Today my message is entitled “Why are your prayers unanswered?” It’s my observation, that when people are in trouble, they pray. Even if they don’t pray when things are going well, in difficulty, people pray. There is an old saying that is true. There are no atheists in foxholes. When your life is on the line, in one way or another, people pray to God.
Yet, many people see their prayers unanswered. Why? Let’s being today by asking another question. Does God want to answer your prayers? Let’s see what the Bible has to say.
John 16:24 (ESV) Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.
Sounds to me that Jesus definitely wants us to receive prayer answers. And when we do, Jesus will fill us with joy. There is a condition on prayer answers in Jesus’ instructions. We must ask in Jesus’ name. To ask in Jesus’ name is to ask in His behalf, for what He desires. So if God wants to answer your prayers, what other condition must our prayers meet?
Matthew 21:22 (ESV) And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.”
The first part of the verse sound like a blank check. Whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive. But there is a condition. If you have faith. Faith means that when you ask, you have faith that the God will answer. If you do not have faith, the answer will not come. So these are some conditions that must be fulfilled for our prayers to be answered.
Next we must think about the timing of God’s answer to our prayers. Does God always answer our prayers instantly or with same day delivery? No, oftentimes, God’s timing is much longer than we might desire. It took decades for God to answer Abraham and Sarah’s prayer for a son. Yet, prayer is vital in the life of a believer, both asking and listening to God. If you don’t listen to God, how will you know what to pray for?
1 John 5:14-15 (ESV) And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.
We must pray according to God’s will in order for God to hear and answer us. Pray is the most powerful spiritual weapon in the world. Prayer puts you in touch with the unlimited power of the creator of the universe. So, today, we’re going to learn from Jesus some more lessons on how to pray powerful and effective prayers that get answers.
Luke 18:1 (ESV) And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.
Jesus begins this first parable by telling us what we are to learn from it. First of all, we ought to pray always. That means to pray at all times, to pray continually, to pray about everything. Secondly, as we pray, we are not to lose heart. To lose heart is to become discouraged and lose faith for what we are praying for. When someone loses heart in their prayer, they will stop praying. Jesus illustrates these principles and give us more insight with the following story.
Luke 18:2-3 (ESV) He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’
Jesus’ story has two characters. The first is a judge who does not believe in God, not does he treat people with respect either. A difficult and hard man to get a fair hearing with. The second character is a widow who had been harmed in some way by an adversary. As a widow, she had no one to represent her or plead her cause. This adversary had most likely stolen something from her or defrauded her financially. The woman kept coming to the judge, over and over, asking for justice to be done. That she would win the court battle against her adversary.
Luke 18:4-5 (ESV) For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’”
The judge refused to grant the widow’s request for justice at the first hearing. Yet, she came back again and repeated her case to the judge. This kept on for some time. The widow requesting justice and the judge refusing. Finally, the judge, thinking only of himself, decided to grant the widow justice. Why? Because the judge was getting tired of her continually asking for justice.
Luke 18:6-7 (ESV) And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them?
In the story, the unrighteous judge is a lesser example of God. Jesus is saying if this unrighteous judge will give justice to the persistent widow, how much more will God give justice to those who pray. Believers are referred to here as his elect who cry or pray to him night and day. That is a picture of how we ought to pray always, crying out with urgency and not giving up. God will not delay the answer beyond what is His plan.
Luke 18:8 (ESV) I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
Jesus promises that the Father will bring justice or answers to the prayers of His people speedily. The answer will come at the proper time, not too late nor too early. Jesus concludes the story with a profound question. When Jesus returns will he find faith on earth? When Jesus returns, He will bring ultimate justice to this earth. The faith that finds on the earth when He returns will be the faith of prayer warriors who are continually praying for his return. Faithful believers will persist in prayer, even when the answer does not immediately come. Many will lose faith, many will stop praying, but not those who truly are believers. We must never stop praying.
What are some of the things that cause us to stop praying? Just being too busy with things we think are more important than prayer. Getting distracted by phones, computers, other people, our own thoughts when we try to pray. Growing weary of asking the same thing of the Lord, day after day. Or simply getting sleepy and falling asleep. That’s why I recommend praying early in the morning rather than late at night. Jesus’ disciples had an issue with falling asleep when they were supposed to praying.
But what is at the heart of all these distractions? Lack of faith. If we really believed our prayers were changing history and affecting eternity, we wouldn’t get so easily distracted. Spend time in God’s presence on a daily basis and let His Spirit guide your prayer life. Write down important prayer goals and requests and pray for them regularly. Ask God to remind you of the story of the persistent widow. Ask Him to help you persist as she did until the answer comes. Never stop praying.
Luke 18:9 (ESV) He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt:
This introductory verse to Jesus’ next parable on prayer tells us it’s main purpose. This parable was told to wake people up who had a prideful attitude and looked down on others, even in their prayer lives.
Luke 18:10 (ESV) “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.
This parable as the last one, has two main characters. This first was a religious Pharisee, whom Jesus’ listeners would have thought was a righteous person. The second was a hated tax collector, who was widely known for becoming wealthy by cheating people. Both went up to the temple to pray.
Luke 18:11-12 (ESV) The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’
The Pharisee’s prayer was all about himself. He thanked God, but he thanked Him that he was better than everyone else. The Pharisee compared himself to various criminals and even the tax collector that he saw praying in the temple. He mentioned that he fasted twice weekly and gave his tithes, both which are things commended by God.
What shall we say about this prayer? First of all, the prayer was really about himself, he was really praising himself. He was pridefully compared himself to others whom he treated with contempt. The Pharisee considered that he was righteous and had nothing to repent of. In fact, it appears that the Pharisee thought so much of himself, that he had no need to ask God for anything. We know from other Scriptures that the Pharisees would often pray aloud before others, seeking to promote themselves in front of others.
Luke 18:13 (ESV) But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’
The tax collector as standing far off, indicating that he had moved away from others to be alone with God. He was not interested in what others thought, he was focusing on God alone. The tax collector’s prayer was short and began with a petition. He asked for God’s mercy. He did not consider himself righteous, but saw himself as a sinner seeking to be forgiven. In contrast to the pride of the Pharisee, we see the humility of the tax collector.
Luke 18:14 (ESV) I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Jesus concludes his story with the observation that the tax collector went home justified or forgiven. The Pharisee left the temple considering himself righteous, but actually was not forgiven. Why? You cannot be forgiven if you are not aware of and repent of your sins. The final principle is that the prideful who exalt themselves like the Pharisee will be humbled by God. Those who humble themselves like the tax collector, will be exalted. To be exalted is to be lifted up into the presence of God as His child. We must pray with a humble attitude.
We learn from this story that pride will keep someone from getting their prayers answered. Actually pride is a common cause of why people don’t pray. Sometimes when I ask someone what I can pray for them about, they reply, oh I don’t need anything. I think, wow, what a prideful person, thinking they don’t need anything from God. They are totally oblivious of their great need, just like the Pharisee.
Each of us needs God’s help and answers to our prayers in multiple areas of our lives each and every day. We need to humble ourselves and admit that without God’s help we can do nothing worthwhile in our lives. A humble attitude looks at oneself as being a person in great need that needs God’s help every day and throughout the day. Ask God to help you to humble yourself, so that you can receive God’s answers and be exalted with Him. Pray with a humble attitude.
Today, Jesus has taught us two common reasons why our prayers are unanswered. The first is that we stop praying before the answer comes. God wants us to learn to be persistent, not giving up until answer comes. Of course, we need to be praying in accordance with God’s will.
There are actually three ways that God answers prayers, yes, no or wait. God answers no, when what we are praying is not His will. God answers wait, when the answer is His will, but it will take time. God answers yes, and the answer is on its way quickly.
The second reason that our prayers are not answered is that we have a prideful attitude. Pride can infect our prayers and even keep us from praying because we think we don’t need it. When we pray with a humble attitude, God will give us His grace and exalt us into His presence and purpose. God wants to answer your prayers and fill your life with His joy as He does. Let’s seek to become prayer warriors for Him.