Unanswered Prayer

Scripture: Psalm 66:18, James 5:16, Isaiah 59:2
Today we want to study various reasons why God may not be able to hear us pray. There is a reason if the heavens seem to be brass over our heads. It is not natural for prayers to bounce back unanswered from the courts of God. Let’s consider some hindrances to prayer which most frequently bring this sense of useless petition.
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Every year 30,000 people die, by their own hand in the United States, and four times that many attempt suicide without succeeding. This is the age of fear, instability and hopelessness. Jesus prophesied that men’s hearts would be failing them for fear and we see the results of that emotional turmoil in the mounting suicide records. While thousands run away from life and its problems by killing themselves, countless others grope desperately for an answer to their frustrations. In one year alone Americans spent $200 million in consultations with fortune tellers and astrologers.

Friends, those millions of dollars were spent in vain searching for peace of mind and heart. Every one of those problems could have been solved without the cost of a penny through prayer.

Every person who has learned to trust in prayer could give testimony to the miraculous providence of God. The unlimited resources of heaven have been made available to meet the emergencies of mankind. Prayer has been defined as the “key in the hand of faith to unlock heaven’s storehouse.” Millions of people, without knowing the secret of prayer, have tried to meet their problems in human wisdom and strength only to fail.

Yet in spite of the thrilling record of the effectual power of prayer, almost everyone has felt at some time or other that his prayers were not getting through to God. Today we want to study various reasons why God may not be able to hear us pray. There is a reason if the heavens seem to be brass over our heads. It is not natural for prayers to bounce back unanswered from the courts of God. Let’s consider some hindrances to prayer which most frequently bring this sense of useless petition.

The first reason on my list today is made clear in Psalm 66:18, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.” This means that known sin in the life will short circuit the connection with heaven. God cannot hear us if we deliberately separate ourselves by transgression. But this does not mean that God will hear no prayer of the sinner. The heart-cry of the Publican will never go unheeded-“Lord, have mercy upon me, a sinner.” There is no depth from which we cannot be lifted, if we recognize our sinful condition and cry out to God for help. But if we continue to willfully offend by our choosing to sin, there is no way for our prayers to be heard.

No one has confidence in the prayers of a man who persists in sin. If we are sick, we call for the most godly man available to come and pray for us. “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” James 5:16. It must be understood that there are laws of prayer just as there are laws of nature. The results of transgressing those laws are automatic and inevitable. Just as surely as the light goes out when the switch is pulled, so the prayer is not answered if sin comes between. “But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear.” Isaiah 59:2.

The second hindrance to effectual prayer is disbelief of God’s Word. Every promise of God is conditioned upon the exercise of faith. “But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord.” James 1:6, 7. The up and down Christian is not able to receive great things because he does not expect them.

A skeptic stood up in a crowd one day and shouted, “If there is a God I challenge Him to prove it by striking me dead.” Everyone held their breath; nothing happened. Then a woman spoke up with a question; “Sir, do you have any children in your home?” The man said “Yes, I have three children.” “Could you kill one of them if he should hand you a knife and ask you to do so?” the woman asked. “Of course not, I love my children,” the skeptic answered. “Ah, and that’s why God didn’t strike you dead. He loves you too much,” she said.

Sometimes we offer prayers which seem to be noble and good; but we have selfish motives underneath in the heart. We might say one thing with our lips and another in our hearts. A certain minister’s little daughter was saying her prayers before going to bed. It was late in the fall of the year and almost time for the snows to begin. In her prayer she said, “And please, dear Lord, send the beautiful snow to keep the little flowers warm through the winter.” But as she climbed into bed, she was heard to murmur, “That time I fooled Him. I want the snow so I can go sledding with my new sled.” Charles Finney, the great preacher, once told a church that they couldn’t have a revival until the elders stopped lying to God in prayer.

Dear friends, we need to understand that prayer is simply conversation with God. There is no excuse for not knowing how to pray. We need not use any set words or phrases. We should just open out heart to God as to a friend. Eloquence and multiplicity of words is not necessary or desirable. Sincerity is the greatest quality of a real prayer. Many people, in their busy, rushing life, simply by habit rattle off the same ritual each night and morning as though they’re giving routine reports to God. One man even wrote off his prayer and hung it by his bed. So that he could call God’s attention to it during his hurried devotions. That is not prayer.

Prayer is not a one-sided conversation. It is not a rapid recount of our confessions as though we’re dictating to God and then asking Him to sign it. We must let Him speak to us in the silence of our soul. We should wait before Him until He has spoken to us through the Holy Spirit. I am reminded of the little boy who stood on a doorstep, vainly struggling to reach the doorbell which was just beyond his reach. A kind preacher passing by saw his trouble and came to the rescue. He lifted the little fellow so that he could press the button. As soon as it was done, the boy said, “Now let’s scoot, mister,” and ran away. How often we ring the number of heaven, rush through our prayers and jump into bed before God can answer us.

The fourth hindrance to prayer is an unforgiving spirit. Here is one of the greatest obstacles to effective prayer. Men may repeat the prayer of Christ “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” without even knowing what they say. If we do not forgive others, we may despair of having our own sins forgiven. We actually cut off the vital connection by withholding our forgiveness to others. “But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses.” Mark 11:26. How hard it is to kill out the bitter sins of envy, jealousy and pride. Grudges against those who have offended us must be put away, or we many well despair of heaven.

The next obstacle on my list is indifference in prayer. Like the importunate widow of the Bible we are to hold on by faith, even if the answer is long in coming. My own father did not become a Christian until he was 70 years of age, although my mother and I prayed every passing day for his conversion. The answer came in God’s time, and in God’s way. At times we were tempted to give up hope, but the happy day of his baptism was the fruition of years of prayer. God likes us to be persistent in prayer.

We’ve often heard the story of the woman who had read in the Bible that even a mountain could be removed into the midst of the sea through faith. It so happened that she lived by the ocean, and an ugly hill shut off her view of the water. One night she decided to ask God to remove that mountain according to His word. The next morning she awoke early and rushed out to take a look. Behold, the hill was still there. With a shrug of her shoulder she said, “Huh! Just as I expected.” She had been answered according to her faith, and so it is with us. “And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.” Matthew 21:22.

Now this promise is also conditioned by one other text in 1 John 5:14. “And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us.” This means that we cannot demand things from God. All our request must be submitted to the test of His will. Sometimes we sort of put God on the spot by our prayers. We make it very difficult for Him to answer by the way we ask. Suppose there are two men in Sail-boats leaving from the same dock. Both men pray for a favorable wind. One asks for an east wing and the other asks for a west wind. What can God do? Presumably He can look into the lives of those men and see which has the greater need and the greater faith. So why should we not be willing to leave the decision to His will.

We dare not demand immediate answers according to our specified needs, because we can’t see the future. Sometimes we ask God for things which seem good in our own eyes, but which would actually cause us injury. In His great kindness and love God answers that request by saying “no” instead of “yes.” I’m thankful that some of my requests were denied, but I became thankful only after the passing of years had proved what a mistaken prayer I offered. If my little boy comes to me and asks to play with my razor, I say “no” every time. He cannot understand why I say no, and he may pout and cry. Sometimes we ask God, in our ignorance or out innocence, for something dangerous, and He says “no.” How often we pout and say that God doesn’t love us.

This brings us to the last hindrance on my list. We must not ask for foolish or selfish things from God. “Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.” James 4:3. Once, a fellow minister of mine was called to a certain home to pray. The young father in that home seemed to be quite agitated. He told the minister, “Pastor, I have a very special request to make. My rich uncle in on his death bed, and I want you to pray that he will leave his money to me when he dies.” That’s an example of asking amiss a purely selfish request. Jesus taught us to ask for our daily bread. There is a vast difference between our needs and our desires, and God has nowhere promised to grant all our desires. How thankful we should be for this. If a man is too lazy to get out of bed for his breakfast, should he pray and ask God to send someone to his room with food on a try? We can see why God doesn’t answer foolish requests.

In a child we can overlook an improper and untimely request, but we fail to see how childish our prayers might appear in the sight of God. I’ve heard people say they doubted the existence of God because He did not answer a certain prayer. It reminds me of a little boy who was going to test God. He took an iron exercise bar down in the cellar and asked God to turn it into solid gold. When it did not change, his childish mind questioned the existence of God. It would amaze us to know how many adult Christians have done equally as foolish.

Paul says, “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace.” Hebrews 4:16. We should not fear to approach Him as our Father. What though He sits on the throne of the Universe; does the king’s little son fear the throne, the scepter or the crown? No, he climbs, unafraid, into his father’s lap. Remember that we are His children in the same wonderful, intimate way.

If you often feel that you can’t pray-you’re not in the mood-take heed. That is the time you need it the most. When the room is closed tight we feel groggy and dizzy, we can hardly make ourselves move. But the lethargy is a danger signal that we must get air quickly. So the disinterest in prayer warns us to pray quickly, fervently and without ceasing. Prayer is the breath of the soul.

It is the key of power. Take the key and use it often. Do not wait until there is an emergency.

Learn the precious secret of communing with God as a daily experience. There are times when we should enter the closet to pray, but we do not have to be upon our knees in order to lift the heart to God. As we walk along the street, sit in an office, or engage in out duties we may be in the atmosphere of prayer. In the slightest time of need, our heart may turn to God as naturally as the sunflower turns to the sun. That’s what it means to pray without ceasing.

In closing may I counsel you to work as well as pray? Some people act as though they expect God to do things for them that they themselves should do. In my home town, as a boy, I remember a big fire which destroyed a gospel tabernacle. At the time of the fire, a convention was being conducted and many pastors were gathered for the occasion.

One small boy from the neighborhood was near the big building when it caught fire. He overheard one preacher say, “Quick, let’s drop on our knees and pray.” But another answered, “No, let’s work and pray,” and he grabbed a bucket of water to put out the fire. Everyone knows that God can put out a fire, but will He do it while we stand (or kneel) idly by?

Any Christian knows God can heal, but will He do it if we refuse to use the remedies at hand? It is a wonderful thing to see what God can do through us. So let’s pray; but let’s try to help God answer our prayer. It will be no less to His credit when the answer comes. So take the key, dear friends, and use it to open the gate of heaven and the storehouse of blessing.



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