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What stops answered prayers

Practice / Praying
Our prayers are meant to be a fragrant offering to the King of kings. Instead, we can unwittingly bring the foul-smelling stench of toxic worldly thinking and stubborn hearts into God’s throne room. Some of us may not even be aware that past involvement in idol worship and witchcraft or un-reconciled relationships will stop our prayers from being answered.

(See Chinese versions: 简体中文为何祷告不蒙垂听 繁體中文 > 為何禱告不蒙垂聽)


True friendship with God

We all desire our friendships to be sincere, honest and caring. So it is with God. He also desires the same things when we communicate with Him through prayer. He is not interested in perfect religious sounding, but insincere prayers. True friendship with God will honour Him because we cherish His perfect holy grace and love for us.

John 15:15 ESV  No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.

John 15:13 ESV  Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.

It is those who come to Him with humble and worshipful hearts that please Him the most. Our pride will make our prayers all about how God can serve us. Friendship with God will ask, “How I can please You today, my good and wonderful Father?

Isaiah 66:2 ESV  All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be, declares the LORD. But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.

God knows and values our hearts

The fact is, even before we pray, He already knows whatever we are going to say better than we do. He sees into every corner of our hearts. The Creator knows His creation better than we know ourselves. He also knows everything that has happened to us and what will happen to us in the future. There is no hiding from Him.

Matthew 6:8 ESV  Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

Hebrews 4:13 ESV  And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

Hence, it is important that we check our hearts before we pray. Gods Word warns us that our hearts are deceitful. Even if we manage to fool ourselves, we cannot fool God.

Jeremiah 17:9-10 ESV  The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? “I the LORD search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.”

Are we hiding our true intentions from ourselves when we pray? Have we been carrying some hidden sin within us that is offensive to our Heavenly Father? If we really truly love someone, we would not take their feelings about such things for granted.

What stops our prayers from being answered

1. Doubt or lack of faith

If we approach someone who we have slandered and mocked for help, would we not be considered two-faced? This is how we behave before our Almighty God when we doubt and question Him.

James 1:6-8 ESV   But let him ask 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.

Our Lord created a perfectly balanced and amazing universe by His will. Surely, His will in our lives will be perfect and amazing too. Let us repent of our unbelief and insults to our Heavenly Father when we lack simple faith in Him and His power to turn all things into good for those who love Him.

Ecclesiastes 3:11 ESV  He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.

2. Refusal to follow God’s words

We live in a fallen, rebellious culture that screams “me first“. It is therefore not surprising that many fail to see that God set out His laws to help us prosper and to protect us from our enemy, Satan. When we refuse to obey God’s holy commandments, it is a form of revolt against the Almighty. Our stubborn hearts honour Satan more than we honour God Almighty.

Zechariah 7:11-13 ESV  But they refused to pay attention and turned a stubborn shoulder and stopped their ears that they might not hear. They made their hearts diamond-hard lest they should hear the law and the words that the Lord of hosts had sent by his Spirit through the former prophets. Therefore great anger came from the Lord of hosts. “As I called, and they would not hear, so they called, and I would not hear,” says the Lord of hosts,

God’s Word says that He will not honour prayers from people who refuse to honour Him and choose to follow Satan. Our prayers in fact, are offensive and revolting. These are strong words that we should pay heed to.

Proverbs 28:9 ESV  If one turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination.

3. Unconfessed sin

Our gracious Father in Heaven desires to forgive and cleanse us of all our sins. That is why He sent His Son to die on the cross for us. It is a gift that is free to us all. But like any parent, He cannot force His children to use the gift.

Because of a lack of understanding of God’s perfect character and perhaps our own shame, fear and ignorance, we don’t talk to God about the sins that separate us from Him. Unfortunately, unconfessed sin cannot be swept under the carpet.

John 9:31 ESV  We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him.

Sadly, God is still waiting for many of us to return to Him and simply say, “Sorry Father, please forgive me” like the prodigal son did. Through this parable, Jesus showed us God’s huge heart for us, by describing how the prodigal son‘s father had so much compassion for his lost son. He ran to his smelly and disgraced son to embrace and kiss him. Not only does God lovingly welcome us back, wonderful rejoicing breaks out in heaven over our repentance.

Luke 15:20 ESV  And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.

Luke 15:7 ESV  Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

4. Selfish motives

Anyone whose heart is not fully submitted to God will ultimately pray with selfish motives. This is tantamount to self-idolatry. Someone with selfish motives will pray like this, “God, please serve my needs.” He has, in fact, already graciously served all our needs for salvation, provision and love. Yet our hearts are unsatisfied and greedy. We want more and more.

God created us with a higher purpose, that is to multiply His goodness and good news on this earth, not to only selfishly enrich ourselves.

James 4:3 ESV  You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. 

Acts 12:24 ESV  But the word of God increased and multiplied.

5. Idol worship

Over the centuries, the god of this world, Satan, has created an incredible number of idols that entice us away from God. When our hearts are divided across so many different things that we hold on to so dearly, it is challenging to have a pure heart before God. There are so many temptations in this world that we rather indulge in than spend some quiet prayer time with God.

2 Corinthians 4:4 ESV  In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

Idol worship is not just limited to false religions but anything that becomes a stumbling block in our hearts that robs us of our childlike love for God. This is why God describes idolatry as anything that separates us from Him.

Ezekiel 14:7-8  ESV  For any one of the house of Israel, or of the strangers who sojourn in Israel, who separates himself from me, taking his idols into his heart and putting the stumbling block of his iniquity before his face… I will set my face against that man…

When we bow down to anything in this world, we are in reality worshipping Satan and his demons. God loves us so purely, that He cannot tolerate prayers from divided hearts that also bow down to Satan.

1 Corinthians 10:20 ESV  No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.

6. Un-reconciled relationships

No perfect father will show favouritism for one child over another. We serve and love a just God.

When we go to God in prayer, knowing that we have done something wrong against a fellow believer or our spouse, our Heavenly Father is not obliged to listen to our prayers until we make right our offences against other people. God will also expect other people to do the same for us, before He listens to them.

Matthew 5:23-24 ESV  So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.

1 Peter 3:7 ESV  Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.

7. Spiritual warfare

Let us always confess anything that offends God before we pray.

But if we are sure that our hearts have been pure before God, then one possible reason for unanswered prayers is spiritual warfare, particularly if we have been praying for something that will further His Kingdom on earth. This is the one time where we will need to command Satan to “get away from us” in Jesus’ name and persevere in faith and rejoice that nothing can stop God’s plans and will.

Daniel 10:12-13 ESV  Then he said to me, “Fear not, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand and humbled yourself before your God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words. The prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days, but Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I was left there with the kings of Persia,

Matthew 16:23 NLT  Jesus turned to Peter and said, “Get away from me, Satan! You are a dangerous trap to me. You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.”


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