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.1God 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.2 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.3
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.4
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 a promised 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 son Jacob became the forefather of the Hebrew 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.”5
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!” 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.”6 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.
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—however it may differ from your own—and the way in which He answers you 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.
—Attributed to an unknown Confederate soldier