Many of the blessings of God are released into our lives only through persistent, unrelenting prayer. God had promised to bless Jacob when he returned to his homeland, yet only after a full night of wrestling—and giving Jacob a permanent injury—did God let Jacob pin him and obtain the blessing.
People don’t usually have a problem with praying. The problem is that they don’t see a lot of the things they pray for happen immediately, and so they assume prayer doesn’t work, and they give up. They don’t have a prayer problem; they have a persistence problem.
People don’t usually have a problem with praying. The problem is that they don’t see a lot of the things they pray for happen immediately, and so they assume prayer doesn’t work.
Wondering why God hasn’t answered their prayer leads many to doubt God’s goodness or to wonder if he even exists. But there are a number of reasons why God may not be answering your prayer. If you’re struggling with unanswered prayer, ask yourself these four questions:
1. Am I Pursuing God’s Will?
First, maybe you aren’t yet pursuing his will.
God will not pour blessing into your life when you are living in open rebellion against him. The psalmist says, “If I had been aware of malice in my heart, the Lord would not have listened” (Psalm 66:18 CSB). Peter says to husbands that if they are mistreating their wives, then their prayers will be hindered (1 Peter 3:7), and there are multiple other places where Jesus says open sin cuts us off from the blessing of God.
If you have never surrendered yourself to the lordship of Jesus, God puts himself under no obligation to hear your prayers. You’re not yet his child, and so none of the promises of prayer are yours. I don’t say that to be mean; in fact, you can become God’s child right now by repenting of your sin and receiving his free offer to forgive and save you. But until you do that, none of the promises of prayer are yours.
When you’re waiting on an answer to prayer, you should at least ask, “Am I pursuing God’s will in all the ways I know how?” Once you are satisfied that you are, you can proceed to the second consideration:
2. Is There a Better Plan?
When my teenager wanted to learn to drive on a new Audi, I instead got her a Honda Accord with a stick shift. When she questioned me because she thought it was too difficult, I told her, “I understand, but I think this is actually a valuable skill to have, and it will help remove the temptation to have the phone in your hand when you drive.”
I was giving her something different because I had a better plan. That doesn’t mean I’m infinitely wise or even that my decision was the right one (though I stand by it). But you can believe that the wisdom of our heavenly Father is always better. Sometimes he overrules our requests, not despite his love for us but because of it.
So, Jesus teaches us to begin every prayer by saying, “Your will be done.” No less than the Apostle Paul was told by God in 2 Corinthians in answer to a persistent prayer, “I’m not going to remove this thorn from your flesh like you asked, because I’ve got a better plan, and my grace will be sufficient for you in the affliction.”
Quite often God is up to something better in our lives that we just can’t see yet.
3. Do You Trust in His Goodness?
Maybe God’s not answering your prayers because you are approaching him without confidence in his goodness.
Now if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God—who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly—and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith without doubting. For the doubter is like the surging sea, driven and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord, being double-minded and unstable in all his ways.
– James 1:5–8
When we ask, we have to be certain of the goodness and character of Jesus, or, like James said, we will receive nothing from him. So, let us say as we pray: “Jesus, I know you’re good; I know you’re listening. You are just like I see you in the Gospels—just as attentive, just as moved with compassion. You are the same yesterday, today, and forever.”
Jim Cymbala said in Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire, “The great battle of our spiritual lives is, ‘Will you believe?’ It is not, ‘Will you try harder?’ or ‘Can you make yourself worthy?’ It is squarely a matter of believing that God will do what only he can do.”
4. What If That “No” Was a “Not Yet”?
God may not be answering your prayers because you have not yet prayed long enough.
Some answers are only given after a night of painful wrestling. After all, we are praying to the God who went through the darkness of Gethsemane and the pain of Golgotha for us. I can assure you he’s listening.
There may be more of the night of wrestling ahead. Don’t give up. Hold on to that heavenly Man and say, with Jacob, “I will not let you go until you bless me.”
And remember that God feeling distant is just an illusion. Like Jacob wrestled with the Man and was injured, God is testing your faith in his goodness. He’s seeing if you give up on him or conclude he doesn’t exist. And, he’s giving you a wound at the place of your brazen, foolish self-confidence that caused you to wander into a life of grasping and deceiving. Through this time of waiting on him, he’s creating in you a blessed limp so that you lean on his strength and not yours anymore.
If you push with persistence and get past the resistance, what you’ll find is not indifference from God but a deeper intimacy with him.