Why Doesn't God Answer My Prayers?

Posted on 01/17/2010 by Rev. Benjamin R. Faust D.D.

AUDIO: dialup - broadband - podcast

TRANSCRIPT: (does not contain everything found in the audio above)

*** listen to the audio for introduction and prayer ***


Public Prayer Requests:


My husband is 54 years old, lives with Bypolar depression. He also is a diabetic. We live on a very low income sometimes we have to ask for help to get his medicine. Even though the co-pay payments are only some times run from $3 to $4.00, he takes so many medicine so that adds up and is money we don't have. So sometimes I have to ask for help to get his medicine I do ask because my husband has so much pride he would not even think of asking for help. His depression is getting worse, there are days I just need to walk away. Basically there are days when he drives me batty. I pray every day and ask the Lord for help, strength and guidance. I am to my breaking point. My husband and I needs your prayers. I don't know how to help him anymore. I am to the point I am mentally,emotionally tired of asking for help. When I know I am physically strong enough to find a job but I can't with my husband being so ill and depressed. I am taking care of my husband. Marriage says: through sickness and health, to death do you part. Please pray for us.
    -Dorothy

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Please turn around and click one of the offering plates by the doors, and give as the Lord leads.

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LOVE TO BE IN YOUR PRESENCE

I love to be in your presence
    with your people singing praises
I love to stand and rejoice
    lift my hands and raise my voice

You set my feet to dancing
    you fill my heart with song
You give me reason to rejoice,
    rejoice!

SING A NEW SONG

Sing unto the Lord a new song
Sing unto the Lord all the earth
Sing unto the Lord a new song
Sing unto the Lord all the earth

For God is great
    and greatly to be praise
God is great
    and greatly to be praised

AMAZING LOVE

Amazing love, how can it be?
    That You, my King would die for me?
Amazing love, I know it's true.
    It's my joy to honor You,
In all I do,
    I honor You.

You are my King, Jesus
You are my King

If the Son has set you free,
    you are free indeed!

*** listen to the audio for the message introduction ***


As we were praying together just now, do you believe God heard us? And even more than that, do you believe God is going to answer?

The title of today's message is a question a lot of us have asked at one time or another, and it is this: "Why Doesn't God Answer My Prayers?"

Have you ever asked that question? Maybe you prayed and prayed for a loved one who was sick, and instead of getting healed, they ended up dying from that disease.

Whatever the case may be, chances are you've prayed for something, and you never did see an answer, at least not one you recognized.

Well, today, I'd like for us to take a look at the subject of prayer, and, more specifically, ANSWERED prayer.


Does God hear you when you pray? I think most of us who have walked with God for any length of time have experienced times in which it felt as though our prayers never went any higher than the ceiling. We felt nothing. And nothing seemed to happen.

Times like that can be very difficult. But just maybe those times serve to test and grow our faith. We could get discouraged and stop praying, or we could pray all the more fervently and effectually until we break through to the next level.

James 5:16 (KMV*) tells us this:

16 Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, so you may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.

Let's take a closer look at that verse. Holy Spirit, bring your Word alive to us, and teach us what you want us to learn today.

"The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much." What does that mean?

"Effectual fervent." That's taken from the Greek word "en-er-ge'-o" which means "to be operative, be at work, put forth power; to work for one, aid one; to display one's activity, show one's self operative."

What does that kind of praying look like? Well, let's consider some examples from Scripture.

Let's consider the first part of that definition: "to be operative, be at work, put forth power."

We might think this means being loud and moving around -- a great display of emotion. But while those things might be the result of this effectual fervency, the actions themselves don't really mean much of anything.

Take for example Hannah's prayer for a child. She was barren, and desperately wanted a son.

We find this account in 1st Samuel chapter 1. Let's take a look at this together, 1st Samual chapter 1, beginning with verse 1:

1 Now there was a certain man of Ramathaim Zophim, of the mountains of Ephraim, and his name was Elkanah the son of Jeroham, the son of Elihu, the son of Tohu, the son of Zuph, an Ephraimite.
2 And he had two wives: the name of one was Hannah, and the name of the other Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children.
3 This man went up from his city yearly to worship and sacrifice to the LORD of hosts in Shiloh. Also the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, the priests of the LORD, were there.
4 And whenever the time came for Elkanah to make an offering, he would give portions to Peninnah his wife and to all her sons and daughters.
5 But to Hannah he would give a double portion, for he loved Hannah, although the LORD had closed her womb.
6 And her rival also provoked her severely, to make her miserable, because the LORD had closed her womb.
7 So it was, year by year, when she went up to the house of the LORD, that she provoked her; therefore she wept and did not eat.
  
8 Then Elkanah her husband said to her, "Hannah, why do you weep? Why do you not eat? And why is your heart grieved? Am I not better to you than ten sons?"
9 So Hannah arose after they had finished eating and drinking in Shiloh. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat by the doorpost of the tabernacle of the LORD.
10 And she was in bitterness of soul, and prayed to the LORD and wept in anguish.
11 Then she made a vow and said, "O LORD of hosts, if You will indeed look on the affliction of Your maidservant and remember me, and not forget Your maidservant, but will give Your maidservant a male child, then I will give him to the LORD all the days of his life, and no razor shall come upon his head."
12 And it happened, as she continued praying before the LORD, that Eli watched her mouth.
13 Now Hannah spoke in her heart; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard. Therefore Eli thought she was drunk.

14 So Eli said to her, "How long will you be drunk? Put your wine away from you!"
15 But Hannah answered and said, "No, my lord, I am a woman of sorrowful spirit. I have drunk neither wine nor intoxicating drink, but have poured out my soul before the LORD.
16 Do not consider your maidservant a wicked woman, for out of the abundance of my complaint and grief I have spoken until now."
17 Then Eli answered and said, "Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition which you have asked of Him."


First, we see that this desire was very close to Hannah's heart. We don't know how long this went on, but verse seven says "year by year." I doubt this was the first time Hannah had prayed for a child, because Peninnah was pretty cruel to Hannah because Hannah couldn't have children, and this appears to have been a regular thing she did every year when they traveled to the temple for sacrifice and prayer.

Who knows what Peninnah did and said. She might have suggested that God didn't favor Hannah as much as he favored her, or that Hannah was paying for some hidden sin, or that God just didn't care about Hannah or he would give her children. Who knows. But we know that whatever Peninnah did, it cut Hannah to the core.

Do you have a Peninnah? Questions that haunt you? Do you wonder if God is not listening because you've done something wrong? Or maybe he just doesn't care as much about you as he does for others?

It's no wonder Elkanah loved Hannah more than Peninnah. And it's no wonder we can forget just how much God loves and favors us when our Peninnah is whispering in our ear.

But notice what Hannah did. She could have started resenting God. She could have decided God simply wasn't listening and there was no point in wasting her breath.

But she continued to pray.

And how did she pray? Well, the words aren't nearly as important as the condition of her heart. Verse 10 says "she was in bitterness of soul, and prayed to the LORD and wept in anguish."

That's something you can't fake. At least not to God. And this bitter anguish of her soul showed itself in the vow she made. She said, "O LORD of hosts, if You will indeed look on the affliction of Your maidservant and remember me, and not forget Your maidservant, but will give Your maidservant a male child, then I will give him to the LORD all the days of his life, and no razor shall come upon his head."

Do you think she was trying to bribe God? I don't think so. Just consider what this vow meant. As we read further on, we discover that as soon as her son was weened, she brought him to the temple and left him with the priest.

And I believe she knew she would literally give him up for God when she made her vow. And the proof that she meant her vow with her whole heart is evidenced by the fact that, after being with him for those years as a nursing baby, and growing to love her only son so deeply, she kept her vow and gave him to the priest to raise.

Are our prayers that effectually fervent?

And notice the priest's reaction to Hannah's prayer. He thought she was drunk. Now, there are churches in which people pray passionately all the time, and Hannah would have been quite safe from judgment there.

This was not one of those places. But Hannah didn't care. She wasn't there to make an impression on others, but to pour out her heart to God.

Worrying about what other people might think of you can hinder your prayers. The good thing is, the blood of Jesus gives us direct access to the Holy of Holies. We can go into our secret place, a place where it's just us and God, and we can pour out our heart to him there.

Maybe we've been like that priest, judging other people's expressions to God. "Oh, they're just being emotional." Well, maybe they are. Hannah certainly was. But God didn't send her away until she was able to compose herself. Instead, God embraced her brokenness, the bitter anguish of her soul, and it touched his heart.

And what happened? Well, after years of effectual fervent prayer, God granted the desire of Hannah's heart and gave her a son.

It took time. And it took more than that: it took sacrifice. By vowing to literally give her child to God, to be raised in the temple by the priest, she was giving her desire to God. She didn't relent on her request. But in a way that was fitting for this particular situation, she surrendered her desire and the fulfillment of that desire to serve God.

How many of our desires only serve ourselves? Sure, God might give a bigger house to someone who just wants more room. But what about the person who is called by God to bring orphans into their home? For them, their desire holds a special fervency, for it is not for themselves alone that they petition God, but it is for someone else, so they can serve God more.

And this brings us to the second part of the definition of effectual fervent, which is this: "to work for one, to aid one."

Of course we would assume that "one" is someone besides ourselves. James 4:2 and 3 says that we don't have because we don't ask; and when we do ask, we don't receive the answer because we ask inappropriately, so we can consume it on our own lusts.

So this second facet of "effectual fervent" speaks of selflessness. Yes, Hannah's desire was a natural, God-given desire, but she vowed to use the answer to her prayer to serve God. And this brings us to our second example of effectual fervent prayer: Moses.

The Israelites had been freed from Egypt, and Moses was on Mount Sinai receiving the commandments from God. He was up there a long time, and the people thought he must be dead.

So Aaron made for them a golden calf, and they worshiped this idol and made sacrifices to it.

Let's pick this up in Exodus 32:7-14 (NKJV):

7 And the LORD said to Moses, "Go, get down! For your people whom you brought out of the land of Egypt have corrupted themselves.
8 They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them. They have made themselves a molded calf, and worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, 'This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!'"
9 And the LORD said to Moses, "I have seen this people, and indeed it is a stiff-necked people!
10 Now therefore, let Me alone, that My wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them. And I will make of you a great nation."

11 Then Moses pleaded with the LORD his God, and said: "LORD, why does Your wrath burn hot against Your people whom You have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand?
12 Why should the Egyptians speak, and say, 'He brought them out to harm them, to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth'? Turn from Your fierce wrath, and relent from this harm to Your people.
13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants, to whom You swore by Your own self, and said to them, 'I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven; and all this land that I have spoken of I give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.'"
14 So the LORD relented from the harm which He said He would do to His people.


Notice here that God promised to make a great nation out of Moses, out of his offspring. But Moses wasn't thinking about himself. Maybe that's one reason he was such a good leader, because he wasn't concerned with his own plans and his own glory, but was a servant to his people and was obedient to the voice of God.

And so Moses prayed. He interceeded. He stood in the gap, praying on behalf of someone else. He didn't say, "Lord, you made me this people's leader, so don't let me down by destroying them." Instead, he said, "LORD, why does Your wrath burn hot against YOUR people whom YOU have brought out of the land of Egypt."

Moses' prayer that day was effectually fervent. It was "to work for one, to aid one." He sacrificed God's offer to glorify him, and thought only of the people.

Just contrast that to the prayer of Jonah. He was mad because, after he had told the people God was going to destroy them, the people repented and God spared them. In Jonah's eyes, God had made a fool out of him. And Jonah wanted to die. So to answer Jonah's selfish prayers, God sent a worm to cut down Jonah's only source of shade from the burning sun.

Some people ask the question, "Why doesn't God answer my prayers," when really they are asking, "Why doesn't God do whatever I tell him to?" This was Jonah. He wasn't happy with God for not doing what he wanted him to do. But prayers like that don't get answered, at least not the way we want them to.

Jonah obviously didn't care about the people of Ninevah. It's a good thing God chose Moses to lead the people out of Egypt instead of Jonah. Of course, God knows what he's doing!

How about you? What would God find if he put you in a position that uncovered the deepest, darkest corners of your heart?

Let us pray for the heart of a true intercessor, someone who stands in the gap and prays for mercy for those who don't deserve it and should rightfully be destroyed.

It just might be that the only reason America has lasted as long as it has is because men and women of God have poured out their hearts in effectual fervent prayer, standing in the gap, begging God for mercy upon this nation, this nation which murders its babies while exalting lifestyles that are an abomination to God, this nation which is allowing our history to be re-written so that, instead of acknowledging our greatness comes from God, praises someone or something else.

I'm sure there are people who pray that God would destroy us. There are plenty of Jonahs in the Church today. Which one are you?

Lord, raise up women and men and even children who would stand in the gap of the nations of the earth and beg for mercy and a spirit of repentance, so that your judgment would be held back just a little bit longer so they will have just another day's chance to turn back to you and glorify your name!

Root out the Jonah in us, and give us the heart of the selfless servant who will come to you with effectual fervent prayer on behalf of those who may not even deserve your mercy.


I am convinced that the reason I'm still alive today and am not completely consumed with my own deception is because I have a mother who interceeded for me with effectual fervent prayer. She wasn't interested in her own glory and gain, or in seeing me get what my sins deserved; rather, from a heart of love, a heart I'm sure was often touched with bitter anguish because of how I was living, she petitioned God for mercy and that I would be reconciled to him.

Oh that we would pray every day that God would give us his heart for the lost, a deep, bitter anguish in our souls, so that we cannot help sobbing for those who are heading for hell, calling out their names, and begging God to have mercy on them, to spare their lives, and to bring them to the Cross.

The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.


Hopefully we all have a better idea of what effectual fervent prayer really is -- "to be operative, be at work, put forth power; to work for one, aid one; to display one's activity, show one's self operative." It is pouring forth our heart, often in bitter anguish, surrendering our desires to God for his glory; it is for the selfless benefit of others, regardless of what they deserve; it is to "work for one," praying for things that are God's will, agreeing with what he desires, so that God's power will be displayed and he will reveal himself to the nations.

And that brings us to the next part of this verse: "The effectual fervent prayer OF A RIGHTEOUS MAN avails much.

Isaiah 59:1-2 (KMV*) says this:

1 Behold, the LORD's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither is His ear heavy, that it cannot hear;
2 But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you, that He will not hear.

There are people who, unlike we talked about a little while ago, do NOT feel as though their prayers cannot get past the ceiling, but instead feel as though God hears them and talks with them, and they have a good relationship with him. And yet they refuse to give up their sinful lifestyles.

I knew of one woman who had one adulterous affair after another, but said that she and Jesus had a special relationship. She thought that somehow her sins were okay.

But as verse two says, our sins separate us from God. When we repent and ask God to forgive us, accepting Jesus as our Lord, then that separation is removed, and we are reconciled to God.

But what happens when we willfully continue to sin? When we excuse our sins so that we won't have to give them up? Well, Hebrews says there is no more sacrifice for those sins, and Isaiah says they create a separation between us and God, "and your sins have hidden His face from you, that He will not hear."

Just from looking at some of the Second Life groups started recently, we know there are groups of people who embrace everything from pornography to homosexuality, and say they have a relationship with God. But according to this passage, God has hidden his face from them, and he will not hear their prayers.

Now, if someone cries out to God for the spirit of repentance, to have mercy on them and deliver them from their sin, that's the kind of prayer God hears. But don't expect that you can choose a life of sin and still have God hear you when you pray. It simply doesn't work that way.

Of course this passage doesn't tell us we have to be perfect for God to hear us. No, Jesus is our righteousness, and we have an advocate with the Father, as we read in 1 John 2:1 (KMV*):

1 My little children, I write these things to you so you will not sin. But if any one sins, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous;

God has given us his Word, as Psalm 119:11 (KMV*) says, "I have hidden Your word in my heart, so I might not sin against You." That's one reason it's so important to fill ourselves with the Word of God.

But we so often fail. We might lose our temper, or act selfishly, or some other sin. And in those cases, we have an advocate with the Father -- Jesus Christ, the righteous one, and if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful to not only forgive that sin, but also to cleanse us from our unrighteousness.

That speaks of repentance, for cleansing from sin is always on the other end of repentance. You can't have one without the other. But thank God it doesn't depend on our ability to never do anything wrong!

If you are walking with the Lord and, with his power and grace, turning away from sin and choosing to please him instead, then you don't have to worry about whether God hears you when you pray. You are his child, and he loves you and loves to hear your voice.


So, what happens when our prayers are effectually fervent, and we are abiding in the vine, wearing the robe of righteousness?

"The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much."

That word "avails" is taken from a Greek word which means "to be strong, to have power as shown by extraordinary deeds, to have strength to overcome."

So the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man, woman, or child, is strong; it has power, which is shown by extraordinary deeds; and it has the strength to overcome.

If your prayer life consists of a half-hearted, "Lord, save all the lost, heal all the sick, and bring world peace, amen," you're probably not going to see heaven and earth move as a result. Good luck having half-hearted, unspecific prayer answered. You're going to need luck, whatever that is.

But if God gives you a burden for the lost, and, with a heart full of bitter anguish, you call out the name of your co-worker who is living in sin, and you petition God day and night to have mercy on them, to not let them enter a Christless grave, and to do whatever it takes to bring them to the cross, then God will hear and answer.

Of course the decision, in the end, is up to that person. But God has a very strong power of persuasion. And if you don't lose heart but continue for however long it takes, something is going to happen.


I'd like for us to consider one more point, and then we'll close with a time of prayer and ministry.

Frequently, we think answered prayer means God does what we ask. We think that if God didn't give us the new job we asked for, that means God didn't answer our prayer.

But think again. If you are pouring out your heart to God, and are not choosing a lifestyle of sin, then guess what... God ALWAYS answers your prayers!

Sometimes that answer is "no." Sometimes that answer is "not yet." And sometimes that answer is "yes." We tend to focus so much on getting the "yes" that we don't even hear the "no" or "not yet." But they are answers just the same.

So when someone tries to shake your faith by saying, "I used to be a Christian, and I prayed and prayed, but God never answered my prayers. Prayer just doesn't work." Next time you hear something like that, remember what we talked about today.

Sometimes we pray selfishly. Sometimes we pray against God's will. Sometimes we pray for something that we think would be good for us, but God knows it would not. Sometimes we give up too soon. Sometimes we have an unrepented sin in our lives that is separating us from God. And sometimes God says "no" or "not yet."

The fact that they stopped praying excludes their example from the argument. We can't put a time table on when God answers our prayers or put guidelines on how he answers them. And if we give up and stop praying, it is US who is not doing our part, not him.

Those who serve God only when it's convenient or only until he doesn't do what they want quickly enough, aren't really serving him at all. Oh, that we would be like Job who said, "Even if he slays me, yet I will praise him!"

Doubting the existence or power of God because he is not our puppet is silly. God is the supreme ruler of the universe, and we can't boss him around. He's not our magic genie. He is God. And it is always amazing to me when he answers a prayer with a "yes."

Think about it. The God who spoke into nothing and created the entire universe, which from end to end is full of planets, stars, and countless unexplored mysteries; if we travelled many times the speed of light, we couldn't get from one end to the other in many long lifetimes.

And God is aware of the movement of every single atom, of the movement of every single proton around every atom's nucleus, and even of the things that are smaller that our most advanced science cannot see, throughout all those endless reaches of space.

And yet he not only knows your name, he cares. He has called you by name. He feels your every heartbeat, and knows the deepest desires of your heart. And if you have been reconciled to God through Jesus and are walking in his ways, then he hears your thoughts and your prayers.

I don't know about you, but that just blows me away, that someone so unimaginably great would hear me when I pray, and when a "yes" would really be good, he will move heaven and earth to deliver it.

Do you know him today? Has he washed your sins away? Are you walking in his ways?

Anyone here today who is part of the ministry team, please come stand at the front now.


And as they come, I'd like to ask you a question: Are you right with God? If you died tonight, are you ready to meet him? Are you washed by the blood of Jesus and are you walking in his ways?

If not, don't leave here without getting that taken care of. Just talk to God right now right where you are in your own words. Ask him to forgive you for your sins. Accept Jesus as the Lord of your life, and make the decision to follow him all the days of your life. He most certainly will not turn you away, no matter what you've done in the past. And you will be a brand new creation, spiritually alive, reconciled to God, and a child and heir of the King!

This altar is open for a time of prayer, worship, and ministry. If you'd like someone to pray or speak with you, you can instant message me or someone else on the ministry team.

Whenever you need to leave, you're dismissed, and as always, we're meeting in the room to your left for some fellowship after this time at the altar, and you're all invited to join us there.

Come, let's all gather at the front, as we surrender our desires to God's glory, as we turn from our wicked ways and seek God's face, and as we pour out our hearts in prayer and praise to the God who always answers the prayers of the redeemed! Come.