Summary: We all know the reality of unanswered prayer, but do we know the why of unanswered prayer?
God Answers Prayer, But Not Always
Lends a whole new meaning to “I’m praying for you” doesn’t it?
Prayer helps us feel closer to God, more connected to the church and extremely guilty if it is perceived that we don’t do it enough or correctly. And this is one of the verses that is often claimed as a promise for praying Christians: James 5:16 The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results. And no matter what translation you read it in it is just as powerful, the King James Version says James 5:16 The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.
While the New International Version reads: James 5:16 The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.
And it my opinion that this is the one of the most encouraging verses for praying Christ followers and in the same breath one of the most discouraging verses for praying Christ followers.
Encouraging because it truly is a great promise, listen to it again: James 5:16 The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results. If you are a righteous person and if you pray earnestly your prayers will have great power and produce wonderful results. And we have all heard incredible testimonies about the answer to prayers, people healed, love found, employment gained, children saved, football games won. Obviously those who prayed were righteous people who prayed earnestly.
But what about when people aren’t healed? When love is lost, a job can’t be found, children continue to wander and the football game is lost? What then? What does that say about the person who prayed? Are they not as righteous? Are their prayers not as earnest because the results are not wonderful and not powerful?
This scripture came to mind a couple of weeks ago in a matter of answered prayer, and because I’m older than dirt I remembered it in the King James James 5:16 The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. And as I thought about it and celebrated it I realized that James didn’t finish the thought, what he should have written was James 5:16 The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much, but not always.
Now before you get out your torches and pitchforks in an effort to run me out of town you need to recognize two things. The first is “You can’t” and the second is that I’m right. Because no matter who you are, no matter how righteous you might be, no matter has fervently you might pray, not all of your prayers have been answered. And if you were feeling particularly honest then you would admit that you don’t always understand why not and sometimes you get a little cranky about it.
If we are truthful, there have probably been times that you felt like David when he wrote in Psalm 22:1-2 My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? Why are you so far away when I groan for help? Every day I call to you, my God, but you do not answer. Every night you hear my voice, but I find no relief.
And if the truth be known you don’t need a sermon on how to pray, you’ve got that figured out. You might not feel comfortable praying when other people are around or praying out loud or in in public but you have no problem praying and you know how to pray, it’s just talking to God, even if it’s as simple as “Dear lord I pray his radar wasn’t turned on, or help my baby get better, or let me win the lottery.”
And we know why we pray, we pray when we feel helpless and when we can’t do it ourselves. So we know the why and the how of prayer. Sure we might need to be reminded that prayer is supposed to be an ongoing conversation with God and not simply a shopping list of things we want, that it should include some thank-yous along with the pleases. But for the most part we all know how to pray. Maybe we don’t do it enough but most of us do it, even if it’s a prayer like Jacob Astley’s “O Lord! thou knowest how busy I must be this day: if I forget thee, do not thou forget me.”
So here is the question, why aren’t some prayers answered? One source I read listed a number of reasons for unanswered prayer in our lives and his list looked something like this:
1. Lack of Fellowship with God and His word
2. Not seeking to please the Lord
3. Unconfessed Sin in One’s Life
4. Improper Motives
5. Not asking in God’s will
6. Don’t know how to pray