Prayer Lesson 7: Prayer’s Problems

Prayer [1] is a response of obedience to God, obedience to His commands, exhortations, and invitations to pray. Regardless of whether we see specific positive answers all the time, or whether we think it is good to pray or not, we must pray because He has enjoined us to do so.

Prayer is a mark of perseverance in grace. Prayerlessness and habitual unwillingness to pray indicate fundamental disobedience, and calls into question one’s status in grace.

Despite all we know about prayer and despite all we know about God, there are problems and questions that lurk in our minds that may affect our experience in prayer. An effective prayer life recognizes these difficulties and tries to understand and explain them, but does not let them deteriorate into prayerlessness or unbelief.

When the Answer is “No”

A “no” answer is difficult to accept especially when many people have made fervent prayer. This may be a problem to young Christians. It is easy to get bitter, frustrated, or even angry with God over a “no” answer. Christians not seasoned in the faith don’t necessarily want assurance, encouragement, or comfort at those times, they want answers, either to their prayers or as to why God apparently said no.

Why is prayer answered with a “no,” or a seeming “no,” at times?

Because of Sin

Willful sin, a patently foolish request, insincere motives in prayer, or a request definitely out of the will of God will explain in many cases why a “no” came from God.


Isaiah 1.13–15 Israel’s prayers were so highhanded and impudent that God refused to respond, which is the most contemptible way for God to say no.

1 Kings 19.4 Elijah’s request to die was out of the will of God; he was wallowing in unbelief and self-pity.

Deuteronomy 3.23–28 Moses’ request to enter the Promised Land was denied because he was asking out of the will of God. God had promised to chasten him (and Aaron) for taking to themselves the prerogatives of God at the waters of Meribah.

2 Samuel 12.15–18 David’s request for his child to live was denied. Note God’s reason: the living child would bring harm to the Cause. He would be a “living monument” to David’s sin and thus a continual reproach to God (v. 14).

Some Prayers May be Answered In a Superior Way.

2 Corinthians 12.7–9 Paul’s request for the removal of the thorn was answered with something better than a miracle of healing C the sustaining grace of God.

John 11.21, 32; cf. v. 40 Greater glory to God came about because the prayer wasn’t answered in the way they supposed. A resurrection was better than healing in this case. The resurrection of Lazarus was part of the choreography Jesus used to insure a huge crowd for His ride into Jerusalem. Cf. John 12.9 Raising Lazarus was in the February preceding Passover. (Other parts of Jesus’ preparation for the Triumphal Entry were [1] the preaching of the 70 C in October preceding Passover; Luke 10.1; [2] The Passover season itself. Passover was one of the pilgrimage feasts when the men of Israel had to journey to Jerusalem; Exodus 23.14–17; [3] The miracles Jesus performed on His final journey to Jerusalem.

Matthew 26.39 Jesus’ prayer in the Garden. This prayer is hard to classify. In one sense it was answered positively since He prayed “not my will but thine be done.” In another sense His prayer was denied in that the cup did not pass from Him, but He drank it to the dregs. But in so doing salvation came to the world.

Some Prayers May be Delayed For God’s Reasons.

God hears these prayers and the answer is on the way, but we may not see it for weeks or months.

1 John 2.21–22 John is saying that a believer with an approving conscience because of a pattern of biblical love evident in his life has a confidence or an openness and boldness, which assures him of God’s openness to him. A believer can ask and receive because he is obedient (v. 22), but the request may be delayed or deferred. However, delay is not necessarily denial. Delay may cultivate a persistence and patience in prayer. It may cause one to focus more properly on the actual request, or on God Himself.

Sometimes the Substance of the Prayer is Granted But Not In the Manner Prayed For.

Romans 1.10–13 Paul’s prayer to go to Rome. He requested that the believers pray to that end (Ro 15.32), but the answer came via imprisonment, shipwreck, etc. (Ac 23.11).

Sometimes Unanswered Prayer is a Mystery.

Here is where true faith enters in; here is where submission to His sovereign will is tested. This is really living by faith. We must trust God that all of the pieces of the puzzle really fit together even when we can’t see the big picture. Do we really believe that God has no loose ends in His universe?

Maturity in the Christian experience gets accelerated when we can let go of the “why” questions and simply trust God. (Not that the “why” questions are always wrong [Mt 27.46].) But sometimes we wonder, “where is God when it hurts?” As a matter of fact, He is listening to the pleas of our Advocate who endured all the suffering of sin. He suffered the effects of sin alone so Christians won’t have to. He can sympathize with our weakness (Heb 4.14–16).

Praying in Error

What happens when one sincerely prays for the wrong thing? The answer seems to involve motives to a great degree.

If Prayed Sincerely, God May Interpret Our Prayer in Its Sincerity and Answer In His Superior Knowledge.

This assumes that the prayer is within biblical guidelines and otherwise meets biblical standards.

Romans 8.26 The Spirit makes intercession. God may read our intentions through the intercession of the Spirit.

2 Chronicles 6.7–9 There may be analogy in David’s prayer. While the answer was technically no, there is the implication that David’s desire was right and that this desire had some mitigating effect and was still calculated by God in the answer.

If Prayed From Wrong Motives, God May Refuse to Grant the Request.

James 4.3 God is sometimes used as a great Cosmic Vending Machine, and these prayers are simply out of His will and He can say no.

If Prayed From Wrong Motives or in Opposition to God, God May Grant the Request To the Detriment of the One Who Asks.

Genesis 13.5–13 Example of Lot. Cf. Gen 13.12–13 and 19.1.

Psalm 106.13–15 Especially v. 15. Israel wanted meat instead of the manna. God granted the request but this set off a series of events that culminated in the disobedience at Kadesh Barnea when Israel refused to enter the Promised Land (Nu 11–20).

2 Kings 20.1–11 Hezekiah asked and received 15 years added to his life, but these weren’t the best years for him.

2 Kings 20.12–13 He showed the Babylonians his wealth out of his pride (2Ki 20.14–19; 2Ch 32.25), and later the Babylonians carried Israel captive.


[1] This lesson is by Dr. Rolland McCune

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