Prayer is an amazing act. It is literally a conversation with God where we can pour our hearts out to him, thank him, intercede for others, and listen to what God is saying to us through the impressions the Holy Spirit places on our hearts and minds.
But perhaps the most common thing people think about when “prayer” comes up is the idea of requesting things from God. While this should not be the only act of a healthy prayer life, it is a very vital part of our relationship with God. God alone provides all that we need, and prayer is our primary way of making specific requests of our Heavenly Father.
But why does God not answer some prayers? God loves us, he hears us, and prayer really works. But sometimes our prayers go unanswered? Why? Did we do something wrong? Did we not pray the correct way? Did we not pray enough? Is God just fickle and unexplainable sometimes?
There are many answers to questions like these, but by studying Mark 10:35-40, we can see at least four answers to why God does not answer some prayers.
(As a point of clarification, in this article I’m operating under the principle that God hears and answers every prayer with either a yes, no, or not yet. So throughout this article when I use the language of “Why does God not answer some prayers?”, what I mean is “Why does God not answer some prayers the way we want and when we want?”)
1. God Does Not Answer Some Prayers Because He Cares Too Much
And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” 36 And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” (Mark 10:35-36)
I can identify with how James and John opened up about their desires, “God, before I ask the specifics, I want to get you to agree that you will say “yes” to whatever I say next.” While this seems something a young child would try to pull with their parents, so often this is our mentality when we pray. We may not articulate it, but when we get upset at God when he does not do what we want, we show we have a subconscious belief that if God really cared, he would do whatever we asked for.
The reason God does not answer some prayers is simply because God loves us too much to give us a blank check. If a parent did just say, “Yeah, yeah . . . do whatever you want,” and said “yes” to any request the children had without weighing through the details, this would not be an act of love but of neglect.
In love, God is always available. Like a loving parent, Jesus expresses his love not by saying “yes” to anything but by graciously listening and weighing through what we have to say, “What do you want me to do for you?”
2. God Does Not Answer Some Prayers Because We Are Not Omniscient Like Him
And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” 38 Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” (Mark 10:37-38)
If we were really in tune with the Holy Spirit, I think we would often hear Jesus’ response when we get upset about an unanswered prayer, “You do not know what you are asking.”
How many great marriages would have been thwarted before they even began if God answered the prayer of every high school student who prayed about being with a certain boy or girl? Perhaps the house you prayed so hard to get had unknown foundational issues? Perhaps if you got that book published, the success would kill your heart and your walk with God would be shattered? Who knows what tragedy could have happened to you if God allowed you to move to Colorado rather than remain in Florida.
Sometimes the scariest thing is when we keep rejecting God’s “no”, but we keep persisting in a certain prayer, and God grants our request because we just won’t move on with him until we do. The results are always disastrous. The relationship was nothing like we thought it would be. The big house ends ups ruining our finances. The new work environment is ten times worse than the old one.
God does not answer some prayers because he knows everything and we do not. There’s just so much we don’t know. But what we do know is that God loves us, cares for us, and hears our prayers. Thus whatever the outcome, we can be certain that God has our best interest at heart. We do not always know what we are really asking for, but God always does.Thankfully he alone is the final decision maker on what prayers are answered.
3. God Does Not Answer Some Prayers Because He Has to Prepare Us for a Particular Future First
And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized…”(Mark 10:39)
Sometimes God does not say “yes” or “no” but rather “not yet.” James and John thought they were asking to rule with Jesus in their present season in an earthly kingdom. Little did they know that if they wanted to be at Jesus right and left hand, they would have to suffer with Jesus.
When Jesus asked James and John if they were ready to suffer with him, they answered “We are able.” But Jesus answered “you will” be ready eventually. Jesus knew that right now, they were not ready to do what they would be called to do later – endure persecution for Christ. James and John still needed training, they still needed the power of the Holy Spirit to enter into them, and they were not quite ready for what they would later be called to do.
So God does not answer some prayers because he first needs to prepare us for what lies ahead in the future. Often God will say “yes” to our prayer only after he spends time developing us and empowering us to handle the blessing he plans to give.
4. God Does Not Answer Some Prayers Because He Has a Sovereign Plan
…but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” (Mark 10:40)
God has a plan for the world and for each one of our lives. If a prayer request contradicts God’s sovereign plan, God will not answer that request. The most powerful prayers are those that are in alignment with God’s will (1 John 5:14-15).
Even Jesus did not always have his prayer requests answered the way he wanted, for as Matthew 26:39 explains, Jesus prayed, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”
Jesus qualified his request with “if it be possible.” All things are possible with God. So what did Jesus mean? He meant that if this prayer requests fits into God’s sovereign plan, he would like it granted. But Jesus’ greater desire was not to have his own way but to do the will of his Father.
So God does not answer some of our prayers because God always has a sovereign plan. We are not robots mindlessly plugging along. Our prayers really do change things. Are prayers really do matter. But we don’t always know what God’s plan is.
Jesus didn’t know if James and John’s request could be granted. Sometimes we all need to just wait for God’s will to be revealed. One day it will, and it will all make sense on why God did not answer some of our prayers. In the meantime, we can seek to echo the faithful heart of Jesus, “not as I will, but as you will.”