There may be times when it feels like our prayers aren’t getting answered. We might even wonder whether or not God is even listening to us. We pray, we listen, we search for an answer, only to hear nothing. Only to be left in the same situation as before, with no voice of wisdom in our hearts, no signs hitting us over the head, and no life-changing coincidences.
When we don’t have an obvious ‘answer’ and nothing changes in our lives, it’s hard to know what to do next. Do we keep praying for the same thing in faith? Or do we accept that this might be God’s will for our lives and move on? As hard as we try, it’s kind of hard not to feel slightly abandoned.
As mere mortals, we might not be able to figure out what exactly is going on since we obviously don’t know what God’s plan is. But what we do have is God’s word, so the best thing we can do is turn to the Bible for some answers.
Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. — 1 Thessalonians 5:16–18 (NIV)
Don’t just pray once and assume things will work out the way you want them to. (Oh, if only!) Pray continually, be thankful no matter what — even if things don’t turn out the way you’d like them to — and always be joyful, just as the Bible tells us to do.
Examine your motives
When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. — James 4:3 (NIV)
Ask yourself honestly: what’s the real motivation behind your prayers? Is it to glorify God, which is our purpose in life (Isaiah 43:7) or to spread the gospel, which is what we’re called to do (Mark 16:15)? Is it for God’s will to be done (Matthew 6:9–13)? Or — no offence intended — are you praying for your own selfish reasons? Our hearts are ‘deceitful above all things’ (Jeremiah 17:9), so without even realising we may have an ulterior motive for wanting or praying for something.
Confess and repent your sins
Another reason your prayers might not be getting answered is because you’re in sin (Psalm 66:18). Yes, we’re all sinners (Romans 3:23) but the Bible tells us to confess our sins (1 John 1:9) and that those who live in Christ don’t continue to actively live in sin (1 John 3:6; 1 John 3:9). Is there something that you know you shouldn’t be doing but continue to do anyway? Those who don’t do the ‘good they ought to do’ are sinning (James 4:17) are in sin, so we need to be active in making sure we turn away from it.
But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. — James 1:6–7 (NIV)
Is there a nagging doubt in the back of your head that what you’re asking for is impossible or highly unlikely to happen to you, of all people? If so, don’t forget who you’re praying to. God created the heavens and the Earth (Genesis 1:1) and Jesus rose from the dead (Luke 24:6). Nothing is too difficult for God (Genesis 18:14). Let go of your doubt and believe in the power of God.
“‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.” — Mark 9:23 (NIV)
Trust God and His plan
Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails. — Proverbs 19:21 (NIV)
Maybe the reason nothing is changing is because it’s God’s plan for things to stay as they are, for now or for the long term. You may have a plan for your life but that might not be God’s plan. You may not realise it now, but there might be something else in store for you in the future. Or maybe it’s just not the right time for things to change. Trust in God’s plan, whatever it may be, whether we understand it or not, and trust in God’s timing as well, because He knows best:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight. — Proverbs 3:5–6 (NIV)
Remember that ‘no’ is an answer, too
Just because you’re not getting the answer you desperately want — eg a ‘yes’ to what you’re asking for — doesn’t mean you’re not getting an answer at all. Sometimes, unfortunately for us, the answer to our prayers might be a ‘no’ (or the opposite to what we want). Again, we need to trust God’s plan even if we might not understand it and acknowledge that things happen for a reason. We also need to rely on God’s strength to get us through any trials or hardships we might be seeking relief from.
In 2 Corinthians 12:7–9, Paul pleaded with God to take away the ‘thorn in his flesh’, but God didn’t take it away. Paul recognised that the thorn was there to keep him humbled and that it was an opportunity for him to rely on God’s power, and instead, he boasted about it.
Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. — 2 Corinthians 12:7–10 (NIV)
Think of your current situation as a test of faith
If you’re unhappy with your current situation, try to take a step back and see what you can learn from it. Do you think God might be using this time to test your faith? Will you stay faithful, joyful and thankful in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:16–18)? Or will you turn away and seek other ways of getting what you want?
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. — James 1:2–4 (NIV)
Have you ever felt like God wasn’t listening to you or not answering your prayers? If so, what approach did you take (if any) and what happened in the end?