Why do some prayers take longer to be answered than others, and why do some seem to go unanswered? There are a number of reasons. God always answers our prayers, but not always right away and not always in just the way we expect Him to. Sometimes He says “yes,” sometimes He says “no,” and sometimes He says “wait.”
When it seems your prayers aren’t being answered, ask yourself these questions:
Am I sure that what I’m praying for is what God also wants, that it’s His will?
God doesn’t answer some prayers the way we want or expect Him to because He knows that what we’re praying for is not really good for us, or not good for others. The Bible warns us that if our heart isn’t right, or our motives are selfish, the Lord may not give us what we ask for.(James 4:3)
God sometimes doesn’t answer our prayers because He has something better for us. God knows best, and He gives the very best to those who leave the choices up to Him.
Have I done my part by obeying what the Lord has told me to do?
Faith and obedience come first, then God answers prayer. If you are doing your best to fulfill your part of the deal by doing what you can to help bring about the desired result, and if you’re doing your best to do what’s right and what will please Him-that is, loving Him and others-then you can be confident that He will answer your prayer.(John 15:7; 1 John 3:21–22) But if you’re not doing what you know is right, or aren’t meeting the conditions He laid down in His Word or gave you directly, then you can’t expect Him to give you what you ask for.(John 9:31; Psalm 66:18–20)
Of course, He may also sometimes ask you to do something that’s not what you were expecting or hoping to hear. When this happens, it’s important to remind yourself that God is the One who is all-seeing and all-knowing, that He loves you and is concerned about you and your well-being, and that it’s wise to do as He says. Doing what He tells you may at first seem difficult or costly, but in the long run you will always find out that He was right.
Is the Lord perhaps testing my faith?
Sometimes God wants to see how serious you are about getting the answer you desire. If you really believe that He is able to do what He has promised, you’ll be persistent.(Luke 11:5–10; 18:1–8; Romans 4:21; 12:12; 1 Peter 1:6–7)
If you keep on by faith, even when it looks like God isn’t answering your prayer, you will please God. He likes the kind of faith that refuses to quit, the kind that will continue on in spite of outward appearances. He likes those who keep believing it will be so, just because He said so.
A good example of this is Abraham in the Old Testament, who was over a hundred years old and still without an heir. God had promised that his wife Sarah would bear a son, but she was now ninety and long past childbearing age. But Abraham continued to believe God’s promise despite the impossible odds, and sure enough, God came through. Sarah miraculously conceived and gave birth to a son, Isaac, who through his two sons became the forefather of the Hebrew people, as well as the Edomites (a segment of the Arabic people).
The Apostle Paul wrote of Abraham’s stand of faith: “And not being weak in faith, he did not consider his own body, already dead (since he was about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah’s womb. He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform. And therefore it was accounted to him for righteousness.”(Romans 4:19–22)
If you have real faith, you’ll say, “I claimed God’s promise and I’m going forward, even though I cannot see my way ahead at this moment!” Like the sea captain who sails with zero visibility into the night storm, you may not be able to see what’s ahead, but you continue on. You know the Lord has heard your prayer, and that He will answer in His time. That’s the kind of faith that pleases God and gets results!
Is the Lord perhaps trying to teach me patience or some other lesson?
It just seems to be part of human nature to reach out to God more when we need something from Him. He’s happy to meet our needs, but He’s also smart enough to take advantage of those times when He has our full attention to teach us lessons that will bring us closer to Him and make us better people. Patience seems to be one of His most frequent lessons, but He may also be trying to teach you to be more loving, more humble, more prayerful, or any one of the other lessons that make up life. If that’s the case, when you have learned whatever He’s trying to teach you, He will answer.
Is it the Lord’s time, and are all the conditions right?
“To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven.”(Ecclesiastes 3:1) God has His times; you can’t rush Him. Prayer is sometimes like planting a seed: It takes time for the seed to sprout, break ground, mature, and bear fruit-and some types of seeds take longer than others. Some flowers seem to spring up overnight, but trees take years before they bear fruit.
The conditions have to be right before God can answer. Complex situations sometimes take time. It’s like a difficult mathematical problem: The more complicated the problem and the more factors involved, the more complex the solution and the more time it usually takes.
Is His answer being affected by the decisions or actions of others?
The outcome of prayer depends on three principal factors: Your will (what you want), God’s will (what He wants), and the decisions and actions of others who are involved. Even when your will and God’s will are in agreement, He may not be able to bring about the desired result because He has given everyone the majesty of choice. The decisions and actions of the others involved also help determine the outcome. You don’t control it completely, they don’t control it completely, and God has specifically limited Himself not to control it completely. If your prayers are not being answered because others are making what you feel are the wrong decisions, there’s hope yet: Pray for God to work in their hearts and help them to make the right ones.
However, regardless of what others do or don’t do, or whether they make the right or wrong choices, the promises Jesus has put forth in the Bible still hold true. A wrong choice on the part of another cannot cancel out the validity and promise of God’s Word. So even if you are faced with a situation where you feel your prayer cannot be answered because of someone’s wrong choices, God will hear your prayer and answer in some way, even if you never see the answer in this life.
The following account illustrates the point:
Hundreds of miles apart from each other, two women found themselves experiencing a similar heartbreak. Kate’s husband, Jim, had been sentenced to ten years in prison for armed robbery and assault. He had been going downhill for the last few years and had become a heavy alcoholic. He had already pushed God and religion out of his life, and upon his conviction, he cursed God and threw away what little faith remained in his heart.
Emilia, meanwhile, had watched her brother, Josue, a successful lawyer, become bitter at God for taking his lovely young wife and child home to Heaven in a car accident. His anger festered inside him, and he cut himself off from his former friends and life-all the things that reminded him of his past and his Catholic upbringing. He moved away from his home and began to practice elsewhere, severing all ties with his family. Aside from his work, he lived in isolation and despondency.
Kate and Emilia, both believers in God and the power of prayer, found strength in the Bible and its promises. Kate earnestly prayed for her husband, as Emilia did for her brother. For years each persevered in prayer, without ever seeing the fruit of their labors.
At long last, Jim turned to God in prison. He gave up his former life, and accepted Jesus back into his life. His last few years in prison were spent teaching Jesus’ love to his fellow convicts. On the day of his release, the prison guards and wards arranged for a prison gathering to be held in his honor. It was like a church service, for Jim had become the inmates’ local “pastor.” When Kate and their two children arrived at the prison gates to pick Jim up, their smiles and tears registered their thankfulness to God for answering their prayers and giving them back the man they loved.
Emilia, too, clung to the promise that God was able to change Josue’s heart and bring him back to their family. But no such change occurred in Josue. Her letters, and those of her relatives, were never answered. Their phone calls were cut off. But Emilia believed that God was answering, even though she could not see His mighty hand at work.
And so He was. Emilia’s prayers were being answered. Josue was not living alone, as much as he tried to. God’s presence was with him at all times, in answer to Emilia’s petitions. God gave many opportunities for Josue to turn back on the right path, but he refused each of them. He made the wrong choices. In the end, Emilia committed her brother into God’s hands. When his life came to a close, and he faced his Savior on the Other Side, Emilia would see at last the answer to her prayers. She would see all that God had done on her behalf to answer her prayers. The final choice had rested in Josue’s hand. Yet still, as a result of her petitions, God had worked in Josue’s heart. Though Josue had not made the right choice in his life on Earth, in the next life he found the courage to do so.
One answer may seem so much more wonderful than the other; yet both are answers to prayer. The reward of these women’s prayers, sent to Jesus, eventually blossomed. One took longer than the other, yet in the end, both were beautiful and perfect.
God takes the petition of your heart and lips and, in His wisdom, answers it in the way that He knows best, as well as according to the choices that others make. When you avail yourself of the power of prayer, you also must submit yourself to the realization that God’s choice and the way in which He answers you-however it may differ from your own-is always best.
Faith cannot be unanswered.
Her feet were firmly planted on the Rock;
Amid the wildest storms she stands undaunted,
Nor quails before the loudest thunder shock.
She knows Omnipotence has heard her prayer,
And cries, “It shall be done,” sometime, somewhere.
Unanswered yet? Nay, do not say ungranted;
Perhaps your part is not yet wholly done.
The work began when your first prayer was uttered.
And God will finish what He has begun.
If you will keep the incense burning there,
His glory you shall see, sometime, somewhere.
God answers prayer;
Sometimes when hearts are weak
He gives the very gifts believers seek.
But often faith must learn a deeper rest,
And trust God’s silence
When He does not speak;
For, He whose name is Love
Will send the best.
Stars may burn out,
Nor mountain walls endure,
But God is true, His promises are sure
To those who seek.
–Myra Goodwin Plantz
I asked God for strength, that I might achieve,
I was made weak, that I might learn humbly to obey …
I asked for health, that I might do greater things,
I was given infirmity, that I might do better things …
I asked for riches, that I might be happy,
I was given poverty, that I might be wise …
I asked for power, that I might have the praise of men,
I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God …
I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life,
I was given life, that I might enjoy all things …
I got nothing that I asked for, but everything I had hoped for.
Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.
I am among all men most richly blessed.