5 Ways to Respond to Unanswered Prayers

unanswered prayers - People sitting in a prayer circle with hands joined in prayer

“Why won’t God answer my prayer?” We’ve asked this of ourselves, or heard it from others. We’ve experienced pleading with God for something in prayer and not receiving an answer. These unanswered prayers may have been prayed for years, by hundreds of people. We wonder why God seems silent, or why He wouldn’t give us something we think would be good in our lives. We can struggle in our faith as we try to understand why God would answer “yes” to someone else’s prayers, and not ours.

What does the Bible say about unanswered prayers?

The Bible talks about unanswered prayers directly, but also teaches us about prayer in general. Understanding more about prayer will help us understand more about unanswered prayers. 

“And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.” 1 John 5:14-15 ESV

God wants us to pray according to His will. If we are not seeking after His will, we can be simply seeking our own desires. We may think we have an unanswered prayer, when God has answered the prayer “No” for it not accomplishing what He wants to accomplish in our lives or others.

“And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them?” Luke 18:7 ESV

In the parable of the persistent widow, Jesus tells the story of the widowed woman who kept after an indifferent judge to give her justice. The judge gave into her demands, not because he cared, but to get her to go away. Our righteous God will listen and answer much better than this unrighteous judge. He wants us to be faithful in prayer.

“You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” James 4:5 ESV

Prayer isn’t a procedure, asking God for a wish and having it granted. God cares about why we are asking, and how it will accomplish His will. 

How to Respond to Unanswered Prayer

The way we view and respond to unanswered prayers can shape our faith in a good way, if we allow God to teach us more about trusting Him and pursuing His will. Here are 5 helpful ways to respond to unanswered prayers.

Use this as an opportunity to learn more about God and prayer.

If we simply approach prayer as a means of getting what we want, then we have missed the point.

Even if all the things that people prayed for happened – which they do not – this would not prove what Christians mean by the efficacy of prayer. For prayer is request. The essence of request, as distinct from compulsion, is that it may or may not be granted.

And if an infinitely wise Being listens to the requests of finite and foolish creatures, of course He will sometimes grant and sometimes refuse them. Invariable “success” in prayer would not prove the Christian doctrine at all. It would prove something more like magic – a power in certain human beings to control, or compel, the course of nature.

C.S. Lewis, The Essential C.S. Lewis

God hears our prayers, but He may not answer them the way we think or in the time frame we want.  Out of our desire for a goal to be achieved or a pain to be taken away, we go to God with our demands rather than our requests. We approach Him like a vending machine instead of our heavenly, benevolent Father. Philippians 4:6-7 ESV is a beautiful portrait of prayer.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

We put our requests in front of God in prayer and supplication (surrender.) God then gives us His peace to guard our hearts and minds. The verse doesn’t say that we get what we have asked for, but I believe that we receive what we need – the peace of God which surpasses all understanding. 

Let unanswered prayer grow your trust in God.

Sometimes our prayers are unanswered simply because of the limitation of time. You can pray for your child to find a godly spouse one day, but if you have a toddler, it’s going to be a while until you see how it is answered. Other times, we know that God is powerful and strong enough to change our painful circumstances right this moment, but He doesn’t for some reason. When we seek God’s will instead of ours in prayer, we put down our desire to control and understand every circumstance in our lives, and God is able to grow our trust in Him. 

If the Lord will but hear us we will leave it to His superior wisdom to decide whether He will answer us or no. It is better for our prayer to be heard than answered.

If the Lord were to make an absolute promise to answer all our requests it might be rather a curse than a blessing, for it would be casting the responsibility of our lives upon ourselves, and we should be placed in a very anxious position: But now the Lord hears our desires, and that is enough; we only wish Him to grant them if His infinite wisdom sees that it would be for our good and for His glory.

C.H. Spurgeon, Treasury of David, Psalm 130:2.

Do we trust God to be wiser than us? Do we trust Him to have a better understanding of His purposes? As we encounter unanswered prayer, we can let our frustration turn into anger, or we can let it break our desire to trust in ourselves. Trusting in God for our future is far wiser than any plan we could make for our lives.

Find support as you wait for God to answer your prayer.

I once heard Carol Kent describe the community of people who came around her during a difficult time as “stretcher bearers.” In Luke 5:17-26, the stretcher bearers were the friends of the paralyzed man who were so committed to getting their friend in front of Jesus, they cut a hole in the roof! In our lives, it might be that one friend who checks on you. It can be a trusted teacher or a wise counselor. It might be your family, or people at church.

They may seek you out, as they heard of your struggle and want to help. Or you might have to go find them, if you are facing something difficult but private. Don’t let your unanswered prayer isolate you from other people. Let stretcher bearers offer you encouragement. And be a stretcher bearer for others.

Examine your unanswered prayer and your heart.

If we are praying for something that is sinful, it isn’t in God’s will to answer it the way you want Him to. For example, praying that your boyfriend would leave his wife; praying that you would be able to successfully cheat on a test; or praying that you would be able to exact revenge. You are not praying for God’s will. If what you are praying for comes to fruition, it’s not God answering your prayer. 

In addition, valuing sin (“cherishing iniquity”) in our lives disrupts our relationship with God and damages our prayer life. Psalm 66:18-19 says, “If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened. But truly God has listened; he has attended to the voice of my prayer.” This is just one good reason to include confession as part of a prayer routine, as seen in the Moms in Prayer 4 Steps of Prayer or the ACTS model of prayer

Keep praying.

It can be easy to give up on an unanswered prayer, especially when you literally cannot make a difference in the situation. You cannot cure cancer; you cannot change someone’s heart. But God can. God wants us to keep trusting Him in prayer with this need. He may not change the circumstance right then, but He can change your attitude, and strengthen you as you wait on His will and His timing. 

Thank God for Unanswered Prayers

On this earth, we won’t understand everything that happens or everything that God does. Isaiah 55:8-9 tells us, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” 

We might not understand why God isn’t answering our prayers. We might consider our request an unanswered prayer when it is actually answered with a “no,” for God’s greater purposes in our lives and others. We can learn to be thankful that God has not just given into our demands, but instead has worked everything together for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28 ESV.)

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, for those who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28 WEB at Hopefilledfaith.com

Oswald Chambers so succinctly phrases it in If You Will Ask: Reflections on the Power of Prayer. “Never make the blunder of trying to forecast the way God is going to answer your prayer.”

A Prayer for Unanswered Prayers

Dear Lord, I thank You that I can talk to You about anything. I want to surrender to You what I have been praying for time and time again. I pray for Your perfect will to be done. I confess my sin to You, and ask for your forgiveness. May I trust in You for everything that concerns me today. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Watch this prayer in video form here.

Thank you for reading “5 Ways to Respond to Unanswered Prayers.” If you liked this, you may also like A Short Prayer for Worry

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