10 reasons for unanswered prayer


We all face dry spells when prayer seems like a waste of time. Then we must walk by faith. When we can’t trace God’s hand, we must trust His heart. Here are ten common reasons for unanswered prayer:

• Unconfessed sin: Sin separates us from God and is a barrier to prayer (Is. 59:1-2). David wrote, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me” (Ps. 66:18). Confess sin swiftly, repent of it, and God will restore you (1 Jn. 1:9). Either prayer will keep us from sinning or sin will keep us from praying.

• Asking Amiss: “You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss” (Jam. 4:3). Prayer is like archery and the target is the will of God. Jimmy Carter said, “God answers every prayer. Sometimes God says ‘yes’, sometimes God says ‘no’ and sometimes He says, ‘you’ve got to be kidding me.’” As the song says, “Some of life’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.” God gives us what we need instead of what we think we want. 

• Lack of Faith: A man brought his suicidal son to the disciples for help. Finally, Jesus set him free. The disciples asked why they couldn’t cast out the demons. Jesus answered, “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” (Mt. 17:20). Unbelief limits God and short-circuits our prayers. Bold faith pleases God and is a catalyst for miracles. 

• Lack of Persistence: Jesus told the Parable of the Unjust Judge so “men ought always to pray, and not to lose heart” (Lk. 18:1). A desperate widow appealed to a corrupt judge for justice. Eventually, he ruled in her favor just to get rid of her. Then Jesus added, “Shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him?” (Lu. 18:7) If persistence pays when dealing with a crooked judge who has no interest in your case, how much more does it pay when dealing with God who has a supreme interest in your case? 

• Wrong Motives: “You ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures” (Jam. 4:3). We should petition God for valid needs (Mt. 6:11) but we can easily stray into selfishness. The Lord’s Prayer guards against it by using the terms “our,” “us,” and “we” (Mt. 6:9-13). When we focus on other’s needs, God will move for us too. Spiritual blessings are like boomerangs—if we send them out, they will return to us (Pr. 11:25, Ec. 11:1). Remember, “The Lord turned the captivity of Job when he prayed for his friends” (Jb. 42:10). 

• Wrong Methods: Jesus told another parable to show the right and wrong way to pray (Luke 18:9-14). A proud Pharisee bragged how he wasn’t like other sinners. The humble publican uttered a simple, sincere prayer standing “afar off” and feeling unworthy. Beating his chest in repentance, he cried, “God, be merciful to me a sinner!” Jesus said he went home “justified!” Like Cain’s and Abel’s offerings, one prayer was accepted, the other was rejected. 

• Wrong Timing: My mom had a saying, “God misses a lot of opportunities to be early.” He’s never late either, He’s always right on time! When Jesus heard Lazarus was sick, He deliberately delayed so He could perform a bigger miracle (Jn. 11:6). Mary and Martha couldn’t understand why Jesus didn’t come sooner (Jn. 11:21, 32). Have you felt like God is delaying an answer to your prayers? A delay does not mean a denial! 

• Satanic Hindrances: Daniel faced a three-week blockade to his prayer. Gabriel explained, “From the first day that you set your heart to understand, and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard . . . but the prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days; and behold, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me” (Dan. 10:12-13). Satanic hindrances to prayer answers can be removed by spiritual warfare (Mt. 18:18-19, 2 Cor. 10:4-5, Eph. 6:11-13, Rev. 12:7-11). 

• Unforgiveness: Grudges are poison to our soul. They usually hurt the person holding them more than the ones they are held against. Jesus taught that unforgiveness blocks the flow of God’s blessing in our lives (Mt. 5:23-24; 6:12, 14-15).

• Mistreating People: If we mistreat others, it will adversely affect our walk with God. Peter wrote, “Husbands . . . giving honor to the wife . . . that your prayers may not be hindered” (1 Pt. 3:7). Here we see a direct link between honoring our spouse and our prayers being unhindered. If we truly love God, we won’t abuse people who are made in His image (1 Jn. 4:20-21). Keep your prayer channels open by treating people with love and respect.

If your prayers have hit the ceiling lately, take inventory. God promised to answer our prayers, but we must approach Him on His terms. “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (Jam. 5:16). 


Ben Godwin is the author of five books and pastors the Goodsprings Full Gospel Church. You can read more articles or order his books @ bengodwin.org.