Why God Won’t Answer Your Prayers
All Christians struggle at one point or another with feeling like their prayer life is ineffective. I certainly know I have! There are seasons when it feels like my prayers are bouncing off the ceiling and going nowhere, or that they are simply falling on deaf ears. The Bible has a lot to say about prayer, how it works, and why it sometimes doesn’t. Thus, there is more than one place in Scripture that speaks about why prayers aren’t answered, but I’d like to examine just one prominent example.
You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. (James 4:3)
One main reason why God won’t answer our prayers is because we simply are not praying the right way. Or, as James put it, we “ask wrongly”. This “asking wrongly” does not refer to the words we use when we pray, as if using the right combination of phrases somehow unlocks the power of prayer (though many people think that praying wrongly is a matter of language). Instead, the “wrong” way of praying that James is referring to is not the words we use but rather the motive of our heart.
What’s Your Motive?
James explains that asking wrongly means we ask in order “to spend it on your passions”. The reason we come to God and ask for something is being driven by selfish and unholy intentions. The problem with our prayer is that our motive is defective. In other words, the reason that God refuses to answer our prayer is that our heart is not in the right place.
It makes sense, when you think about it. If our prayers are driven by selfish desires, and God answers that prayer, he would only be rewarding our poor intentions. He essentially would be affirming our sin. So rather than grant us our wishes, God rejects our prayer. He does this out of love, in hopes that we will have a change of heart and not be further rooted in our sinful desires.
Notice that James does not seem to say that we are asking for the wrong things, but only in the wrong way. Isn’t that interesting? Two different people could be asking God for the same thing and get completely different results. Perhaps two individuals ask God for an increase in money. God might grant one their prayer but not the other. Why? Because one person wants to be more generous, while the other wants to spend it on themselves. In other words, the request is the same but the motive is different. God looks not just at the request, but also the intent of the heart.
If you are finding your prayer life ineffective, one thing you should ask yourself is, Are my motives wrong in praying this prayer? It could very well be that you are asking for something that is quite acceptable, but doing it in a way that is quite unacceptable. The problem is your heart. James said that God says “no” to prayers that are driven by selfishness, in order to be spent on your passions. And, just to clarify, by “passions” he is referring to worldly desires, as demonstrated by the next verse.
You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.
In short, God does not answer the prayers of worldly Christians. Worldliness is when our desires line up more with our sinful nature than with our new nature. It means we care more about the things of this world than the things of God. Friend, is that where your heart is at today? If so, it would explain the powerlessness in your prayer life.
It’s not wrong to ask for money, but it is wrong to be greedy.
It is not wrong to ask for love, but it is wrong to replace God’s love with a romance.
It is not wrong to ask for health, but it is wrong to love health more than Christ.
It is not wrong to ask for success, but it is wrong if you simply want to be admired by others.
It is not wrong to ask for safety, but it is wrong if you are only after a life of comfort.
What Does It Mean to Be Blessed?
So often we pray for God’s blessing, without remembering what it really means to be blessed. We tend to think of God’s blessing only in terms of material success, but the reality is that true blessing comes in the form of spiritual success. Consider how Jesus defined the blessed life in Matthew 5.
 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
If we were to pray for God to bless us, using the definition of blessing laid out by Jesus in the beatitudes, our prayer life would probably look a lot different! Not only that, but it would also be much more effective. The beatitudes gives us a wonderful example of the kind of heart-condition we ought to have when we pray. We would be wise to pay attention to it!
Make Your Heart Right Before God
I propose a reordering of our priorities that spills over into our prayer lives. Rather than praying in ways that are only of benefit in a worldly sense, let us begin to pray in a way that brings spiritual life. Let’s allow the beatitudes, for instance, to shape how and why we pray.
Let us pray for:
- poverty of spirit, recognizing our lack of holiness
- mourning, a deep grief over our sin
- meekness, allowing God to be Judge and Avenger
- spiritual hunger and thirst, a renewed longing for more of God
- a merciful disposition, knowing we too need mercy
- a peaceable spirit, aiming to bring people together in love
- steadfastness in persecution, knowing our reward is in heaven
And, if we are to pray for worldly things, let us do so with an eye to how we can leverage it for God’s glory and the good of others.
My friends, our spiritual health and the success of our prayers depends on having the right mindset, a heart that desires the things of God rather than the things of man. Let us begin to align our priorities with God’s and pray accordingly. In doing so we are sure to find that the Lord’s blessing – his true blessing – will rest on our lives in a new and profound way.