesty of this man. He wanted to give him a big reward that would enable him live a much better life—away from the mines. The condition was that the man stayed on for one more year to pass on his skills to the new miners. When the year ended, he would receive his reward and start a new life. The document was in essence a promissory note.
When the man realized what this document meant, he thanked the mine owner heartily and went home that day with a lot of joy. Although he still went back to the mines daily, it no longer felt like strenuous labor anymore because he knew he was destined for a better life. Every day he made plans of what he would do when he received the money and even earmarked some land he would buy. The year eventually came to an end and he received the reward that made him prosperous.
In this story, the man did not receive the reward immediately but all through the year, he acted like he already had. This is how to believe; act like you would if you were certain of getting what you asked for, then you will receive it.
Fight the doubt when it comes
For time-sensitive prayers, resist the urge to come up with your own solutions as the clock ticks away. Remember the reason you came to God in the first place is because you had already tried to do something on your own. Stay in faith and try not to worry. God sometimes likes to do things at the eleventh hour to demonstrate to you that you can trust him.
If it is not time-sensitive but takes longer than you expected, persist but do not obsess. Remember it is already done and even if nothing seems to be changing from the outside stay in faith. Your faith will be tested so do not be surprised by that, keep believing. A good way of determining if you are staying in faith is by checking whether you are at rest (Hebrews 4:3). If you are constantly worrying then you are out of faith.
Receive the answer and rejoice. Give all praise to God
When your mind is probably focused on something else, in a moment God will answer. This is the best part; take your time to rejoice over the answered prayer. Tell someone about it and give testimony in Church if it is worth testifying about. And if you promised God to do anything when you asked, then keep your word that he may answer more of your prayers.
Remember, God wants to answer your prayers
It does not give God any pleasure to see us (his children) desperately in need or suffering. The Scriptures clearly show us that he is a loving and generous God. He really does want to help you and see you happy.
Here are some verses that make the point:
- Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full (John 16:24).
- The Lord wants to be Gracious to you (Isaiah 30:18).
- This is the confidence 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 [received] what we asked of him (1 John 5:14-15).
- Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart (Psalm 34:7).
- Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me (Psalm 50:15)
- He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:32).
Conclusion: This is what the Scriptures say about prayer and we know that the Word of God is reliable. If we do as instructed, we will get the results that are promised. God wants to answer your prayer but there is a way to ask and things you must do to ensure that you receive what you ask for.
May the Lord give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed (Psalm 20:4), and my hope for you.