MBS 151 THE PROBLEM OF PRAYER

 In Topics

By Dr Arnold Fruchtenbaum

whatsoever we ask we receive of him, because we keep his commandments and do the things that are pleasing in his sight.

I John 3:22

There are problems concerning prayer. These may either be misconceptions or misunderstandings on how to relate prayer with some other concepts and doctrines of Scripture. This study will be discussed in nine different categories.


I. WRONG PRAYER

The first category concerns wrong prayer. There are four types of prayer that are absolutely wrong.

A. The Idolatrous Prayer

One type of prayer which is absolutely wrong is idolatrous prayer. Idolatrous prayer is not a prayer that is heard.

Isaiah 16:12 states:

And it shall come to pass, when Moab presents himself, when he wearies himself upon the high place, and shall come to his sanctuary to pray, that he shall not prevail.

Because Moab was guilty of idolatrous prayer, that prayer was not heard. It is a wrong prayer.

Another example is Isaiah 44:17:

And the residue thereof he makes a god, even his graven image; he falls down unto it and worships, and prays unto it, and says, Deliver me; for you are my god.

Here is another idolatrous prayer and such prayers are not answered.

Another example of idolatrous prayer is Isaiah 45:20:

Assemble yourselves and come; draw near together, ye that are escaped of the nations: they have no knowledge that carry the wood of their graven image, and pray unto a god that cannot save.


Praying to a god that cannot save is praying to an idol. Again, idolatrous prayer is wrong prayer, which will not be answered.

B. The Sinful Prayer

A second type of wrong prayer is a sinful prayer.

For example, in Psalm 109:7 we read:

When he is judged, let him come forth guilty; And let his prayer be turned into sin.

If a person prays when he is guilty before the Lord, when he prays a prayer that is not true to his character, not true to his real feelings, it is a sinful prayer. In fact, the prayer itself, according to this verse, can be turned into sin. If we are hypocritical in our prayer life, our very prayer itself is sin.

Another example of sinful prayer is found in Isaiah 1:15:

And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you; yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood.

These people were merely praying because it was expected of them while they were living in sin. God will not hear because this is a sinful prayer. A prayer that is not sincere, a prayer that is prayed in spite of personal sin, is a sinful prayer that God has no intention of hearing.

C. The Wrongly Addressed Prayer

The third type of wrong prayer is a prayer addressed to any person other than God the Father. Praying to Mary is a wrong prayer and will never be answered by God. Praying to any saint is a wrong prayer and will not be answered.

D. The Power of Prayer

One last thing about wrong prayer concerns a common misconception that prayer can do anything God can do. Prayer cannot do whatever God can do; God is above and beyond and more powerful than any individual’s prayer life. That which we set out to do in prayer we do not always accomplish because we do not always pray within the will of God. However, whatever God sets out to do, that prayer is answered. We must be careful not to make the supposition that prayer can do anything God can do, because that, too, would be a wrong prayer.

II. PRAYER AND THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD

The second problem of prayer is the problem of the providence of God. When the Bible speaks about providence, it means that when God foreknew what each man would do in respect to prayer, He embraced that fact into His foreordination. When we speak about the foreordination of God and the providence of God, we mean that God has already included into His plan everything that will come to pass.

The question then arises, if God has already decreed all that will come to pass whether it is by permissive decree or directive decree, does prayer really accomplish anything? If God’s plan is already set into motion and will not be changed, does prayer really mean anything?
The answer is: prayer is important nevertheless because of three points.

First, God foreknew not only what would come to pass, He foreknew what each man would do in respect to prayer. He also included our prayers into His foreordination.

Second, when a man prays, He carries out what God foreknew and foreordained he would do. Prayer is just as much a part of the plan of God as are the various details of the plan of God.

Third, God not only foreordained the ends, but He also foreordained the means. There are things that God has decreed that will come to pass but God has also included into His plan the means by which these things will be accomplished. The means includes the prayers of the saints. Our prayers are important and the providence of God does not rule out the importance of our prayer life. Prayer was included within the plan and program of God. Although God’s ends are certain to be accomplished they will be accomplished by the very means which He has foreordained and this includes the prayers of the saints.

So we ought not use the providence of God as an excuse to avoid prayer. In fact, the certainty of an event coming to pass should urge us to continue praying. For example, God promised that someday Yeshua (Jesus) will return. The return of the Lord is a guaranteed event that will happen some day.

Yet we are encouraged to pray:

come Lord Jesus

(Rev. 22:20).

While the Second Coming and the Rapture are both guaranteed, they are going to come about because of the prayers of the saints. Again, the means of accomplishing something is as much a part of the plan of God as the result.


III. PRAYER AND THE GREATNESS OF GOD

The third problem of prayer concerns the greatness of God. The issue here is: how could God really be concerned about the details of life?

This problem is reflected in Psalm 8:4:

What is man, that you are mindful of him? And the son of man, that you visit him?

This question plagued the psalmist as well. In light of God’s greatness, in light of His being in control of this vast universe, how could He really be concerned over such minor issues as the day-to-day affairs of human life?


However, it is for the very reason that God is great that He can be concerned about these things. Logic tells us that an infinite God is concerned about an infinite number of details. The clear teaching of Scripture is that God really is interested in the details of life.

For example, Matthew 6:31-34 states:

Be not therefore anxious, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? For after all these things do the Gentiles seek; for your heavenly Father knows that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first his kingdom, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Be not therefore anxious for the morrow: for the morrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

Notice the details that God is interested in. He is concerned about making sure we have clothing. He is concerned about making sure that we have food and drink to sustain us. Since God is concerned about these things, we have a legitimate right to pray for all these things.

Also, Luke 12:6-7 states:

Are not five sparrows sold for two pence? and not one of them is forgotten in the sight of God. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not: ye are of more value than many sparrows.

Notice that God is concerned with every individual bird and that could be extended to every individual animal, every individual fish and every individual bug life. He takes all of these details into account. Because human life is far more important than animal life, He affirms that even the very hairs of our heads are numbered. God knows exactly how many hairs you have left when one falls out. He is that concerned with the details of life. So again, the greatness of God should not be a problem of prayer because an infinite God is concerned about an infinite number of things.


IV. PRAYER AND THE OMNISCIENCE OF GOD

The fourth problem of prayer is the omniscience of God. The issue is: since God already knows it all, why do we need to pray?

This issue is reflected in Matthew 6:8:

Be not therefore like unto them: for your Father knows what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.

Since God already knows what we need even before we ask anything of Him, why should we bother praying?

Yet in this very same passage and in the very same context, even when Yeshua says that God already knows it ahead of time, nevertheless we are encouraged to pray. We should go ahead and let God know, so to speak, the things that are troubling us and spell out what our needs are. Not because God does not know, but because of our own need to experience faith and trust. By coming to God in prayer and seeing our prayers answered we are going to experience faith and trust; we are going to experience God’s answer to prayer.
Furthermore, the certainty that something will come to pass should spur us on to prayer. A good example of this occurred in the life of Elijah the Prophet. In I Kings 18, God had already promised Elijah that He was going to break the drought and send rain on Israel.

According to I Kings 18:41:

And Elijah said unto Ahab, Get you up, eat and drink; for there is the sound of abundance of rain.

Elijah already knew that rain was coming and told Ahab to go and get ready because there was going to be an abundance of rain.

Then I Kings 18:42-45 states:

So Ahab went up to eat and to drink. And Elijah went up to the top of Carmel; and he bowed himself down upon the earth, and put his face between his knees. And he said to his servant, Go up now, look toward the sea. And he went up, and looked, and said, There is nothing. And he said, Go again seven times. And it came to pass at the seventh time, that he said, Behold, there arises a cloud out of the sea, as small as a man’s hand. And he said, Go up, say unto Ahab, Make ready your chariot, and get you down, that the rain stop you not. And it came to pass in a little while, that the heavens grew black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain. And Ahab rode, and went to Jezreel. Elijah knew rain was coming.

He knew it because God had promised him the rains were going to come. Yet, the certainty of something happening did not keep him from praying; it spurred him to pray. There should be no problem with the omniscience of God in relationship to prayer.

V. PRAYER AND THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD

The fifth problem of prayer has to do with the sovereignty of God. The issue is this: if everything has been predetermined, why pray?

This particular issue is reflected in Ephesians 1:11:

in whom also we were made a heritage, having been foreordained according to the purpose of him who works all things after the counsel of his will.

According to this verse, all things have been predetermined so why pray? The answer is that prayer is a means by which God works out His will.

This comes out clearly in Acts 27:21-26:

And when they had been long without food, then Paul stood forth in the midst of them, and said, Sirs, ye should have hearkened unto me, and not have set sail from Crete, and have gotten this injury and loss. And now I exhort you to be of good cheer; for there shall be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. For there stood by me this night an angel of the God whose I am, whom also I serve, saying, Fear not, Paul; you must stand before Caesar: and lo, God has granted you all them that sail with you. Wherefore, sirs, be of good cheer: for I believe God, that it shall be even so as it has been spoken unto me. But we must be cast upon a certain island.

Paul knew very well from the angel that no one was going to lose his life. Yet that did not keep Paul from praying for the safety of the passengers of the ship. Prayer is a means by which God works out His will and, again, God has determined both the means and the end.

VI. PRAYER AND NATURAL LAW

A sixth problem of prayer is that of natural law. The issue here is: if natural law is fixed, why do we need to bother praying since prayer cannot change natural law? The answer is simple. Just as God is omniscient, He is also omnipotent and He can and has in the past
overruled natural law. The omnipotence of God solves the question and the problem of prayer and natural law.

VII. HINDRANCES TO PRAYER

The seventh problem of prayer involves hindrances to prayer. There are nine specific hindrances to prayer, which will keep us from getting our prayers answered.


A. Sin

The first hindrance to prayer is sin.

Psalm 66:18 states:

If I regard iniquity in my heart, The Lord will not hear.

If we meditate upon iniquity, if we are planning to sin, our prayers are not being answered.

A second passage on this point is Isaiah 1:13-15:

Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; new moon and sabbath, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with iniquity and the solemn meeting. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they are a trouble unto me; I am weary of bearing them. And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you; yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood.

Notice that the very things God said He does not want are the things He had commanded in the Law of Moses. It is not that He did not want them per se, but the people to whom these words were addressed had become purely ritualistic and were sinning while they were following the Law. They were not bringing the sacrifices as a sign of true repentance. They were merely going through a ritual while still living in sin and sin will always be a hindrance to prayer. So God told them He was not going to hear their prayers.

A good example of sin as a hindrance to prayer is Isaiah 59:1-2:

Behold, Jehovah’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear: but your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, so that he will not hear.

The reason God is not hearing their prayers is because of their sins. God will not tolerate sin and He will not answer prayer accordingly. Sin in the believer’s life is a major hindrance to prayer.

B. Lack of Concern for Others

A second major hindrance to prayer is a lack of concern for others, especially the poor among us.

Proverbs 21:13 states:

Whoso stops his ears at the cry of the poor, He also shall cry, but shall not be heard.

If we do not respond to the needs of the poor, if we show a lack of concern for the poor, then God will be slow in answering our prayers as well.

Another example along this line is in Luke 6:38:

give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, shall they give into your bosom. For with what measure ye mete it shall be measured to you again.

What we give is what we are going to receive. A lack of concern will be a hindrance in having our prayers answered.

C. Disobedience

A third hindrance to prayer is disobedience to God’s law.

Proverbs 28:9 states:

He that turns away his ear from hearing the law, Even his prayer is
an abomination.

The context is the Mosaic Law because that was what applied at that time. But the Mosaic Law no longer applies; we are now under the Law of the Messiah. However, the principle is the same: disobedience to God’s Law, the law that applies to us, is going to be a hindrance to prayer.

D. Idolatry

A fourth hindrance to prayer is idolatry. Not only is idolatrous prayer a wrong prayer, but the practice of idolatry is a hindrance to prayer when we are addressing the true God.

Ezekiel 14:3 states:

Son of man, these men have taken their idols into their heart, and put the stumblingblock of their iniquity before their face: should I be inquired
of at all by them?

Here, priests were praying to the true God but in their hearts they were idolatrous and still worshipping their idols. That proved to be a hindrance to their prayer life.

E. Lack of a Spirit of Forgiveness

A fifth hindrance to prayer is the lack of a spirit of forgiveness.

Mark 11:25 states:

And whensoever ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have aught against any one; that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.

The point is: if we approach God and we still have something against a brother, that prayer is not being heard. We have to have the spirit of forgiveness toward that brother in order for God to hear our prayers.

F. Doubt and Lack of Faith

The sixth hindrance to prayer is doubt and a lack of faith.

James 1:5-8 states:

But if any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and upbraids not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing doubting: for he that doubts is like the surge of the sea driven by the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive anything of the Lord; a doubleminded man, unstable in all his ways.

In this passage the hindrance to prayer is clearly a spirit of doubt and a lack of faith. If we approach God asking for things He has guaranteed to provide but doubting that He is going to do it, not having faith will be a hindrance to prayer.

G. Asking Amiss

The seventh hindrance is asking amiss.

This is brought out by James 4:3:

Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may spend it in your pleasures.

To ask amiss is to ask God for material things so that we can spend it for our own pleasures, not to glorify the Lord. We can pray for a car if we use the car to meet our needs and to do the needs of the ministry. If we want a brand new car just to show off, that is asking amiss. The whole attitude of “Name It! Claim It! Frame It!” is asking amiss. People ask for Cadillacs and million dollar homes, expecting God to give these things to them. They claim God will get the glory, but really they will get the glory and they will use these things to show off their material wealth. That kind of praying is asking amiss and it is a hindrance to prayer.

H. Lack of Love for the Wife

The eighth hindrance to prayer is the lack of love for your wife. This is a hindrance for husbands.

I Peter 3:7 states:

Ye husbands, in like manner, dwell with your wives according to knowledge, giving honor unto the woman, as unto the weaker vessel, as being also joint-heirs of the grace of life; to the end that your prayers be not hindered.

A husband’s prayer is going to be hindered if he fails in two areas: first, if he fails to dwell with his wife in an understanding and knowledgeable way, knowing what her needs and wants are; and, second, failing to honor her as he should. These show a lack of love for the wife and any lack of love for the wife will be a hindrance to prayer. So, husbands, learn to love your wives biblically and then you are going to see God answering prayers. Otherwise, your prayers are going to be hindered.

I. A Condemning Heart

The ninth hindrance to prayer is a condemning heart. Instead of confidence in approaching God, we may be holding back because of a condemning heart.

I John 3:19-22 states:

Hereby shall we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our heart before him: because if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things. Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, we have boldness toward God; and whatsoever we ask we receive of him, because we keep his commandments and do the things that are pleasing in his sight.

In these verses, John is describing a believer who knows mentally that he has been cleansed of his sins, yet still feels a sense of guilt. He is being condemned by his heart and because of this he does not approach God in prayer with full confidence, but holds back. That holding back can be a hindrance to prayer. We need to recognize that God has forgiven us. We need to recognize that God has cleansed us. We need to recognize that God has accepted us. And, we need to realize that we have been put into a specific place within the plan of God and not draw back when we approach him in prayer. Holding back because of a wrong guilt-feeling becomes a hindrance to prayer.

VIII. THE MISAPPLICATION OF SCRIPTURE

The eighth problem of prayer has to do with the misapplication of Scripture. We sometimes apply biblical passages in relationship to prayer when contextually they have nothing to do with prayer.

A famous passage, which is often misapplied, is Matthew 18:15-20:

And if your brother sin against you, go, show him his fault between you and him alone: if he hear you, you have gained your brother. But if he hear you not, take with you one or two more, that at the mouth of two witnesses or three every word may be established. And if he refuse to hear them, tell it unto the church: and if he refuse to hear the church also, let him be unto you as the Gentile and the publican. Verily I say unto you, What things soever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and what things soever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say unto you, that if two of you shall agree on earth as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father who is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.


There are several statements in this passage which are misapplied and are taken to refer to prayer, but that was not the intent. The context of verses 15-20 has to do with church discipline and not with prayer. One statement which is misapplied to prayer is verse 19:

that if two of you shall agree on earth as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them by my Father who is in heaven.

Some people have taken this to speak of prayer, so they have come together; they have agreed in prayer; and then assumed that God had to answer. But often God did not answer. The reason is: this statement is not talking about prayer. The two or three in this context are the two witnesses or three of verse 16 who are witnessing to the fact that a sinning brother has not repented and, therefore, testify that church discipline is necessary.
A second statement that is misapplied is verse 20:

where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.

The assumption is that when two people come together to pray, the Messiah is present there to answer. Again, this is not dealing with prayer but with church discipline. The point is: when the two or three witnesses testify concerning a sinning brother before the church, Jesus is there with them authenticating their testimony. Therefore, the sinning brother clearly needs to be disciplined. So Matthew 18:15-20 is not dealing with prayer, but it is dealing with church discipline. To apply these verses to prayer would be a misapplication of Scripture. A misapplication of Scripture is a problem of prayer.

IX. THE PROBLEM OF UNANSWERED PRAYER

The ninth problem of prayer is unanswered prayer. We will discuss the problem of unanswered prayer in seven parts.

A. The Examples

There are many examples of saints who felt that their prayers were unanswered.
In Psalm 35:13, the psalmist says:

my prayer returned into mine own bosom.


Psalm 80:4 states:

How long will you be angry against the prayer of your people?

Lamentations 3:8:

he shuts out my prayer.


Lamentations 3:44:

no prayer can pass through.


These are just some examples that could be given. There were many saints who felt their prayers went unanswered.

B. The Reasons

What are the reasons that prayer is sometimes unanswered? Let me give you ten reasons why prayer sometimes goes unanswered.

1. When It Is Contrary to the Word of God.

The first reason is that sometimes the prayer is contrary to the Word of God. In John 15:7 we read:

If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatsoever ye will, and it shall be done unto you.

Abiding with and in Him will mean that we ask in accordance to His Word. On the other hand, if we do not abide in Him, we are not asking in accordance with the Word of God, but contrary to His Word. That is a reason why God will not answer the prayer. For example, it is not God’s will for every believer to be rich. If we pray, “God, make us rich,” that is a prayer that goes contrary to the Word of God. If you claim, “God, make me rich because you said all believers will be rich,” you will be disappointed. God never said any
such thing. That is a prayer that goes contrary to the Word of God.

2. When There Is Sin in the Heart

A second reason for unanswered prayer is because there is sin in the heart. When there is sin in the heart, prayer will go unanswered. Psalms 66:18 states:

If I regard iniquity in my heart, The Lord will not hear.

The word regard means, “to hang onto,” “to cling to,” “to look with delight,” “to look with satisfaction” at sin in one’s life. If we are hanging onto a sin, if we are clinging to a sin, if we are enjoying the sin we are in, there is sin in the heart. When there is sin in the heart, prayer will not be answered.

3. When the Relationship With Our Wife Is Wrong

A third reason prayer goes unanswered is because the relationship to our wife is out of order. Peter wrote in I Peter 3:7:

Ye husbands, in like manner, dwell with your wives

according to knowledge, giving honor unto the woman, as unto the weaker vessel, as being also joint-heirs of the grace of life; to the end that your prayers be not hindered. If the relationship to our mate, especially the husband’s relationship to his wife, is out of kilter then prayer is unanswered for that reason.

4. When the Motivation Is Selfish

A fourth reason prayer goes unanswered is because the prayer is a selfish one. That is the kind of prayer that James 4:3 talks about:

Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may spend it in your pleasures.

The request made in this case is a selfish one and the motive behind the prayer is not pure. That is asking amiss. We are looking for materialistic pleasures rather than glorifying God, and because that is the motivation of our prayer, that is another reason why prayer is
unanswered.

5. When There Is a Delayed Answer

A fifth reason for unanswered prayer is that the answer is not really denied, it is only delayed. A good example of this is I Samuel 1:9-20, which speaks of the prayer of Hannah for a son. It was obvious God intended to answer Hannah’s prayer, but He did not do so
immediately. It appeared that Hannah’s prayer went unanswered; but actually the prayer was not denied, nor was it unanswered; it was merely delayed. The same picture is found in I Kings 18:41-46. Here we find Elijah praying for rain. In this case, the prayer was not unanswered, it was merely delayed.

6. When There Is a Disguised Answer

A sixth reason for unanswered prayer is that the prayer is not unanswered but the answer itself is disguised. For example, Paul wanted to go to Rome. According to Romans 1:9-12, he wanted to get to Rome in a specific way that he spelled out in these verses. It was God’s will to answer Paul’s prayer to get him to Rome, but God chose to bring him to Rome in a different way. When it looked like his arrest in Jerusalem would keep him from getting to Rome, and it appeared that his prayer was being unanswered, actually the prayer was answered, but it was disguised. By being arrested in Jerusalem, Paul eventually stood before Caesar in Rome.

7. When Denial Is the Best Answer

A seventh reason is that a denial might be the best answer. God’s saying, “No,” might be the best answer to that particular prayer. That is actually what Paul experienced in II Corinthians 12:8-9:

Concerning this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he has said unto me, My grace is sufficient for you: for my power is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

The prayer of Paul clearly went unanswered because Paul would bring God greater glory by remaining in that state, so a denial was best.

8. When the Basis of Faith Is Wrong

The eighth reason for unanswered prayer is because the faith is resting on the wrong basis. What is the faith based on? Is it based upon the prayer itself or is it on faith itself ? Both of these are wrong. We are not to have faith in the prayer, we are not to have faith in faith, but we are to have faith in God (Mk. 11:22; Heb. 11:6). It is not that prayer changes things. God never responds to requests that do not go according to His plan.

9. When There Is Satanic Opposition

A ninth reason for unanswered prayer is Satanic opposition which may prevent an immediate answer to prayer as in the case of Daniel 10:10-14.

10. When There Is Unbelief

A tenth reason for unanswered prayer is unbelief. According to James.1:5-6, if we do not believe we will not get answers.

C. The Causes and Limitations

What are the causes for unanswered prayer? What are the limitations causing prayer to be unanswered? There are basically three possible causes that limit prayer.

1. By the Lack of Faith

First, we are sometimes limited by our faith; the lack of faith limits God’s answering our prayer. This is pointed out by Matthew 21:21:

And Jesus answered and said unto them, Verily I say unto you, If ye have faith, and doubt not, ye shall not only do what is done to the fig tree, but even if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be you taken up and cast into the sea, it shall be done.

Another passage along the same line is Mark 11:22-24:

And Jesus answering said unto them, Have faith in God. Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be you taken up and cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that what he says comes to pass; he shall have it. Therefore I say unto you, All things whatsoever ye pray and ask for, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.

In both of these Scriptures, the emphasis is on exercising faith in our prayer life. One limitation that causes our prayer to be unanswered is that our faith is limited. Faith is the confident expectation that what was asked for has already been received. This is faith in the realm of prayer. This is not a “blank check” to ask for anything you want. Actually, this is the kind of faith that rests in the promises of God. We can firmly approach in prayer and believe that we already have that which God has promised. It is not that anything we want will happen, but whatever God has promised will happen.

Here again, this verse must not be taken out of its context and made to mean something that was never intended. The point here is: if God has promised something and we approach Him on the basis of that promise, we must have faith that what we have asked for has already been received. That is faith in God’s promise. Not that anything we want will happen, but whatever God has promised will happen. Our limitation of faith will often cause prayers to be unanswered.

2. By the Will of God

A second limitation is that prayers are sometimes unanswered because of limitation by the will of God. Sometimes God’s will limits the answer to a specific prayer. For example, in Matthew 26:39:

And he went forward a little, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass away from me: nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.


Here, it is Yeshua who is praying, and we know that He lacked no faith. His prayer was that He would not have to drink of the cup of the wrath of God. That prayer did not go unanswered because of the first cause, limitation to faith, but because of the second cause. It was limited by the will of God in that it was not God’s will to answer the prayer of Yeshua in the way it was requested. Another passage along this same line is I John 5:14-15:

And this is the boldness which we have toward him, that, if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us: and if we know that he hears us whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions which we have asked of him.

Again, the emphasis is to pray according to His will. If we pray according to His will, then we have a guaranteed answer to prayer. If we do not pray according to His will, that prayer may go unanswered because it is limited by the will of God.

3. By Failing to Use the Name of Jesus

There is a third limitation, which causes a prayer to go unanswered. Sometimes it is limited by the name of Yeshua. This comes out in John 14:13:

And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.

Another possible reason our prayers go unanswered is that we are limiting the prayer by failing to pray in the name of Yeshua. John 14:13 is based upon the fullness of the revelation of Him. Before His coming, no one was to pray in Yeshua’s name; but since He has come, we ought to pray in His name. To pray in His name means that the prayer is in conformity with the nature of Jesus the Messiah. If we pray in His name, we need to pray in harmony and in conformity with His nature. We should not seek those things or demand those things, which contradict His own lifestyle or His own nature.

D. The Questions to Ask

And so we come to the fourth part of our study on the problem of unanswered prayer which has to do with questions to ask when our prayer is unanswered. If we pray for something several times and see no response from the Lord, we need to ask six specific questions.

First: “Am I sure that my request is in harmony with the will of God?”
If it is out of harmony, that might be a reason that prayer is not answered.

A second question to ask is: “Did I really pray making use of Yeshua’s
name?” Making use of His name must not be reduced to a mere formality, a mere ritual. Praying in the name of Jesus is to pray in His authority and for His sake. When we pray in His name we need to understand that the prayer is in harmony with that which conforms to the nature of the Messiah. That is what it means to truly pray in Jesus’ name.

The third question to ask is: “Did I really pray the prayer of faith and did I expect an answer?” Again, if the prayer is based on a specific promise, we need to pray on the basis of faith and expect a clear cut answer. For example, God promised to give wisdom to those who ask Him. That is a promise of God we can depend on. If we are praying for wisdom, we need to pray a prayer of faith and believe that we are going to get it, expecting an answer.

The fourth question is: “Was I praying out of selfish motivation?” “Why did I make this request? to make myself more comfortable? or to have more self-esteem?” “Did I really pray out of a pure motivation or did I pray out of a selfish motivation?” Selfish prayers may go unanswered.

A fifth question to ask is: “Have I been importune; meaning, have I persisted in prayer?” “Have I practiced persistent praying?”

A sixth question to ask is: “Did I depend on the Holy Spirit in my prayer?” Not only do we express our prayers to the Father in the name of Yeshua the Messiah, we need to pray on the basis of and by means of the Holy Spirit.

E. The Prayer Petitions and Types of Answers

That brings us to the fifth division of the category of unanswered prayer; which is, to discuss prayer petitions and types of answers. Because there are different types of petitions, there are different types of answers. There are four categories of petitions and answers.

1. Petition Answered and the Desire Unanswered

First, there is a prayer petition that was answered, but the desire behind the prayer was not answered.
For example, compare Numbers 11:4-15 with Psalm 106:15. The petition was for flesh to eat. The desire to have flesh to eat was happiness. God did answer the petition and gave them flesh to eat, but their desire remained unanswered; they did not become happy.

A second example of the petition answered but the desire unanswered is I Samuel 8:1-22. The petition was: specifically, they wanted a king like the other nations; they wanted a king in place of a judge. The desire was: to be like other nations. God granted the petition and He did give them a king–King Saul–but their desire was not granted; they did not become like other nations.

A third example is Mark 5:12. The petition was: to go into the swine.
The desire was: safety. The petition was granted and the demons were allowed to go into the swine, but they did not become safe and their desire was not granted.

2. Petition Unanswered and the Desire Answered

A second category concerns petitions, which are unanswered, but the desire is answered.

One example of this is Genesis 17:18. The petition was: that Ishmael may live before you!
Abraham’s true desire was that he would have a son come out of his own loins. His petition was not granted, Ishmael was not the son of the Abrahamic Covenant. But Abraham’s desire was granted in that he did produce another son, Isaac, who would get the inheritance.

Another example is Genesis 18:22-33. The specific petition was to spare Sodom. The desire, however, was the safety and rescuing of Lot. God did not grant Abraham’s petition; He did not spare Sodom. But Abraham’s desire was granted in that Lot was rescued preceding the destruction of the city.

A third example is Mark 5:18-20 which concerns the demoniac, the individual from whom a legion of demons had recently been cast out. His petition was to be physically present with the Lord. His desire was to serve the Lord. Here again, the petition was not granted because he was a Gentile and he could not at that point become a disciple of Jesus. But, his desire was granted; he was able to serve the Lord as he went about the cities of the Decapolis–the ten Gentile cities–and served the Lord.

A fourth example is II Corinthians 12:7-10. The petition from Paul was for the removal of the thorn in the flesh, but Paul’s desire was to glorify God. Here again, the petition was not granted; the thorn in the flesh was not removed. But his desire was granted, and he was able to glorify God through it.

3. Petition Answered and the Desire Answered

The third category of prayer petitions and types of answers is that both the petition is answered and the desire is answered.

For example, in Judges 16:28-30 the petition was: the return of Samson’s strength; the petition was granted. The desire behind the petition was: to avenge himself against the Philistines and his desire was also granted. We are told he killed more Philistines at the point of his own death than he had killed during all his lifetime.

A second example in which we have both the desire and the petition answered is in I Kings 18:36-39. The petition was: for the nation to come to know God. The desire was: to know God’s power. Both the petition and the desire were answered; the nation really did understand who God was and Israel did see His power.

A third example is Luke 23:42-43. The petition was: remember me … in Paradise. The actual desire behind the petition was salvation. In both cases the answer came; he was remembered in Paradise and he did have salvation.

A fourth example is John 11:41-45. The petition was: the resurrection of Lazarus. This petition was granted and Lazarus was resurrected. The desire behind the petition was: that those standing by and observing this miracle might believe. The desire was also answered; many of the Jews believed because they saw what He did.

4. Petition Unanswered and the Desire Unanswered

The fourth category is that sometimes both the petition is unanswered and the desire is unanswered. In such cases, there may be various reasons why the petition and the desire both remain unanswered. Let me mention nine situations where both the petition and the desire will remain unanswered.

a. Lack of Faith

The first problem that will cause both the petition and the desire to remain unanswered is a lack of faith. This is brought out in Matthew 21:21-22:

And Jesus answered and said unto them, Verily I say unto you, If ye have faith, and doubt not, ye shall not only do what is done to the fig tree, but even if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be you taken up and cast into the sea, it shall be done. And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.

b. Selfish Motives

A second reason is because prayer is motivated by selfishness. James 4:2-3 states:

Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and covet, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war; ye have not, because ye ask not. Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may spend it in your pleasures.


c. Carnality

A third reason is carnality. Psalm 66:18 states:

If I regard iniquity in my heart, The Lord will not hear.


Iniquity in the heart is a source of carnality, and this will also keep both the petition and the desire from being answered.

d. Lack of Compassion

A fourth reason is a lack of compassion. This is the point of Proverbs 21:13:

Whoso stops his ears at the cry of the poor, He also shall cry, but shall not be heard.

If we lack compassion, God will not issue compassion toward us. So both our petition and desire will remain unanswered.

e. Contrary to the Will of God

A fifth problem is that our prayer goes contrary to the will of God. Prayer that is contrary to the will of God will also go unanswered.

I John 5:14 states:

And this is the boldness which we have toward him, that, if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.

We need to pray in accordance with God’s will but, if we pray contrary to His will, that is another reason why both the petition and the desire remain unanswered.

f. Lack of Domestic Tranquility

A sixth reason is the lack of domestic tranquility. This is the point of I Peter 3:7. If the husband does not love his wife as he ought, then both the petition and the desire may go unanswered.

g. Not Spirit-filled

A seventh problem is that the prayer itself is not Spirit-filled according to Ephesians 6:18.

h. Desire and Pride

An eighth problem behind unanswered petition and desire is pride as recorded by Job 35:12-13.

i. Disobedience

And, the ninth problem is disobedience to the commands of the Lord.


F. The Conditions for Successful Praying

What are the conditions for successful praying? What are the conditions for having prayer answered? Let me mention ten specific things.

1. Being Honest About Anxieties

First, honesty about our anxieties is an important condition for successful prayer.
For example, in Philippians 4:6 we read:

In nothing be anxious; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.


If our prayers are rising out of anxiety, let’s be honest about it and approach God with these anxieties and let [our] requests be made known unto [Him]. He will choose how to answer these requests, but we need to make them known to the Lord. Along the same line we read in I Peter 5:7:

casting all your anxiety upon him, because he cares for you.

Because he does care for us, we should be honest about our anxieties and bring them before the Lord. Honesty is a very important condition for successful praying.

2. Showing Humility

A second condition for successful praying is humility. Luke 18:9-14 states:

And he spoke also this parable unto certain who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and set all others at nought: Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank you, that I am not as the rest of men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week; I give tithes of all that I get. But the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote his breast, saying, God, be you merciful to me a sinner. I say unto you, This man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalts himself shall be humbled; but he that humbles himself shall be exalted.

This is the story of a publican and a Pharisee. The Pharisee used his prayer to tell God how lucky God was to have this Pharisee on His team. He used prayer to show off his self righteousness. His prayer went unanswered. The publican used his prayer life to emphasize his own humility, casting himself upon God and God’s mercy. The publican went home justified because humility is an important condition for successful praying.

3. Using the Name of Jesus

A third condition for successful praying is to pray in Yeshua’s name. John 15:16 states:

Ye did not choose me, but I chose you, and appointed you, that ye should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should abide: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.

This is vital to successful praying. To pray in Jesus’ name means to pray in His authority, to pray for His sake and for His glory.

4. Having Righteousness and Personal Purity

A fourth condition for successful praying is righteousness and personal purity. Psalm 66:18 states:

If I regard iniquity in my heart. The Lord will not hear me.

The same point is made by James 5:16:

Confess therefore your sins one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The supplication of a righteous man avails much in its working.

Righteousness is an important condition to prayer.

5. Having Unity Between Husbands and Wives

A fifth condition for prayer is having unity between husbands and wives. I Peter 3:7 states:

Ye husbands, in like manner, dwell with your wives according to knowledge, giving honor unto the woman, as unto the weaker vessel, as being also joint-heirs of the grace of life; to the end that your prayers be not hindered.

Clearly in this passage it is important that there is unity of the husband with his wife, otherwise the prayers will go unanswered.

6. Concerning Faith

The sixth condition for successful praying is faith. This comes out in Matthew 21:21-22:

And Jesus answered and said unto them, Verily I say unto you, If ye have faith, and doubt not, ye shall not only do what is done to the fig tree, but even if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be you taken up and cast into the sea, it shall be done. And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.

A second passage that points out the importance of faith in successful praying is
James 1:5-8:

But if any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and upbraids not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing doubting: for he that doubts is like the surge of the sea driven by the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive anything of the Lord; a doubleminded man, unstable in all his ways.


Faith is a very important condition for successful praying.

7. Exercising Persistence

There is a seventh condition for successful praying and that is persistence. This comes out clearly in Luke 11:5-10:

And he said unto them, Which of you shall have a friend, and shall go unto him at midnight, and say to him, Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine is come to me from a journey, and I have nothing to set before him; and he from within shall answer and say, Trouble me not: the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give you? I say unto you, Though he will not rise and give him because he is his friend,
yet because of his importunity he will arise and give him as many as he needs. And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asks receives; and he that seeks finds; and to him that knocks it shall be opened.

The whole point of the story is the importance of exercising persistence in your prayer life. Keep on asking, keep on seeking, keep on knocking.

8. According to the Will of God

An eighth condition to successful praying is to pray according to His will. This comes out in I John 5:14-15:

And this is the boldness which we have toward him, that, if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us: and if we know that he hears us whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions which we have asked of him.

According to His will is the key phrase here; that is an extremely important condition for successful praying.

9. Abiding in God’s Word

A ninth important condition for successful praying is to let God’s Word abide in us; His Word must abide in us.

John 15:7 states: If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatsoever ye will, and it shall be done unto you.

Letting the words of Yeshua abide in us will cause our prayers to be successful because that is what will keep us from praying wrongly, from praying out of wrong motivations, from not praying in accordance with the will of God.

10. Having Compassion

A tenth condition for successful praying is to have compassion. This is brought out by Proverbs 21:13:

Whoso stops his ears at the cry of the poor, He also shall cry, but shall not be heard.

G. The Prayers for the Sick

One last thing concerning the problem of unanswered prayer is praying for the sick. Often when we pray for the sick, those prayers are not answered. There are various possible reasons for this, both good and bad, which were discussed earlier.

A Bible teacher by the name of E. Stanley Jones provided nine principles in praying for the sick. I would like to share with you those nine principles because often this is the most frequent area of unanswered prayer that believers will face.

The first principle is that you need to have faith that God is able to heal any illness.
You must not presuppose that God will heal every illness. He will not. But in praying for the sick, you do need belief that God is able to heal any illness.

A second principle in praying for the sick is to pray specifically.
What exactly is it you want God to do. Learn to pray specifically, whether it is for a specific disease, a specific limp, a specific problem. Pray specifically.

A third principle is, determine if confession and forgiveness are necessary.
James 5:16 states:

Confess therefore your sins one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The supplication of a righteous man avails much in its working.

While God does not promise to heal every sickness that is due to human frailty, He does promise to heal every sickness that is a result of a specific, divine discipline. If a sickness is due to a specific sin and that sin is confessed, then that sin is forgiven and healing is
guaranteed. So determine if confession and forgiveness are necessary.

The fourth principle is that we need to submit our prayers to the purposes of God.
We should pray according to His will and accept His answer, be it “yes” or “no.” If he heals, praise the Lord. If he does not heal, praise the Lord as well. He has done according to His will and as He knows best.

A fifth principle in praying for the sick is to be sensitive to God to know that at some point God has made it clear that there will be no healing.
Continue praying for healing, but be sensitive to know if God finally said, “No,” at a certain point. A good example of this is Paul. He prayed three times that his thorn in the flesh might be taken away. After three times he realized that God was not going to grant that petition because God’s glory will now work its way out through the illness. If God says, “No,” let the illness take its course to glorify God accordingly.

A sixth principle is to be open to the Lord’s choice in the manner of healing.
He may choose to do it miraculously, or He may choose to do it in a non-miraculous way; such as, the use of medicine and medical doctors. Be open to let God choose how He is going to heal. Do not presuppose that it has to be by a miracle.

A seventh principle in praying for the sick is to give praise and thanksgiving when the Lord has answered for His glory regardless of what the answer may be.
Whether He has or has not granted the specific petition, give praise and thanksgiving to the Lord when He has answered for His own glory.

The eighth principle is to be sensitive and loving to the ill person.
When there has been faith and prayer but no healing, although someone else may have been healed, be sensitive and loving.

The ninth principle is, do not generalize from the occasional miracle to give the impression that everyone will be healed. That is the mistake many make. People have been miraculously healed today, but they make the presupposition that everybody else can be too. Do not generalize from an occasional miracle to give the impression that everyone may also be healed.✡

IF YOU ENJOYED THIS BIBLE STUDY, DR. FRUCHTENBAUM RECOMMENDS:

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