The Sting Of Unanswered Prayer And What To Do

Have you ever been disappointed after praying for a long time, maybe even years about a situation, knowing that with God all things are possible, but nothing changed?

Don’t feel alone. You are in good company. Many people have experienced what they call “unanswered prayer”.  

The Bible says,

 “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” Matthew 7:7-8 ESV. 

If we are honest, after a while, we begin to think that those verses are for everyone else except us. Our minds become filled with many questions trying to understand what to do with unanswered prayer, 

  • Does God hear me when I pray?
  • Why pray in the first place? 
  • What is the purpose of our prayers?
  • What causes unanswered prayer?

If you are asking such things, you are fully human and in need of God’s answers. Could it be that we don’t fully understand Matthew 7:7-8? 

What is unanswered prayer?

Some people say that there is no unanswered prayer. Rather, the answer is yes, no, or later. I wish it were as simple as that. 

The truth is that prayer and God will always be a bit of a mystery this side of eternity. If we fully understood everything, why would we need God? 

The definition of unanswered prayer depends on whose point of view it comes from.

As humans, we often pray as if we are giving a grocery list to God. If we are always asking for things or a change in circumstances, then we will often have unanswered prayer.

I love this quote, “Be grateful that God’s answer to prayer is wiser than our requests.” (unknown) 

If God’s response to everyone’s prayers were what they wanted, our world would be in more chaos than it already is. 

  • What I pray for may be the opposite of what you pray for. 
  • Farmers pray for rain and those on vacation pray for sunshine. 
  • Two people pray for the same job but only one gets it. 

In light of Scripture, whose prayer is more worthy? The truth is that none of us are more deserving. 

Bad things sometimes happen to God’s people and good things happen to bad people. It is the nature of the world we live in where mankind has free will. 

How do I know my prayers are being heard?

Have you experienced the bitter disappointment of unanswered prayer? It stings at times.

We desperately want our gut-wrenching season to pass, only to experience what seems like God’s silence. We begin to wonder if He even hears us.

Scripture says that God gives us good gifts, but somehow it doesn’t always feel like it in these moments. How can we know that God hears us? Here is what Scripture says: 

“And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.” 1 John 5:14 ESV

“We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him.” John 9:31

“For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” 1 Peter 3:12

“If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.” Psalm 66:18

If we are trying to do God’s will, then God hears us, regardless of our feelings.

Photo of a woman with her head in her hands, wondering if God hears her prayers and the caption, "We can be certain that when we pray according to God's will He will hear and answer."

Our emotions can be very deceptive. Sometimes we have to “faith it till we make it.” In other words, when our feelings are telling us something that is not Scriptural, we have to trust God until our feelings eventually catch up.

We have a Kind and loving Heavenly Father who gives good gifts when it is the right time. 

Related: Top Bible verses on doubt when you question God

What Bible characters experienced unanswered prayer? 

Numerous Bible characters experienced unanswered prayer in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. These were good people, not heathens. They loved God. Consider these passages. 

“How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” David’s prayer in Psalm 13:1 (ESV)

“Oh, that I had one to hear me!.” Job 31:35 (ESV)

“O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear?” Habakkuk 1:2 (ESV)

“So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” The Apostle Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 12:7-9 (ESV)

Most notable is Jesus’ prayer in the garden of Gethsemane

“Then he said to them, ‘My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.’  And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying,’“My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me;’ ” Matthew 26:38-39 (ESV)

If the Son of God had an unanswered prayer why would we think we would not experience the same?

What would have happened if the Heavenly Father had answered Jesus’ request to not suffer in His flesh? Jesus concluded His prayer with, “Not my will but yours be done.”  

What is the real purpose of prayer?

Let me illustrate the purpose of prayer using a personal example. 

I have a best friend who moved away. It was a hard pill to swallow. But our friendship has continued in her physical absence. 

We talk on the phone periodically. We share all kinds of things like hopes and dreams, some exciting things we have been doing, or things we are concerned about. We express gratitude for a thoughtful card or a text sent and how it made our day. 

But what would happen to our friendship if I would constantly give her a list of things I wanted her to do for me?  What if she didn’t do them? What if I didn’t care about what she wanted? 

Prayer is similar to those phone calls my friend and I share. Someone has said that God’s phone number is Jeremiah 33:3.

“Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known.” ESV

God wants to be our best friend. Prayer is about building that relationship. He wants to hear our hopes and dreams, or the exciting things we have been doing, and yes, also the things that we are concerned about.

God wants to hear our gratitude for things He has done for us, and our desire for the will of God in our lives. He wants us to be concerned about things that will matter a thousand years from now.

He wants us to acknowledge that God’s way is always best and a relational response of trust because He sees the bigger picture.  

“Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” Psalm 37:4 ESV

This is not talking about going to God and asking for what we want. It is saying that when we are delighting in God’s goodness, He creates in us His desires. We can’t go wrong when our desires come from Him. 

Photo of a woman with her head in her hands and the caption, "Delight in the Lord and He will place His desires in your heart."  (from Psalm 37:4)

Does that describe your prayer life? Or do you give God the grocery list approach? 

Matthew 7 7 meaning and unanswered prayer

One of the problems people have is taking God’s word out of context. When we make Scripture mean what we want to hear rather than what was intended, we get into trouble. It serves only to reinforce our selfish desires.

Taking God’s word out of context is an age-old deception that began in the Garden of Eden. It will make us doubt God in so many ways. It will make us think that He does not care instead of thinking he is a good father. 

Matthew 7 verse 7 is part of the Sermon On The Mount. It was intended to be all together, one point building upon another.

When I take sermon notes, the pastor doesn’t just tell us a bunch of unrelated facts. He has an outline he follows, with every point building to his final thoughts. 

So what was Jesus trying to convey to His disciples when He gave them this most important sermon? 

Beginning in Chapter 5 (a manmade division) Jesus talked to them about what character traits he was wanting them to develop. He covered all kinds of things that affect our relationship with God the Father.

He then covered things relating to our relationship with others. He also gave an example of how we should pray.

Then He came to the verse in Mathew 7. When we essentially beg God to help us have the right attitudes toward Him and toward others, He will always answer those prayers. Let that soak in.

When we are praying this way we are praying according to His will. 

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” Matthew 7:7-8 ESV. 

What to do when prayers are unanswered

In the face of unanswered prayers, what should be our response? What will help your prayer time when:

  • you haven’t gotten an immediate answer,
  • you still have physical pain,
  • circumstances have not changed,
  • you haven’t received something you desperately want?

What would be a perspective changer?

Many people believe they can’t trust anyone, including God. Does this describe you? You may have been abandoned by someone you love, abused, or treated with disrespect.

Jesus went through unimaginable pain because of love. He understands unanswered prayer. Furthermore, He set the example for trusting our loving Father and His better plan.

There are some things that we simply can not have control over. And so we acknowledge it and say, “Thy will be done.” 

If you are struggling to trust God, this free Bible study guide will help you: “Learning to trust God, A Study On His Faithfulness.”

Second, we need to remember that we are not in this alone. It might feel that way, but feelings are deceptive.

God’s presence is always with us, helping us cope with the things we think we can’t endure. Don’t stop talking to Him even if it feels like He is far off.

Third, we must choose to praise and give thanks

  • for all the good things God gives to all His children
  • for all the specific things he has given us individually

I say choose because at first, this won’t be what we feel like doing.

God doesn’t owe us anything, but He lavishes on us so many good gifts. 

Fourth, it is extremely helpful to read the many Psalms of lament where David puts words to the feelings that come with unanswered prayer. (1)

Life is often hard and David was well aware of it. But after he poured out his pain to the Lord, he always came back to the most important facts.

  • God loves us.
  • God protects us.
  • God is with us.
  • God will someday make everything right.
  • God deserves our total trust and worship. 

Fifth, write your own Psalm of lament using David’s example. It will help you constructively focus your thoughts and feelings. It will help bring you back into the present from anxiety over the future. Here is an example.

Heavenly Father, 

My heart aches because it feels like this situation (put here the details) will never end. I feel so alone. Sometimes it seems that no one cares. The enemy is tempting me to believe these lies that often arise in my emotions.

If only you would show me your face and touch my hand so I could witness your presence with my senses. Thank you that you have given me brothers and sisters in Christ to meet that need.

Forgive me for my little faith that causes me to doubt your steadfast love.

I can’t endure this without your help. I praise you that you have promised to be my refuge and strength, a helper in my troubles. I want to believe it, so please help my unbelief. 

Help me to remember that even if the mountains crumble into the sea that you remain steadfast and faithful to me.

In the name of Jesus Christ I pray, Amen.

You can download a copy of this prayer. It is free. Here is the link.

Photo of a prayer of lament over unanswered prayer.

You might also like to read: 

References: 

  1. Some of the Psalms of lament: 4, 9, 10,13, 40:12-17, 46, 55, 56, 57, 71,139.

Sharing is caring!

Leave a Comment

 

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Skip to content