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.
Importantly, please read the introductory article, “Prayers of request” to this subsection of the website before going on. It presents an overview of why and how we pray.
And look, it may be best if 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 affect 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 results of all of our prayers as we make requests of him. And he knows whether our requests are related to ‘real’ 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 can certainly prove to be barriers to receiving answers to prayers. 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 wasted on our ‘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.
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 them. Although he does underpin say the laws of cause and effect, 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 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 the 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’
Without doubt, this is one difficult area to go with prayer. And we do often have ‘a lot riding on’ these types of prayers.
It is certainly not unusual for us to bring the behaviour of other people to the Lord in prayer, maybe 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 and maybe physical pain in our close relationships;
- Being bullied, harassed or tormented socially at the hands of others.
And it is always wise to bring these problems to God, hoping he can set-up, or 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, when dealing with interpersonal problems, our prayers revolve around expecting God to actually ‘force’ someone else to change in some way. Unfortunately, he cannot be expected to overrule anybody’s free will and alter their judgement, behaviour or attitudes 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 firstly 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.
But, can the right prayer bring about change in these people? Well, surprisingly, maybe it can! But we need to know how to pray in these situations.
Firstly, we are much better off by asking the Lord to bring about real positive change in them as ‘people’, e.g. to lead them to Christian faith where they will come to know him; to learn how to rise above their wrongdoing; get real contentment in life as a result.
5.3 Actions we can take
We should as well act as committed Christians before these people, and all others involved with us in life for that matter. Please see Heading 4 in the article, “Christianity explained”. Not only does this put us in a ‘better light’ with them, but it can also grow and strengthen our friend-base.
I have certainly found in my life that Christian-based actions (e.g. deeply caring about others) do generally lead to win-win results in these types of circumstances, in schools and the workplace as examples. Our good deeds, maybe even to people who have been bullying us in life, can positively change their views of us.
It is always a good idea to keep up the praying and look for God’s guidance, as well.
So gradually as time passes, with continued prayer and trust in God, those bad situations arising from our relationships with others can change for the better. It may even be possible to eventually get the chance to talk through the cause of our pain with these people as a result.
Bear in mind though, I do not suggest that anyone should expose themselves to risk by staying in any form of violent relationship.
There are definitely potential causes for the failure of prayers. So it pays to analyse them before we ask God.
Remember 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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