There are prayers that God may not answer. This statement contradicts the hype around miracles, deliverances and so on. People tend to believe that God answers prayers unconditionally especially when some people with extraordinary gifts pray for us. People seeking solutions to their problems flock around such people to get their prayers answered. People subscribe to “prayer plans” offer to pray for their children from birth to their adulthood for a small fee. The promoters of these plans guarantee protection against childhood ailments, successful education, marriage and so on. Subscribe, sit back, and relax for the rest of your life—someone is praying for you.
Bible does not teach that God answers prayers unconditionally. He is not a slot machine, who grants all that we want and when by inserting a coin or token.
There are times when God does not answer prayers. First, God does not answer prayers when there is sin in our lives. God wants us to receive his forgiveness and correct our lives before coming to him. God makes moral demands and insists that our lives be in line with his will before he grants us our requests. For example, king Saul prayed to God for help against the Amalekites, but God refused to honor his plea—his enemies defeated him. God did not answer his prayer because of sin in his life (1 Samuel 14:37, 1 Samuel 28:6, 7). Similarly, David prayed for the healing of the child that was born out of his illegitimate and sinful relationship with Bathsheba. But the child died. Though David had repented, it was God’s will that he feels some pain of his sinful action (2 Samuel 12:13-23). However, God allowed the second child (Solomon) through the same wife to ascend to David’s throne later.
Second, God does not answer prayers that are not in line with his will. His will is supreme, perfect, and flawless. Since he knows what is best for us, he answers prayers according to his will, not according to our faulty will. For example, Elijah was a great man of prayer who could stop rain in its season (James 5:17). He prayed for fire to come down from heaven that burnt the sacrifice, dried up the water and even melted stones of the altar (1 Kings 18:32-38). However, God did not answer his prayer seeking death (1 Kings 19:4; 2 Kings 2:11). That was not in God’s will that he should die at the time he wanted. Similarly, Jonah wished to die but God did not grant that prayer (Jonah 4:3). Though Saint Paul prayed for healing of his physical ailment (we don’t know what exactly it was) God simply refused, instead he gave him the grace to cope with it (2 Cor 12:7-9).
Third, there are things in our control that God will leave us to address than bringing it to him, especially matters that have to do with our character and our moral life. For example, God is not going to answer the prayers of those who pray that they be humble because to be humble is in their control. If they want to be humble all that they need to do is to go ahead and be humble! If people pray that God would make them more generous, they just need to go ahead and start giving without bothering God. People use such prayers to shun human responsibility and put the blame on God! However, we need God’s grace to live lives pleasing to God. So, God is certainly going to grant us the grace to be humble, more generous in giving and so on. Nevertheless, doing it with the grace that God provides is our job.
This leads to the question: How to pray in such a way that God will answer? First, God answers prayers from hearts that are right with him. Secondly, God answers prayers that are according to his will. Third, God wants us to do what we can do depending upon his grace instead of using prayer as an excuse.