Have you ever earnestly prayed for something, only to have your prayer seemingly go unnoticed? We can understand why God won’t answer prayers for things that are selfish or immoral. But it’s often hard to understand why heartfelt, well-intentioned, biblical prayer seems to go unanswered.

Three times I begged the Lord to make this suffering go away. But he replied, “My kindness is all you need. My power is strongest when you are weak.” So if Christ keeps giving me his power, I will gladly brag about how weak I am. Yes, I am glad to be weak or insulted or mistreated or to have troubles and sufferings, if it is for Christ. Because when I am weak, I am strong (Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:8-10, CEV).

When our prayers seem to go unanswered, it is good to evaluate them, inviting the Spirit to show us if there is anything he wants to change.

Are they selfish? Even when you do ask, you don’t get it because your whole motive is wrong — you want only what will give you pleasure (James 4:3).

Are they contrary to God’s Word, or are they according to his will? if we ask anything according to his will he hears us (1 John 5:14).

Are we refusing to turn away from any particular sin? The eyes of the Lord watch over those who do right, and his ears are open to their prayers. But the Lord turns his face against those who do evil (1 Peter 3:12). The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and wonderful results (James 5:16).

But what if none of these hindrances apply to our own specific prayer?

Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known (1 Corinthians 13:12).

When we remember that God is infinitely wiser than we are, we can demonstrate real faith, trusting in God even when we can’t understand why certain prayers seem to go unanswered.

We can also take comfort from Jesus, struggling in prayer on the Mount of Olives:

Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:39-42).

Of course, the cup was not taken from Jesus. The very next day, he was crucified. The disciples no doubt thought that their prayers had gone unanswered. They could see no possible good coming from the crucifixion, yet this event ended up being God’s great triumph.

updated August 2019