Why don't my prayers get answered?

People often say to us; "I prayed but my prayers didn't get answered ...".  Well, Jesus promises that God will hear and answer our prayers.  We believe, and experience in our churches shows, that this is true.  However, we cannot deny that many people, mostly not church members, still come to us with this complaint.

Here are some thoughts to consider:

1.  God is not a bubblegum machine.  

bubblegum machineYou have probably seen these machines outside shops or in amusement arcades - you put in a coin, turn a handle and out comes a bubblegum - every time.  It is irrelevant whether that bubblegum is good for me, will increase my diabetes, or will break a tooth.  The machine does not care.  Our God is not a machine or a computer, but a living God who really cares for us and wants to enjoy a great relationship with us.  

Suppose that He had given me the Ferrari that I so badly wanted, or the gigantic Euro Millions win that I might have prayed for ... Would I have been closer to Him or further away.  Would that Ferrari have been a means of blessing to me, or a means of me causing injury and pain?  Would that £20m prize have been good, or would it have caused a breakdown of my relationships with God, my wife and my family - as some people have already experienced? 

2.  God answered but I didn't listen

signpostsWhen I ask someone the way to a place, they give me directions.  I have a choice - I can follow their instructions - or I can go my own way.  If I choose my own way, then it is hardly the fault of the person giving the directions if I end up in the wrong place.  It's often like that with God too.  I ask for something that He has already laid out a path for.  I can follow that path, or I can choose to go my own way.  I can imagine God shouting "NO - NOT that way", as I blindly drive off in the wrong direction, away from the blessing that He longs to give me.

3.  I may have asked God to for something that He has said should not be.

God has laid out certain rules for life.  Everything that He says is, by definition, truth because He IS the source of all truth.  

As He says; "Do not steal. Do not deceive or cheat one another" (in Leviticus 19:11 NLT), I can't expect that He will answer prayers that might cause me to defraud someone.  As Jesus says; "... love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!" (in Matthew 5:44 NLT), asking God for something that is going to harm someone else just isn't going to be a strategy for success.

I need to look at the things that God has said (in the bible and in church) and live my life according to His plan for me, which is excellent.  I know from experience that, when I do that, amazing things happen and my prayers frequently get answered.

4.  I may not have recognised the answer.  

Recently someone who had been living rough on the streets for some time came into the church and told me; "I prayed and God didn't answer".  I knew that he had prayed at one of our meetings for Jesus to change his life.  Since then his mental attitude has completely changed, he has found a home, he is clean and tidy, which is a huge change from how I first knew him.  I saw that he had changed, and yet he didn't.  Sometimes God answers our prayers in such a subtle and caring way that we don't even notice - until someone points it out to us.

5.  The answer may be a work in progress

There are some things that take time.  God often uses medical professionals and the like as His tools to answer prayers.  When my heart stopped working some time ago, the church prayed.  I still had to go through the surgery, but I knew that that was part of God's answer.  The fact that my recovery was complete, far quicker than expected and that my general health ever since has been far better than before, convinces me that God was there, guiding the highly skilled surgeons.  As Christians, we are supposed to operate as the hands, feet and fingers of Jesus Christ, so is it any surprise that He uses people to bring His blessings to others?

How can I ask God for right things?

God is not going to give us something that He knows is bad for us or those with whom we interact, nor is He going to go against His Word of Truth.  However, He did promise that He will hear and respond to those who will follow Him - and we know it's true, because God cannot lie!

The starting point is to come to God (by praying - that's one prayer that He can never resist!) to admit that I have gone my own way instead of looking for and following God's way; to ask for His forgiveness (another prayer that He never refuses!) and to agree to follow Jesus (God's Son who lived a perfect life on Earth, died in our place and rose again to lead us back to God).  

... Jesus told (His disciples), “I tell you the truth, if you have faith and don’t doubt, you can do things like this and much more. You can even say to this mountain, ‘May you be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and it will happen.  (Matthew 21:21 NLT)

How do I pray?

Jesus said:  "Pray like this: 

Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy. 

May your Kingdom come soon. 

May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. 

Give us today the food we need, and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us. 

And don’t let us yield to temptation, but rescue us from the evil one".  (Matthew 6:9-13 NLT)

Bible quotations from the New Living Translation (NLT), but any good bible will tell you the same things.