Have you ever felt like God was giving you the silent treatment? You pray repeatedly for things and yet it seems like God isn’t listening. Maybe you understand that God cares for you but struggle because you haven’t received the answer you were looking for.
This is especially painful when you cry out repeatedly for deliverance from a trial, healing for a loved one, or provision in a time of need. When this happens, doubt and discouragement can quickly creep in, causing you to conclude, “I don’t think God is listening to me, so I won’t pray.” But that creates a vicious cycle, because not praying is the only way to guarantee that He won’t hear you!
Sadly, some people even walk away from faith in Jesus when they don’t hear back from God according to their expectations. But faith is exactly what you and I need to get through these frustrating times of silence. We may not know what exactly is going on, but we can keep praying in confidence.
Why God May Not Receive Your Prayers
Before we see why, let’s quickly look at a few biblical reasons why God may not receive our prayers. (Note: This is different from God not hearing us.) Scripture gives us several truths as to what may disqualify our prayers in God’s sight:
- The first way to disqualify our prayers is a lack of Faith. The book of James reminds us that we need to pray in faith, with no doubting, “for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways” (James 1:6–7).
- The second is by embracing sin. The psalmist writes, “If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened” (Psalm 66:18). Our sin might make God reject our prayers. There’s a reason why James 5:16 says, “the prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” We are not saved by our righteousness, but our righteousness matters in our walk with God and His response to our prayers.
- The third is related to the last, treating others wrongly. 1 Peter 3:7 calls husbands to live with their wives in an understanding way and honoring them as the weaker vessel so that their prayers may not be hindered. Jesus shares in the gospels that before approaching God to worship, we should reconcile with anyone who has something against us. Treating others wrongly can hinder our prayers.
- The fourth hindrance to prayer also relates to our sin, specifically the sin of pride. Jesus shared a whole parable in Luke 18 contrasting the prayers of a tax collector and a Pharisee. Tax collectors were the moral outcasts of society—the bad guys, while many considered the Pharisees as the “good guys” who really loved God (…or so they thought). The punchline of Jesus’ parable came as a shock to his hearers. God accepted the socially unacceptable tax collector’s prayer while rejecting the Pharisee’s prayer. The reason? The tax collector prayed in humility while the Pharisee prayed in self-righteous pride.
So, if we feel like God is giving us the silent treatment, we should first examine our hearts. How have we lacked faith or entered into sin?
When We Don’t Know What God Is Doing
But there are still other times when we don’t know what God is doing. It feels like we go straight to God’s voicemail, and He never gets back to us. How are we to think in such a time?
Well, there is a crucial difference between God rejecting our prayers, for the aforementioned reasons, and God not answering our prayers. As I said in the second session, I’m convinced there is no such thing as an unanswered prayer for a Christian. God is our perfect Father, and we are His beloved children. What earthly father would reject the pleading of his child? Not a good one. But what earthly father always immediately answers his child’s request in exactly the way that the child wants? One who is either shortsighted, lazy, or both. But our heavenly Father is good and is not shortsighted or lazy. He always has greater purposes than simply being a magic genie who will grant our wishes. God always answers our prayers, but often doesn’t do so in the timing we want or the ways we prefer. His answers may come as a “Yes,” or a “No,” or a “Wait.”
The waiting is often the hardest part. I can usually deal with a no. But waiting for answers can be painful. Will my loved one ever follow Christ? Will healing ever come? Will I ever get the new job that I need so badly? Even if we must wait years, confidence in the love and sovereignty of God will provide fertile ground for persevering prayers.
You’re not alone if you feel distant from God and unanswered. “How long, O Lord!” is a repeated cry of the Psalmists and the Prophets. Jesus Himself pled in the garden of Gethsemane for the cross to not be necessary. The apostle Paul pled three times for his thorn to be removed. But God’s grace and matchless wisdom was sufficient for them in their trials and will be for us in our own. God may take us through the valley of the shadow of death, but we don’t need to fear any evil for our Good Shepherd will be with us.
In fact, if God always answered us in exactly the way and timing we expect, prayer would be less relational and more mechanical. We’d become proud and entitled children, and God’s automatic answers would make us less holy!
When you wait for God’s reply, rejoice! He knows better than us and always looks for His glory and our eternal good.
This article is adapted from the free Open the Bible for Leaders course Pray the Bible will introduce you to the benefits of praying the Bible as well as several tools for doing so. The course is designed for personal and small group use. The course serves as a companion course to my book When Prayer Is a Struggle: A Practical Guide to Overcoming Obstacles in Prayer.