Unanswered Prayer

Study of Romans as given by Dr. James Montgomery Boice: Romans 1:13

13I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I planned many times to come to you (but, have been prevented from doing so until now) in order that I might have a harvest among you, just as I have had among the other Gentiles.


What happens when prayer goes unanswered? What if prayer seems to go unanswered only because the person praying misses the answer because it was not the answer he or she was expecting? It is not the novices of prayer that have a hard time with prayer as they never expect much. The ones who have the biggest trouble are those mature in faith. They pray endlessly and yet it seems their prayers go unanswered. How you deal with unanswered prayer in your life will speak to the depth of your faith in God.


  1. Prayer of an Apostle

    1. What happens when prayer isn’t answered? Some people become fatalistic about prayer.
    2. In Paul’s prayer we have a perfect example of a prayer not being answered yet still in the right spirit. Why is it a good example?
      1. It was a prayer of an Apostle and just because Paul was an Apostle he was not without sin nor does it mean all Paul’s prayers were spiritual, but a prayer by an Apostle meant something.
      2. Paul did not pray by inspiration in the same way he wrote his epistles.
      3. Second, Paul’s prayer was a proper prayer. It is to the Father on the basis of the atoning work of Jesus and in the Holy Spirit.
      4. Thirdly, it was for the right things. Paul did not pray out of selfishness.
  2. Not As Necessary As We Think

    1. Unanswered prayer me be God’s way of teaching that we are not as necessary to the work we are praying for as we think we are.
    2. This is clearly the case in Paul’s prayer to visit Rome. The church at Rome was doing just fine without him.
    3. Paul could have been then or eventually a blessing to the Christians in Rome, but he was not essential to it.
    4. God was perfectly able to bless and prosper the Roman church without Paul’s personal ministry.
    5. One thing unanswered prayer may do for us is to teach us to pray for blessings on God’s work through other people.
  3. Other Things To Do

    1. Another reason for unanswered prayer is that God may have other work for us to do.
    2. This seems the only reason God did not allow Paul to go to Rome. God wanted Paul to go to other places first.
    3. Paul knew and accepted the idea that the Christian mission was some place other than Rome for the time being.
    4. If you are praying for something and God has not answered your request with a yes, ask what you can accomplish in the meantime and give yourself to that.
  4. Spiritual Warfare

    1. Another reason for unanswered prayer for a time is the hardest to understand: There may be spiritual warfare of which you and I are unaware.
    2. Spiritual battles are mysteries to us, because we cannot see the warefare. But there are spiritual battles, and we need to know about them. They are an important reason why some of our prayers go unanswered.
  5. Does Prayer Change People

    Prayer definitely changes people. One important reason for God not answering prayer is deficiency in us. Prayer needs to change us before it changes circumstances. What are our deficiencies? What needs changing in us?

    1. Unconfessed Sin: God will not answer prayers as long is there is sin that has not been confessed (Isaiah 59:1-2)
    2. Wrong Motives: One of the biggest reasons we do not see prayer being answered in our lives is because of the wrong motive in our heart. (James 4:3)
    3. Laziness: One reason our prayers are not answered is that we are not really serious about them.
    4. We are too busy: Sometimes we are to busy to pray earnestly. If so then we should not expect our prayers to be answered.
    5. Idols in the heart: To play anything ahead of God is idolatry and it is a categorical prayer hindrance.
    6. Stinginess in our giving: Proverbs 21:13 says “If a man shuts his ears to the cry of hte poor, he too will cry out and not be answered.”
    7. Unbelief: The greatest cause of failure in our prayers, and the area in which we most need to be changed, is unbelief.
  6. Pray and Do Not Give Up

    1. What should you do if you have been prayer for a very long time with no answer?
    2. Luke 18:1. We should always pray and not give up. Prayer may change us. It may change history, but whatever the case, we must keep praying

Personal Reflection

I’ll be honest, I’ve always struggled with a consistent prayer life. I wish that were not the case, but it is. I suspect there are a number of Christians who have the same struggle. Most of the time I bet the only time people pray is in church. I know the benefits of prayer, they are good benefits. I feel great when I pray., so why do I have such a hard time with it? I suppose it’s just easier to try and catch a little more sleep in the morning or stay up to late doing other things and never get around to prayer. There is something that feels so safe when I’m praying. While in the silence of the room I find safety praying on my knees, able to say anything to God. So if its good for me and I feel safe, why is it still so hard? I suppose, just like everyone, its my natural inclination to not go towards God. It’s so much easier to be lazy about prayer and devotional life, so many other distractions. Yes, in my view, spiritual laziness is about running away from God instead of toward God. I continue to work at this and its becoming easier. I don’t want it to become routine like where I’m going through the motions. I think what needs to be remembered is that we have the privilege to come before a Holy God and pour out our hearts before Him. We just have to be willing to open ourselves up to God’s Spirit to teach us how to pray and work towards a disciplined life of prayer. If we can do this then I believe that our prayer life will be so much more effective. The people we have been praying for will begin to change, but more important we will begin to change as our faith deepens through the act of prayer. Never give up praying, never give up on that person you are praying for.
I want to make a special note about praying for people you are having trouble with. It could be a coworker, a friend, a neighbor, just about anyone. I find when I start praying for those people, especially when they have hurt me, I’m able to move to a position of forgiveness much quicker. It would be easy to pray for God to smite them, am I right? Instead take the time to ask God for understanding of why that person is the way he or she is. Begin to understand who that person is. In prayer we are free to say anything about that person, but pray for that person and any anger and malice will turn to forgiveness, mercy, sympathy, and discernment.


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