The reasons why some prayers may fail.
Our motives must not be inappropriate.
Our prayers must not relate negatively
to other people’s needs etc. 

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1.    INTRODUCTION

Importantly, please read the introductory article, “Prayers of request” to this subsection of the website (with the same title) before going on. It presents an overview of why and how we pray.

In fact I really do suggest that you read all of the articles in this subsection – before putting any of their guidance to use. That approach will ensure you do not take any of the Bible-based advice out of context, which might weaken your results.

(To read about the ‘who’, ‘how’ and ‘why’ of this website please click here.)

Let us now get to this article. Just as there are suggested methods, attitudes etc to get better results with prayer, in the Bible, there are also conditions that work against success. It is a fact that God will not answer all our prayers. Despite the Bible’s broad promise on answers to prayers, logically, we will not get everything we literally ask for.

There will be times when we want something badly, and pray for it, but God just will not grant us an answer! The motives behind our prayers are obviously important to God. For example, they can’t just be ‘all about me‘. You know: I want it, and I want it now!

2.    ASKING FOR SOMETHING DAMAGING

Like any good parent, God won’t give us something that is not in our best interest or will negatively impact others. Not many parents for example would give their child a dangerous gift, despite all the tantrums in the world.

Unfortunately, we cannot share God’s view of life. Although he is certainly present within reality and our lives, he can see beyond the restraints of time and space in which we exist. In other words, he always knows the potential outcome of all of our prayers as we make requests of him. He knows whether our requests are related to genuinely positive needs.

So, we must think deeply whether the object of our prayer is really going to be beneficial to us, and other people in our lives, in the long term. Mmmmm, and I know from experience, that is not always an easy call.

3.    ASKING FOR WHAT WE ‘WANT’ RATHER THAN ‘NEED’

Selfishness and greed may also prove to be barriers to receiving answers to prayers. We really need to examine the motives behind prayers before we ask them. As an obvious example, prayers like, “Make me rich and famous” have little chance of success.

Asking to receive something at the expense of someone else is similarly too selfish as a rule.

It is also unlikely that God will just send us riches that can be squandered on our material wish lists (the latest television set, the best phone, holidays abroad etc). From the New Testament:

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]

No, as I keep advising through this website, “Life is not all about me!” within Christianity.

4.    ASKING FOR MIRACLES TO HAPPEN

Please, please, do not think that God will always overrule the laws of nature that he underpins either, every time you ask it of him. God does not normally dabble around with these laws. Although he does underpin the laws of cause and effect, for example, he normally lets them run their course. Natural disasters will happen. People will suffer from ill health. And that can quite possibly include our loved ones, maybe: the very young and the old. The rolling dice of chance can bring accidents and illness, possibly even resulting in death, to any of us on this day or any other.

4.1    The ‘pros and cons’ of these prayers

I am not suggesting here that we should not pray in these dire circumstances, e.g. when a dear one is diagnosed with a potentially terminal disease. We do have to try, and try hard, with serious prayer in these circumstances. I will say though that prayers like this are best applied in church with prayer groups or the whole congregation. And I write that from experience.

Look … miracles still do happen! I am confident to write that because (and as weird as it may look to you) I have witnessed them: see my examples in the “Experiencing the Holy Spirit”. But! It is unusual for them to occur regularly, even in a church environment.

4.2    Looking at the reality of these situations

Unfortunately, that is not what life is all about, i.e. miracles. Everyone must die sooner or later, and we cannot expect that to happen only after reaching a ‘healthy old age’, without ever having suffered a day of ill health or pain beforehand. If every prayer to prolong life was answered there would soon be no room on our planet for the newborn. I have discussed the issues of suffering and evil and God’s role within them, more fully in an article of that name.

Essentially, we must accept that some emotional and physical suffering, and eventually death, are inevitable in life. And again, of course, God can assist us during these hard times.

The point here is that the ‘downs’ of life are much easier to cope with if we are practising Christians. Again, I do definitely write that from experience.

5.    ASKING FOR PEOPLE TO BE ‘CHANGED’

It is not unusual for us to bring the behaviour of other people to the Lord in prayer, asking him to change them as such. There are many situations that justifiably encourage us in our thinking to do so:

  • Watching our loved ones suffer through their own ‘bad habits’;
  • Emotional pain in our close relationships;
  • Bullying, harassment or social torment at the hands of others etc.

And it is always wise to bring these problems to God, hoping he can orchestrate an answer for us. This particularly applies when a loved one is suffering as a result of their own bad habits etc.

5.1    Will God change other people for us?

But at times our prayers, when dealing with interpersonal problems etc, revolve around expecting God to actually ‘force’ someone else to change in some way. Unfortunately, he cannot be expected to overrule anybodys free will and alter their judgement, behaviour or attitudes etc, as such (just as he won’t do it to you or me).

They must learn lessons for themselves in life and thereby want to change first. Of course, God will attempt to highlight the error of their ways to them. How God tries to change each of us is discussed in the article,“God’s guiding hand”.

5.2    What can we pray for then?

Now, when we are in these sorts of personal circumstances, we can definitely engage with God and ask him to assist us in these “hard times“. He is always there, to support us with his love, and can lift us from most any ‘mire’ we may find ourselves in. This particularly applies to giving us emotional strength so as to cope.

And what else can we do in these types of circumstances? Well, it can be very useful to discuss the issue with a competent counsellor, pastor/ priest/ vicar/ minister, friend or close family member. Again, pray about the usefulness of these anticipated steps before attending sessions etc. Keep God ‘in the loop’. Do not forget to ‘fully’ engage with him during hard times (see that link above).

6.    CONCLUSION

There are definitely potential causes for the failure of prayers. So it pays to analyse them before we ask.

And bear in mind too that prayers can at times be answered, and just be overlooked by us. In some cases, for example, we may receive genuine/ real answers from God that differ from what we expected.

And seemingly justifiable prayers can at time be genuinely unanswered by God.

So, please continue to the next article, “Prayers Unanswered”. It is the final article in this “Prayers of request” subsection of the website.


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