Right from the moment that Adam and Eve were moved out of the Garden of Eden, mankind has struggled with prayer and seek answers. No human being except the Son of God, during His stay on the earth, has been able to understand fully the concept of prayer. Everyone has struggled at some point or the other in his/her life to receive what was asked. So what are the reasons that affect our prayers?
Why do we fail in prayer? – There are three main means of God’s grace to operate in a believer’s life – the Word, prayer and fellowship and it is in prayer that we fail the most. “You do not have for you do not ask” (James 4:2) for we rarely use this great means of receiving from the Lord what He has promised. James, the brother of Lord Jesus, then says, “You do not receive for you ask amiss to fulfill your desires of the flesh” (James 2:3). The unrevealed aim of prayer is to learn and do the Creator’s will but we yearn to seek Him to do our will and we try and justify our desires under the guise of Scripture promises made in some other context.
Ungrateful heart – The Israelites were witness to miracles performed by Moses in the name and authority of God yet they complained about ‘Manna’, the food from heaven, and craved for meat such as they had in Egypt. They cried out to Moses, ‘why did we leave Egypt’, thus showing ungratefulness and rejecting not only the gifts of God but God Himself. God rained quails on their camp in such large numbers that the least of them captured 10 homers that equals 475 pounds or 215 kilos with the caution “You will eat meat till it comes out of your nostrils” (Numbers 11:4-20). And then in verse 33 while they were yet to eat and enjoy the meat, a plague was sent by God and many died and the place was named by them as Kibroth Hattavah or ‘grave of lust’. An ungrateful heart receives every blessing as a right and not as a merciful act of God. I am alive and breathing, what did I do to deserve another day in my life?
Perfunctory prayer – Most of the time we pray like ordering an item from the Amazon Great Sale with payment on delivery, while we have nothing to give to God. We resort to a hi and bye prayer where God commands, “Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted in the earth” (Psalm 46:10). God has to revered and feared irrespective of the fact that He showers His love on us. We seek amiracle worker or God. Lord Jesus fed five thousand families with five loaves of bread and two small fish while twelve large buckets were filled with the leftovers, after they had their fill. The Israelites saw the miracle and wanted to forcibly make Him their king (John 6:1-16) for they desired someone who could meet their daily needs rather than a Messiah.
How do we look unto Him? – “And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord, your God, to walk in His ways and to love Him, to serve the Lord God with all your hear and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments of the Lord and His statutes which I command you for your good?” (Deuteronomy 10:12-13). To fear God is to revere Him whereas we look unto Him as someone who dances to our tune to fulfill all our demands. Thorn in the flesh might have been given by God through the devil like Apostle Paul was, “lest I should be exaltedabove measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure” (2 Corinthians 12:7-9). God knows our nature much better than we do and He desires the best for us even to the extent of giving us some pain to remain steadfast in our faith.
Opposition from Satan – Satan makes all out efforts to protect his domain, his ‘principalities and powers and kingdoms’ and opposes God’s messengers as well as our prayers through disruptions and distractions. Daniel prayed to the Lord for 21 days without eating any good thing and in reply an angel came from heaven. The angel told him, “Don’t be afraid, Daniel. God has heard everything that you said ever since the first day you decided to humble yourself in front of your God so that you could learn to understand things. I have come in response to your prayer. The commander of the Persian kingdom opposed me for 21 days. But then Michael, one of the chief commanders, came to help me because I was left alone with the kings of Persia” (Daniel 10:12-13). A small book “The Screwtape Letters” by C.S.Lewis is a wonderful illustration of Satan’s and his agents’ modus operandi in keeping believers away from God.
God must get the glory – The qualifying clause in the promise to give by Lord Jesus is very clear in this regard. “And whatever you might ask in My name, this I will do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son” (John 14:13). Through answered prayers God must get the glory and not some man for God will never share His glory with anyone else.
How did Lord Jesus glorify God the Father in His work? – The model prayer that the Savior taught has a wonderful first request to God after establishing and confirming the personal relationship. “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name” (Matthew 6:9). The first three points in this prayer are about God, His will and His kingdom. The Greek words “hagiastheto to onoma sou” were translated in the year 1389 by Wycliffe as ‘halwid be thy name’ and in 1526 Tyndale continued with the same ‘Hallowed be thy name’. What does ‘hallowed’ mean? ‘Hagiazo’ appears 28 times in the New Testament and is used to mean consecrate, set apart, honor as holy and hallowed. What did the Lord mean while using this word? “Heavenly Father, may You set Your name apart from every other name, cause Your reputation to be esteemed and reverenced and treasured above all others”.
King David expressed the reason for God’s blessings coming to mankind for “He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake” (Psalm 23:3). In like manner the prayer of Prophet Jeremiah, “Though our inequities testify against us, act, O Lord, for Your name’s sake; for our backslidings are many; we have sinned against You” (Jeremiah 14:7).
The teaching of the Messiah is that our plea to God should be that His mighty name be hallowed in our lives. God blesses us also to see His name being glorified for “He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake” (Psalm 23:3). Our pleadings to God also seek His mercy in like manner “Though our inequities testify against us, act, O Lord, for Your name’s sake; for our backslidings are many; we have sinned against You” (Jeremiah 14:7). Our plea should also be that God’s name be hallowed and glorified in all the earth and all the nations.
In His ministry on the earth Lord Jesus practiced exactly what He taught, – I do nothing of My own, I do only what My Father commands Me to do (John 5:30) with complete focus on the mission assigned to Him by the Father. God the Creator who provides for the entire creation became a child to be dependent on His parents for sustenance and protection in total obedience to the Divine plan. He went alone to pray (Matthew 14:23) and before and after every important event specifically. His prayer to the Father to restore His glory that He had before anything came into being is also aimed at one thing only “that the Son may glorify You” (John 17:1). In Gethsemane Park, being aware of the torture of the body and soul that was to be inflicted upon Him, He still prayed “Your will not Mine be fulfilled”. He prayed, lived, gave Himself up to torture and death on the cross for seeing the Father’s name being hallowed.
He fulfilled all that was revealed by Himself to the prophets years before His coming for He did not turn His face from His tormentors and His visage was so marred by injury more than any man, and His form more than the sons of men (Isaiah 50:5-6 & 52:13-14). Such was His zeal for glorification of the Father’s name that “He was oppressed, and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; He is brought as a lamb to slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so He opened not His mouth” (Isaiah 53:7). He commanded the believers to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and then did that in His words, thoughts, desires and deeds. Moses was told by God to command the Israelites not to take the name of your God in vain and they went to an extreme not to utter YHWH at all and started calling Him Hashem. The other extreme is the common refrain ‘Oh my God’ being uttered for small thing. Lord God will answer any prayer that is aimed at glorification and hallowing of God’s name bit am I doing that in my life?
How should we pray to receive answers? – Unanswered prayers are invitations from God to lean onto Him for learning, for introspection, for developing a closer relationship with God, for helping us focus on greater things that He wants to give and for building up our faith. It is faith that pleases God (Hebrews 11:6) and prayer is the means to gaze into God’s heart and feel the pain that He has for unrepentant sinners. God has created man in His image and likeness and “put eternity in man’s heart” (Ecclesiastes 3:11) thus blessing him with an eternal quest to restore the lost status. Some dreams and visions may just be revelations and may not be fulfilled in our lifetime, like King David was given the detailed plan for construction of the Temple, yet His son Solomon built the same. Apostle John received revelation of Lord Jesus on Patmos Island and the same are yet to be fulfilled.
God has a plan for His creation and everything moves as per His timing (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8) and we can neither ask Him nor can we ourselves overrule/change God’s timetable. Abraham waited for 25 years for his heir Isaac, David anointed as king but waited for almost 20 years. Even after Saul’s death, David ruled over the tribes of Judah and Benjamin for seven and a half years before being accepted by the other ten tribes as their king. Wait for your time and do not be like Jacob, who was a grabber from before birth till he wrestled with an angel and was afflicted and humbled. May be God is preparing you for the asked for or a greater blessing than what you have sought from Him. David was anointed three times, first by Prophet Samuel at God’s command, then by Judah and finally by the ten tribes while all along he was developing the heart of a king under God’s hand. Lord Jesus was anointed with the Holy Spirit at baptism but prepared in the wilderness by the same Spirit to face and defeat Satan.
Develop open hands like Lord Jesus who held on to nothing, even being God to fulfill His assigned mission of redeeming mankind. Let go and He will fill your hands at the right time. Look within and self analyze for any sin not confessed or being committed repeatedly. Look for any hidden agenda or motive behind the prayer request which may take away from the aim of glorifying God. “If I regard wickedness in my heart, the Lord will not hear” (Psalm 66:18). Look within also for something that I have avoided learning from God thus resulting in unanswered prayers.
Persevere in prayer for the Lord taught so through the parable of the widow and the wicked judge (Luke 18:1-8). Daniel prayed for 21 days while eating no pleasant bread, neither fresh nor wine, neither anointed himself till the angel delivered the message of blessings from God (Daniel 10:2-3) and his prayer was for his people and not for any personal issue. Legend is that there was a tree by the sea side and a bird had its nest on the tree. One day a young offspring of the bird fell from the nest and was taken by the sea waves forcing the mother to demand its return from the sea. On being refused the bird challenged the sea to be prepared to be turned into a desert for it will drink all the sea water. The bird started off with determination and the sea mocked it but after about twenty determined sips it relented and the bird was released from the waves to the sea shore. On being questioned by the tree the sea revealed its submission to the determined perseverance of a mother and not the feeble attempts of a bird. Perseverance in prayer is the answer to unanswered prayers.
Satan’s opposition to our prayers will delay or result in no answers and this opposition is greater when the effect of the answered prayer will be large for God’s kingdom expansion. The Israelites faced stiff opposition from Sannabalat and his friends to their efforts to repair the walls of Jerusalem but the prayed to God and overcame the opposition (Nehemiah 4:4-5 & 9). Are you involved in building some broken walls of yours or someone else’s life, if yes, then be prepared for the opposition?
Fasting and prayer for there will be circumstances when the demonic opposition or effect will require this type of intensity in prayer to be victorious. Lord Jesus fasted for forty days before starting His ministry and facing temptation from Satan. The Savior Lord taught the disciples this after healing the deaf and dumb boy “this type (demonic spirit) does not go out except by prayer and fasting” (Matthew 17:21). Fasting and prayer prepares us to resist and deny temptations of the devil to make him flee. May be the denied answered be disciplining of God to teach some lesson that I have not incorporated into my life. Prayers for clearance of debt would involve learning the right lessons to avoid profligacy in spending, mishandling of finances or some other reasons.
Analyze priorities of life for God desires that we “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these (worldly) things shall also be given to you” (Matthew 6:33). Knowing God for who He is must take priority over everything else in our lives. Let God speak first for to pray is to gaze into God’s heart to ask Him to do what He has promised through His Son. We have nothing, contribute nothing and bring nothing to God except all our worries, fears, lack and weaknesses. Cast all that at His feet for He ensures that “all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to HIS purpose” and who can be against us if God is for us (Romans 8:28&31). It is all things, even our weaknesses that work together for fulfillment of His purpose in our lives.
We desire to be God’s children and receive His blessings without shouldering the responsibility of that role. What is needed in our life to receive answers to our prayers is persistence, purposeful prayers to hallow His name and a close personal relationship with Him. “Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen” . Hallowed be Your name O Lord in everything I seek or do!!