The Problem of Unanswered Prayer

Is it fair, or is it true to say that people (believers) become disobedient and turn from Jesus because of unanswered prayers in addition the message of the cross is too difficult to follow?

Unanswered prayer is something that should concern us. It concerned the Apostle Paul when his prayer in 2 Corinthians 12:7-9 – where he prayed regarding his thorn in the flesh, and he prayed three times before he had some kind of answer from God.

Two Cautions

First, we understand that prayer is more than asking for things. In this teaching I will focus on prayer as asking, but please understand that I’m dealing with just one aspect of prayer.

Second, we must understand what we mean and what we don’t mean by unanswered prayer. We don’t mean, “When God doesn’t do everything I want Him to do.”

If we will get sore and offended at God because our prayer is not answered “yes,” then it shows we misunderstand a fundamental about prayer: that prayer is not about getting my will done, but to see God’s will done. Sometimes we have a correct idea about what God’s will is in a situation, and sometimes we don’t.

God is not like a vending machine, where if we put in the right things (such as prayers or faith), then we get what WE wanted.

It is better to understand that “yes,” “no,” and “wait” are answers to prayer.

  • A yes answer – God says, “yes” to your prayer
  • A no answer – God says, “no” to your prayer
  • A wait answer – God says, “wait” to your prayer

Each of these is different from unanswered prayer. Paul’s received a “no” answer to his prayer in 2 Corinthians 12:8. His prayer was answered after deeper seeking.

So when I talk about the danger of unanswered prayer, don’t mean God saying “yes” to every prayer. If we demand our answer to prayers we pray, there is something fundamentally not submitted to God in our thinking or attitude.

“No” or “wait” answers are fine, and when it is in our best for God to say “no” or “wait” to us, then we want God to say it.

Our problem isn’t “no” or “wait” answers, but unanswered prayer – prayer that has no “yes,” no “no,” or no “wait.”

Reasons for Unanswered Prayer

The Bible gives a surprising number of reasons for unanswered prayer. These obstacles can be put out of the way as we walk in the Lord and diligently pursue Him.

Not abiding in Jesus (John 15:7)

If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.

Unbelief (Matthew 17:20-21)

So Jesus said to them, “Because of your unbelief; for assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you. However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.”

Lack of Bible Reading and Bible Teaching (Proverbs 28:9)

One who turns away his ear from hearing the law,

Even his prayer is an abomination.

Trusting in the Length or Form of Prayer (Matthew 6:7)

And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words.

A Bad Marriage Relationship (1 Peter 3:7)

Husbands, likewise, dwell with them with understanding, giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered.

Not Asking (James 4:2)

You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask.

Selfish Praying (James 4:3)

You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.

There are many other reasons given for why a prayer may not be answered:

  • Disobedience (1 John 3:22)
  • Not Praying in God’s Will (1 John 5:14-15)
  • Failure to Fast (Matthew 17:21)
  • Unconfessed Sin (James 5:16)
  • Cold, Passionless Prayer (James 5:16-18)
  • Prayerlessness and Lack of Persistence in Prayer (Luke 18:1-7, Psalm 55:17)
  • Sin Against Others (Matthew 5:23-24)
  • Lack of Unity (Matthew 18:19)
  • Not Listening to God (Psalm 32:8, Jeremiah 7:16, Jeremiah 11:14)
  • Not Praying in the Name of Jesus (John 14:13-14)
  • Pride (James 4:6, 1 Peter 5:5, Proverbs 3:34, 2 Chronicles 7:14, 2 Chronicles 33:12-13)
  • Lying and Deceitfulness (Psalm 17:1)

What Do We Do About This?

First, take heed to the danger signal of unanswered prayer. It can mean that something is not right in your spiritual life. That is not always the case, but sometimes it is.

Second, get a bigger vision for what your prayer life can be – answered prayer is a powerful thing!

Refuse to make excuses when your prayers are unanswered. Press into God and see what His wisdom and will is.

If the Holy Spirit reveals some kind of sin to you, then confess your sin and receive the forgiveness that Jesus promises on the basis of what He did for you at the cross.

Walk forward, confident in Jesus!

How can you know if you are idolizing theology over Jesus Himself?

How can you know if you are idolizing theology over Jesus himself?

Simply said, this would be a matter of being more interested in theological ideas, then in Jesus and your life with Jesus in and of itself. We need to experience our walk with God in joy, a sense of fellowship, in a consistent sense of communion with Jesus. If our interest in theology is more on the theoretical or the abstract, and it’s not really having an active concern with a life with Jesus Christ – then this can be an indication of the fact that theology is becoming an idol for us.

Of course, this is what happened to the religious leaders, or at least many of them, in the days of Jesus – I mean the scribes, the Pharisees, and the Sadducees. Oh, there were many things they loved about theology, but many of them did not love Jesus. They didn’t even really love God, because Jesus is and was the perfect representation of God the Father, and they rejected Jesus – showing that they were really rejecting God the Father, I would also look to one other warning sign, and it’s this if you take an undue delight in winning theological arguments. There’s something a bit twisted out in the Christian world today, when people take what I would describe an undue delight in “beating” that person with whom you theologically disagree – that shows a problem. If you mock them a bit and you characterize them in a wrong way, and what you’re really interested in is winning an argument – that is a danger sign.

What is apostasy, and who are apostates?

1 Timothy 4:1 talks about apostasy. Can you please explain who is an apostate? And can you give an example of a doctrine of demons or deceiving spirits?

What is apostasy? Well, the idea as I understand it, behind the basic Greek word that’s translated apostate or apostasy is simply that of a departure. an apostate is someone who has departed from the fundamentals of the Christian faith, has departed from the gospel, of course.

Sometimes it’s hard to come down with an exact list or definition of what are these fundamentals, but a good starting place for the fundamentals of the Christian faith is found in the Apostles Creed. I think it gives a very helpful summary of what are the fundamentals of the Christian faith.

Now, as far as an example of a doctrine of demons or deceiving spirits, he talks about it here in verse three up 1 Timothy 4:1, where it speaks of forbidding to marry and commit manage to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving. there he’s talking about legalistic excesses, ways that people thought that they could be holier than God requests or commands. So, legalistic things can be doctrines of demons or deceiving spirits.

But we can also connect this with some verses in 1 John, where he talks about the spirit of Antichrist and confessing Jesus is Lord. We can say that teachings that take us away from the biblical Jesus, the Jesus who is fully God and fully man, the Jesus who really died a substitutionary death for our sins on the cross, the Jesus who really rose again, these are also things that belong in the category of the doctrines of demons and that of deceiving spirits.

What is the war in heaven described in Revelation 12?

Can you explain the war in heaven? It’s written in Revelation 12. What does it mean? I understand it’s not literal, so you can you give the correct meaning of the text?

In Revelation 12, we have the dragon whom the book of Revelation tells us very clearly is a representation of Satan himself to us – so we have Satan and his angels. That’s what it says there in verse 7, these fight a battle against Michael and his angels.

What is this war? Well, we don’t know. I would not immediately suppose that it has no material aspect to it. Now, perhaps it’s true that angels or angelic beings don’t normally have a material body, but certainly they can assume a material body under certain circumstances. So I would say that definitely we know that there’s a spiritual aspect to this battle. And for all we know, there may also be a material aspect to it. The important thing to know from Revelation 12, is that Satan never wins in this warfare against God and against His representatives (Michael and his angels). The other thing to notice is that God, as it were, does not fight this battle with Satan directly, but through His angels. That is because the opposite of Satan and his angels is not God; the opposite of Satan and his angels is Michael, the archangel and his angels. Simply said, God has no opposite.

Revelation 12 speaks to us of some kind of angelic battle. We don’t know exactly what form it takes, but it is a real battle. It is a battle that Satan loses, and it is something that has yet to happen in God’s plan of the ages. There is certainly a battle that is fought between God and His representatives, and Satan and his representatives that is real and current in the present day – but this battle in Revelation 12 is different. As for us now, the main way we fight this battle is through prayer. If you take a close look at the Ephesians 6 spiritual warfare section, you will see that the fundamental way that the battle is fought in spiritual warfare is through prayer.

How did Elijah know that God would respond with fire when he challenged the prophets of Baal?

Regarding 1 Kings, how did Elijah know God would respond with fire when confronting the prophets of Baal? Can we have the same confidence in God moving like that today?

When the prophet Elijah suggests this conflict with the prophets of Baal, and he lets the prophets of Baal ask their imaginary god to send down fire from heaven, and nothing happens. When Elijah gets ready to pray he first commanded them to soak down the sacrifice with water, to make a trench around the altar, and filled it with water. After he did all that, he prayed and the opening words of Elijah’s prayer went something like this: Lord, you know, that I have done all these things, according to your word.

I think that’s a very important idea. Elijah did not come up with this strategy of challenging the prophets of Baal in a strategy session with a bunch of other prophets. He wasn’t brainstorming, it wasn’t just a thought that occurred to him somehow. In some way God brought his word to the prophet and told him to do this. That’s how Elijah knew that God would respond with fire – because God told him to do the whole thing, and presumably God told him that He would respond with fire. So, don’t miss that little phrase.

What about holy water, incense, and prayer cloths?

What is your take on using holy water burning incense and using prayer cloths to give people so they can be healed?

The idea of holy water has no real New Testament foundation. In the Old Testament, there was a laver, a receptacle of water, that worshipers would use at the temple or at the tabernacle. They wouldn’t use that water of washing from the temple in their individual meeting places in their communities or what later became synagogues. We find no repetition of this in the New Testament – so it seems to me that holy water is element of superstition.

Now, is it possible that somebody takes the custom of holy water and crossing themselves with it, and they use it in a way that avoids the superstition? Could it be actually a demonstration of faith and trust in God for the perfect cleansing that comes to us, not through the application of water or the sign of the cross, but by a living an active faith in Jesus Christ? Yes, that’s possible. But you must say that it is a very small percentage of those who dip their fingers in holy water and make a sign of the cross are doing it in true faith. Most all of them do it in mere superstition.

The other aspect that you talk about is the use of incense in church and such. Again, there is no real New Testament basis for this. Incense was part of the Old Testament ceremonies.

As for using prayer cloths for healing, there is an example of a strange or remarkable miracle in the book of Acts, that happened in this way. But it’s really not presented in any way that gives us a pattern.

In general, I think it’s wise to avoid such superstitions and to regard them as an evidence of a weak faith. I will not say that they are necessarily used it for idolatry, although they certainly can be and often are. But even if they’re used in the best way, it’s a demonstration of weak faith, not the kind of faith I believe God would have us walk in. I tend to be against such things.

What about women pastors?

What is your understanding of women being pastors?

I would say that the Biblical norm is for women to not be pastors, I have an extensive teaching on this in my series through the book of 1 Timothy. I would say normally speaking, I could hypothetically think of a situation where, though it is not ideal or what God would command, that a woman pastor would be nevertheless the best in a particular situation.

Imagine some hypothetical situation where a husband and wife are missionaries to unreached people and they meet a tribal group. God blesses their work and they have established church, a congregation, yet the congregation is young, and there’s really no maturity or Biblical education among the people, and then suddenly the husband dies. Could the wife take a pastoral position in that circumstance? I would say yes.

Again, is this ideal? No, it’s not what the Bible prescribes. But I believe that there are situations regarding Biblical leadership and ministry, where when the ideal is impossible, you do what you can and work towards the ideal. Normally, I think God would say women should not be pastors, in that sense of leading and governing congregations, and especially being the doctrinal voice of preaching and teaching for a congregation.

Someone may then ask me if I condemn women pastors. Would I say that they’re in sin and should repent? I believe the Bible teaches what it teaches about women in governing and doctrinal authority in the church. I believe that it is not best for the church ever to disobey what God commands in these areas. It’s not good. It’s not good for the church. While there may be and seem to be a short term good from having the gifts and talents of a charismatic or winsome woman in a pastoral position, I think that the ultimate effect is always negative, because it’s outside of God’s norm for the church.

I’m not going to pass condemnation upon a woman pastor. But I would say this to her: I think that you’re misguided. I think that what you’re doing is, in the long term, not a blessing or a benefit for the church. And then I would leave it as a matter between them and God, because that is what it really is. I don’t lose sleep over this; I do stand strong for the doctrine as I believe it. But ultimately it is between that individual and God, and they will be accountable before God for what they have done or haven’t done.

Will America be destroyed?

Do you believe America will be destroyed?

I could answer this question by saying, “yes – eventually.” America is not the eternal nation, the eternal kingdom of God. Eventually America will be destroyed, even it happens with the ultimate demonstration of Jesus Christ and what He does in ending this present age.

Again, America is not the eternal kingdom. Now, prophetically speaking, there are people who claim (and I suppose I would number myself among them) that say America is not mentioned or featured in Biblical prophecy. Though some disagree, I think that America is not spoken of in biblical prophecy. It may be because America will cease to be a world power, when the very end times happen.

I’ll hold that as a possibility. But in the bigger picture, I would just say that biblical prophecy doesn’t tell us everything about the end times, but it tells us what we need to know. So no, I don’t find America in Biblical prophecy.

Can Christians play Harry Potter games?

Can Christians play Harry Potter games?

I know that this answer may not be pleasing to some people, but I’ll give it nevertheless. I believe that this is up to an individual’s conscience before the Lord. I know that there are some people who say, “When it comes to something like Harry Potter, this is a matter of magic and conjuring and black arts that either are demonic or border on the demonic – so a Christian should have nothing to do with it.” But I will say this, I do believe that there is a place for fiction, for literary fantasy so to speak. It certainly can be abused, but I do think that there is a place for again fiction and fantasy. I would just simply challenge each individual believer to prayerfully take your involvement in such a thing like that before the Lord and ask God sincerely with an open heart, if this is something that He would allow or prohibit you to do.

If God says that he would allow it, then keep asking Him from time to time, because maybe God’s will in the particular area like that might change for your life. I can’t give a categorical answer for that, at least in my own conscience. I would simply say that this is an area where each believer must be persuaded for themselves.

When we teach, should we just teach our own understanding of doctrine, or should we also teach what those who disagree with us might teach?

In non-essential doctrines, where there are different postures, should I say “This is the posture I believe in” or explain the different postures there are on the subject?

I get asked a lot of controversial questions. For example, the Harry Potter question, questions about biblical prophecy, things about church government, things about spiritual gifts and the work of the Holy Spirit – all of these things are controversial things. And I recognize that there are believers who really love Jesus, who have a different perspective, that’s okay. But what I really do want to highlight though is there are times when I teach these things, and I just teach what I believe, with maybe giving a moment’s acknowledgment that there are other viewpoints on this.

There are other times when I teach when I try to represent the different viewpoints, and I try to do it fairly, because it really doesn’t honor God when we are not truthful about other perspectives. I would just say you need to be open to the Holy Spirit to this. It’s okay to just present your perspective. We don’t have to explain every conceivable alternative explanation to every passage or issue that we might teach on before God’s people. But at the same time, it is helpful to acknowledge that there are different opinions about different doctrines. Sometimes it is good to say, “this group sees it this way, and that group sees it the other way” – as long as you can represent those things fairly.

In the first Passover, did God kill everyone who didn’t have the blood of the lamb on their doorposts, or just the firstborn?

Hi, I’m reading Exodus. And it says that the Lord will kill those who didn’t have the blood of the Lamb on the doorpost, and then later it says the destroyer would kill the firstborn. What is your take on that?

I believe that when it’s talking about killing those who don’t have the blood of the Lamb on the doorpost, it’s just talking about bringing death to the firstborn among them. God would bring death among those people. I don’t think the idea is that God would kill every person in a family if they didn’t have the blood on the sides and tops of their doorpost. Again, that’s doesn’t seem to be what God did throughout Egypt and even if there were some Israelites who didn’t apply the blood as God commanded so I really think it is just a matter of the death that is spoken about there is the death of the firstborn in each family.

Do we have to forget when we forgive?

I’ve heard it said that if you do not forget, you have not forgiven. So how can we forget when we have been treated wrong?

I want to say that I think I would disagree with that definition of forgiveness. I don’t believe that forgiveness means that I must forget a wrong that has been done to me. Now, I remember it, but I no longer remember it in the category of offenses that anger me and make me want to bring retribution. I remember it, but I remember it in a new box. And that box is for the things I have forgiven. We can remember the wrong that has been done to us and still forgive others of those wrongs. The classic example of this Joseph, when he forgave his brothers. Joseph said, “You meant it for evil” – so he remembered what they did and he acknowledged not only their evil, but their evil intent in doing it. Joseph said, “You meant it for evil, but God intended it for good.” Joseph did not forget what his brothers did to him; he just understood it in a larger context of God’s great plan. So I don’t think that forgetting is a requirement of forgiveness. It’s really just a matter of remembering in the right way.

Why is there controversy over baptism in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?

I don’t understand the big controversy about baptism in regard to baptism in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

At the end of one of the Gospels, it mentions baptism in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. And there are some Christians who make a big deal about that, saying that that a baptism is only valid if it is done in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. There are other Christians who say baptism is only valid if it is done in the name of Jesus. In this regard, I don’t quite understand the controversy around this. But I do know that it exists. And I do know that there are Christians have strong and varying opinions regarding this.

I think this is putting too much reliance in a particular baptismal formula. The power and the effectiveness of baptism does not lie in the formula, the exact words that are said when a person is baptized. Nor does it lie in the particular ceremony itself. I am a believer in baptism by immersion (wherever possible) because that’s kind of what baptism is. It’s immersion, not sprinkling. But the power is in the reality of the spiritual truths that baptism illustrates in the life of the person being baptized.

Baptism is a material illustration of a spiritual truth – for example, of the washing of my sins. If the spiritual reality is not there, then the ceremony is of little good. Baptism is an illustration of my identification with Jesus Christ in His death, burial and resurrection. If that spiritual reality is not true, then it’s just a dipping into water. The power in baptism is shown in that it truly communicates a real work of God’s Spirit within a person. Another aspect of the power of baptism is in its obedience. Make no mistake about it: Jesus commanded His followers to be baptized. And if you want to be an obedient follower of Jesus Christ, you need to get baptized.

How can I stop thinking negatively about people and God?

How can a person practically stop thinking negatively about people and God?

I would say that the best way to stop thinking negatively about people and about God is to fill your heart and mind with the Scriptures. This is a place where I believe Scripture memorization can be of immense help. So that’s really what I would recommend. Begin an aggressive campaign of Scripture memorization. Let your heart and mind be filled with good things, the Word of God. And you’ll see that it will happen. It may happen slowly, but I believe it will happen. Your mind will be set more upon the things of God, not thinking negatively about other people and about God himself.

When did David begin being a pastor, and did he always want to be a preacher?

How old were you when you became a pastor? Was preaching something that you’ve always wanted to do?

I had an unusual beginning in my life in ministry. I started teaching a home Bible study to adults when I was only 16 years old. So that was the start. And I can say that pretty much ever since I’ve been 16 years old. I’ve been teaching the Bible week in and week out. That’s just how it’s been for me over the past 40 plus years.

So, over the past 40 or more years, I’ve been regularly teaching the Bible. However, if you want to give a starting place to my pastoral ministry, in one sense it began when a dear friend of mine named Lance Ralston who is the pastor of Calvary Chapel of Oxnard, California – he is a marvelous preacher and teacher, a great pastor for his congregation. Lance Ralston and myself, we started Calvary Chapel of Oxnard in 1982. When we had our first Sunday service I was 19 years old – just about a month before I was going to turn 20. But you could say that I’ve been involved in pastoral ministry since my late teens since I was 19.

That was just the road that God appointed for me in my earliest Christian years. I didn’t have some great aspiration to ministry. I didn’t think, “Oh my i want to be a preacher.” But once I was given the opportunity, and once I started preaching and teaching God’s word, it wasn’t too long after that, that I really felt a discernible call on my life. I enjoyed doing it so much. The call didn’t come before I really started doing it, which is, I think, a familiar pattern for many people.

If you think you’re called to ministry, find a way to do some ministry and see what God does with it. I think that’s a great general way to approach these things.

How can we recognize and appreciate the holiness of God without being legalistic?

Can you speak about recognizing the holiness of God without entering legalism?

I think that the holiness of God is a very neglected aspect of God’s nature, of God’s character. We don’t think much about the holiness of God and we don’t rejoice much in the holiness of God. But God is holy.

What that fundamentally means is that He is different than us. He is apart from us. We make a great error when we think that God is just a super-man. In other words, that He is just super-human. God is not human. Although let’s remember, Jesus Christ added unfallen humanity to His deity. Yet there is a distinction between humanity and deity. God is God. He is holy. He is set apart. And holiness is not just another characteristic of God. It is essential to His very nature.

God is love and His love is a holy love. God has great power and His power is a holy power. God is wise and His wisdom is a holy wisdom. You see, it’s an aspect of what God is in His entire being. This is who God is.

How can we recognize and appreciate the holiness of God without becoming legalistic? The important thing about legalism and to avoiding legalism is simply this: we need to recognize that our standing with God, what God thinks about us, is not based on what we do for God but it is based on what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. If we will keep that very strong and secure in our minds – the understanding that my status, my standing, my position with God, what God thinks of me, is not fundamentally based on what I do for Him, but on what He has done for me. That is the great guard rail for avoiding legalism. When we start thinking that God’s opinion of us is based on what we do for him, that distorts all of our thinking. Then we can’t help but fall in the error of legalism.