What Happens When Prayer Does Not Work?
Rev. Dr. Ernest Brodie Jr.
What happens when prayer does not work? There is no doubt at times prayer does not work. We pray, and pray, and pray yet our prayers have no power. They have no influence on the Almighty. We stay up at night and pray. We get up early and pray. We skip meals to pray, and yet, it seems like our greatest fears come to fruition. Is it that we lack faith? Is it that we have sin in our hearts? Is it that our request comes from the wrong motivation? All we know is that our prayers are not answered. In some cases, it seems like the devil has won.
Adam and Eve: I have no doubt that Adam and Eve prayed for their twin sons, Cain and Abel, yet one became a murderer and the other a murder victim.
Noah: Noah preached and prayed for 120 years while he toiled to build the ark. At the end of the 120 years, only his three sons and their wives entered the ark. We do not know if Noah and his wife had other children. What we do know is that only six people accompanied Noah and his wife on the ark. None of the workers, none of the people from the area, and none the people worldwide believed, repented, and came into the ark.
Abraham: Abraham prayed directly to the Lord to spare the cities of the plain, yet only Lot and his two daughters escaped.
Lot: Lot’s soul was vexed while he was in Sodom. I have no doubt he poured his heart out to God on a daily basis for his family and the people of the area. He had to receive divine intervention to protect the two angels that came into the city and stayed under his roof. In the end, only Lot and his two daughters escaped the city unharmed.
Moses: I have no doubt that Moses, a man who met with God face to face, prayed for his family. I have no doubt that he poured out his soul for the nation of Israel and his family. It was Moses’ grandson who led in idolatrous worship in the tribe of Dan (Judges 17-18). Jonathan, son of Gershom, son of Moses (translators put in the name Manasseh out of respect for Moses) was motivated by materialism to replace God with an idol as his Uncle Aaron had done years earlier.
Joshua: Joshua was called by God to take Moses’ place. A number of times he was instructed to be strong and of good courage, yet he failed to weed out the Gibeonites. This became a source of controversy and sorrow for generations.
Samuel: Samuel’s conception and birth were an answer to prayer. His name means “God hears.” Samuel judged the people of Israel for many years and kept them on the right path. I have no doubt he prayed for his two sons, Abijah and Joel, yet they turned out to be less than honorable men. This led the people of Israel to cry out that they wanted a king. It is revealed in the Scriptures that Samuel brought the matter before the Lord and was instructed to anoint Saul as king. I have no doubt Samuel brought King Saul to the Lord in prayer on a daily basis, yet King Saul rejected God.
Isaiah: As a prophet of God, Isaiah prayed for the nation of Israel. He served the Lord during the reign of five kings. He saw the nation go through hardship and then experience revival. He was murdered during the reign of Manasseh, the most wicked king of Judah.
Daniel: Daniel is a well-known man of prayer. He stood before kings, queens, and lions. As a young man he was ripped from his homeland, torn away from family, made a eunuch, and forced to adopt customs, languages, and clothing not his own. Despite the fact that he was used mightily of God to witness to the Babylonians, Medes, and Persians, he was never a free man.
Apostle Paul – Paul is known as a prayer warrior. Despite his many prayers, believers fell away from the truth, churches suffered divisions and doctrinal errors, Paul suffered physically (imprisoned, stoned, and left for dead), and God did not remove the thorn in his flesh (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).
All of these people had many things in common. They served the living God, and they had unanswered prayer requests. God did not come to their rescue when they needed it. God did not answer their requests in the way they had hoped.
•Is it that they lacked faith? No. Each of these individuals is well known for their faith in God.•Is it that they had sin in their hearts? No. Each of these individuals regularly dealt with known sin and called upon God for forgiveness.
•Is it that their requests came from the wrong motivation? No. We believe that each of them cried out to the Lord for help because they wanted to glorify God.
What is the answer?
1.God’s ways are not always our ways. (Isaiah 55:8-9): Although Isaiah prayed for the redemption of Israel and Judah, it did not happen. God was going to introduce a Messiah. Peter did not want Christ to go to the cross (Matthew 16:22-23).
2.God’s plans are not always our plans. (Proverbs 16): We must look at the big picture vs. a snapshot of our life. God did not allow Paul to go to Asia but did allow him to go to Europe (Acts 16:6-10).
3.God sometimes simply says “No”. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10): While it would seem like a good thing for the Apostle Paul to be made whole, God said “No.” Perhaps this was to keep Paul humble. Perhaps it would be used as a tool to witness to others. We will not know the answer this side of heaven.
4.God remains sovereign despite our failure to understand: Why does one person’s sufferings continue? Why is evil allowed to repeatedly win? Why don’t my relatives come to know Christ? Why does God stand by when abuse occurs? Why don’t my children have a passion for Christ (Moses - grandson)? Why doesn’t God reveal Himself to me when so many others have received answers to prayer?
5.God does not want us to become bitter. He wants us to become better. (Job 30:20-31; 42:1-6): Perhaps God is trying to get our full attention (1 Peter 1:13-25). Perhaps God is preparing us for something else (1 Peter 3:8-20). Perhaps God is removing the dross from our lives (1 Peter 4:1-2).
Should I continue to pray even though the Lord has not answered? Yes! 1 Corinthians 15:57-58: “But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.” 2 Peter 3:9: “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” Like Job, we do not know when the answer will come, but we continue to believe in the living God. Pray believing that He is able to perform it.