Prayer … 5
Why are the believer's prayers not answered?
1) Because of a lack of faith. Malfunction of the faith-rest drill in prayer means that prayer does not get anywhere. Mark 11:24, "Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them." Matthew 21:22, "And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive." So the condition for effective prayer is believing. Faith is the means, it is not the cause of God answering prayer. But what exactly is faith? Faith in itself has no merit on its own. All of its merit is derived from the object of faith, what is believed. In mysticism the issue is faith in faith: "Oh I just believe." Just believe what? Faith only has merit when the object is the Lord Jesus Christ. When our faith is directed towards the cross it is not our faith that saves us, it is the work of Jesus Christ on the cross that saves us. Faith is the means by which we appropriate that salvation. In prayer faith is directed toward doctrine, toward promises in God's Word, and it is directed toward certain doctrinal conclusions that we derive from the principles in Scripture. As our faith is directed toward either specific promises in God's Word, or doctrine, or doctrinal conclusions derived from developing some sort of theological rationale based on those principles, then we can go to God with a prayer that is based upon faith. When faith malfunctions, then the spiritual life collapses. Prayer is not a problem-solving device but it is a means of using many of the problem-solving devices. Through prayer we can apply the faith-rest drill, through prayer we can apply grace orientation or doctrinal orientation. So from this we see that lack of faith is one reason that prayer fails. Romans 14:22— The context of this verse is the discussion about doubtful things, but we see a principle that underlies all of this in vv.23, 23. "The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God." So faith is a conviction of truth. The point in this is that often when we are praying someone will ask us to pray about something for them. The answer may be that they will if they feels led to, which is fine, because the point is that when we pray we have to have faith and believe what we are praying for. If we don't have that sense of conviction that we are indeed praying in faith then our prayers are ineffective. There must be a conviction in whatever it is that this is true and God's will. The verse goes on: "happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves." So that has to do, when we apply this principle to prayer, with approving a prayer request, something that we are praying for. Verse 23, "But he who doubts is condemned it he eats, because his eating is not from faith: and whatever is not from faith is sin." There is the underlying principle: whatever is not from faith is sin. This is a very interesting point that the apostle is making here because he is saying that there are certain areas that are gray areas. Drinking a glass of wine is not necessarily a sin in itself, but if it violates our conscience then it is a sin. Why? Just because the conscience has wrong values in it, if we violate that conscience it is still a sin. That is because we are setting up a habit pattern in our own soul of violating our conscience, the norms and standards in the soul. So the principle is: don't violate your conscience because once a precedence it set for violating your conscience, even if the issue is not necessarily wrong, then it is easier to follow that precedent and to continue to compromise in areas where there are true absolutes. So as far as the principle of faith is concerned when we come to prayer, we should have an internal conviction that what we are praying for is indeed God's will and that we have faith.
2) The second reason is carnality which we have already dealt with.
3) The wrong application of a promise. If we misunderstand a promise of God and try to apply it to ourselves and it should not be applied today, then we are not going to get anywhere in our prayer life. God gave promises to different people in the Scriptures and there are some promises He gave to the nation Israel and to specific individuals. Some of the things that Jesus said to His disciples were only for them and related to their future ministry as apostles, but they do not relate to every single believer in the church age. There are other promises that God gave that relate to every believer in the church age, so we have to determine who these promises are for. Note 2 Chronicles 7:14, "If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land." The chapter has to do with the dedication of the temple. The language of versed 13 goes back to the book of Deuteronomy when God warned the nation Israel through Moses that if they disobeyed Him He would begin to discipline the nation. Then he describes the five cycles of discipline in which he will shut up the heavens so that there will not be rain, and there will be plagues, and all of this is to get Israel's attention back to God. So the context is specifically related to the divine discipline and the five cycles of discipline that God had for Israel. What must be understood here is that in the Old Testament God had one nation, Israel, a unique nation of all nations. It is a covenant nation with God. God entered into a specific covenantal agreement with the nation Israel. No other nation in all of human history has that kind of specific relationship with God that Israel has. Israel was chosen to be God's missionary agency in the Old Testament. When Israel went out under the fifth cycle of discipline God replaced Israel with client nations—Gentile client nations. These client nations are distinguished because they are nations where the gospel is preached, where missionaries go out, and where there is a protection of Jews. But Gentile client nations are only client nations. They are nations that God blesses specifically because of the remnant of believers within that nation, because the gospel is being preached, because missionaries are being sent out, and because the Jews are being protected. But no Gentile client nation has the same status as Israel had in the Old Testament. Israel is God's chosen people. So the language that is taking place here is a reminder by God to Solomon of Israel's covenant relationship and the discipline that will come if they violate that relationship. "My people" in verse 14 refers to Israel. Who is God talking about here? He is talking about Israel. He is not talking about any Gentile nation here and the principle is not necessarily applied. It is a specific promise related to the whole concept of the five cycles of discipline that are the covenant cursings attached to the Mosaic covenant which God made with Israel. The statement of verse 14 is specifically linked to what is taking place in terms of the dedication of the temple. There is a historical context here and it has nothing to do with Gentile nations in any other time in human history. Today this verse is sometimes taken out of context, people will quote it and apply it to this nation today. That is a false application. So when we have a wrong application and misunderstanding of a promise then we cannot expect our prayers to be answers. God cannot be expected to cater to our misapplication of His Word. Another example is when people try to claim proverbs as promises. One of the most popular mistakes that is made has to do with the promise that if you raise up a child in the way he should go, then when he is old he will not depart from it. We have to understand the difference between a proverb and a promise. A proverb is a wise saying, not a promise. A proverb is a wise saying in which in ninety-five per cent of cases is going to happen, but it does obscure human volition. A promise is an unconditional statement by God that under these conditions this will always happen. So there is a difference between promises and proverbs. Another passage that is frequently misunderstood is in Matthew 18:19, 20, "Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." That seems to imply that to really make our prayer effective we need to believe it, but if you want to make sure that God is going to hear it and answer effectively then we should get two people to agree on it. Think about this. At the point of salvation one of the forty things that happens to the believer in the Lord Jesus Christ is that he is indwelt by God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. God the Holy Spirit makes the believer's body a temple for the indwelling of Jesus Christ as the Shekinah glory. And God the Father also takes up residence in the believer. So the entire Trinity indwells the believer. Therefore when two or three are gathered there are two or three indwellings that are taking place here for each believer. We don't have to get with two or three other believers for Christ to be in our midst. So what is this verse talking about? The context has to do with dealing with another believer who sins against us, or sins and needs to be dealt with and reproved. Verse 15, "Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone." This is probably a personal affront; "if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established [every fact may be confirmed]." Now there are going to be witnesses to what has been going on and hopefully with the presence of two or three others as umpires in the midst of this conflict everything will be worked out. But it is not, verse 17, "And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as a heathen man and a publican [treat him as if he is an unbeliever]." Verse 19, "Again I say unto you, That if two of you…" The two or three gathered together in vv.19, 20 relate to the two or three witnesses in this confrontational situation just described. So don't run in there and just jerk these verses out of the context of the reproving action taking place here. When Jesus is speaking to His disciples who will be apostles, and He is dealing with their authority to resolve inner personal conflicts, He says, "If two of you as apostles, as the authoritative leaders in the church age, agree about anything "thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven." So this is not directed to all church age believers, but it is a specific passage directed to those who would have apostolic authority. Then He goes on, "For where two or three are gathered together in my name…" For what purpose? For the purpose of a judgment decision about a believer who is out of line. This has to do with a disciplinary type of situation; "there am I in the midst of them." In other words, if you two or three get together, then the judgment that you are determining and are going to execute on this rebellious believer has my authority behind it. That is the thrust of this passage. This is not a prayer promise, not a promise about special fellowship, the context is the context of discipline and reproof of a believer who is in perpetual carnality and creating problems within the body. So one of the reasons that people do not get their prayers answered is because they wrongly apply scripture. They take it out of context and assume that this means one thing and that God ought to perform in a certain manner instead of another.
4) A lack of forgiveness towards other believers. We all want other people to treat us in grace when we fail but we do not always treat other believers in grace when they fail. The passage for this is Mark 11:22-26, "And Jesus answering saith unto them, Have faith in God. For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith. Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them. And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses." If you have not forgiven another believer who has offended you, then the mental attitude sin that is dominating you is bitterness and anger and vindictiveness. So you are still maintaining an attitude of carnality if you are holding something against another believer and at the same time you are trying to pray.
5) A lack of marital tranquility. 1 Peter 3:7, "Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered." The husband who does not live with his wife in this understanding manner, showing grace orientation and personal love, forgiveness, etc, and exercises a certain amount of hostility in the home—and whenever there is marital breakdown in the home there are mental attitude sins such as bitterness, anger, resentment, anxiety—then the result of that is that prayers just wont be answered. In this passage the husband is commanded to live with his wife on the basis of knowledge, i.e. on pertinent doctrine. So husband have to grow a certain amount in doctrine and exercise their godly responsibilities as a husband in the marriage if prayers are going to be answered. If they are failing spiritually in terms of their relationship to their wives within the home, then they will be failing spiritually in their prayer life. One of the interesting things to be considered in the relationship of prayer to marriage is that the only excuse in the Bible that is given for abstaining from sex in marriage is prayer. 1 Corinthians 7:5, "Stop depriving one the other, except by agreement for a time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; and come together again, lest Satan tempt you because of your lack of self-control." So Scripture realizes the nature of the sex drive among men and women, and when that is not fulfilled also the way it opens people up to temptation for marital infidelity. So headaches are not a legitimate excuse, according to the Bible, for not having sex.
6) Because of our pride, our arrogance, or our self-righteousness. Job 35:12-13, "There they cry, but he does not answer, because of the pride of evil men. Surely God will not listen to an empty cry, neither will the Almighty regard it." When we are characterized by an attitude of arrogance or self-righteousness this is carnality.
7) A failure to comply with divine will. 1 John 5:14, 15, "And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us: and if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him." The problem here is that often we do not know God's will in a specific situation. God does not always have a specific geographical will for us. When He does, of we are willing, He will get us there. If we are not willing, then the way He gets us there may be more painful than if we are willing to submit to His leadership. So we don't need to get out our crystal ball and try to figure out God's will. The Scripture is very clear that there are a number of things that are God's will—to give thanks, to honor father and mother, to pray, to be grateful, to be attending Bible class and learning doctrine. All the mandates in Scripture are God's will. As long as we are living within the framework of those mandates in our lives we are executing the will of God. Often we can only pray, like Paul, "If it be God's will." If we ask according to God's will He will respond. Sometimes we need to claim these promises to God in the midst of our prayers, as in the prayer in Acts 4 where they went back and quoted Scripture back to God. This is an excellent tool as we are crafting our prayers to God: to find these promises and specifically claim these promises.
8) A lack of obedience to God. 1 John 3:22, "And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we [continue to] keep his commandments, and do [keep on doing] those things that are pleasing in his sight." That is the thrust. As long as we are staying in fellowship and continuing to grow, then God hears our prayers. Therefore from this we learn that prayer is related to our fulfillment of the plan of God in our lives and the way in which we execute the Christian life. When we do what is pleasing in His sight that describes pursuing spiritual maturity, and that means coming to Bible class, learning doctrine, applying doctrine consistently in our lives so that we can grow. Whenever we face trials and tests those are designed to accelerate our spiritual growth and we handle those tests by applying doctrine rather than by caving in.
9) Sometimes believers pray to the wrong person. We find Christians addressing prayers to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. The Scripture authorizes prayer to God the Father in the name of the Son by means of the Holy Spirit. As we pray we pray to God the Father. Jesus Christ is involved in an intercessory ministry with us. The Holy Spirit is interceding for us. What happens suddenly if we begin to pray to Jesus then He is not our intercessor any more, He is the one we are praying to. So now we need another intercessor. Historically this is what has happened. If Jesus is no longer the intercessor because we are praying to Him, then it is "Oh who will intercede for us? Ah, Mary will intercede for us!" So then Mary becomes the co-mediator, and before long Mary becomes so elevated that we can't really pray to Mary so we need to have someone to intercede with Mary for us, so we'll start praying to the saints! So we don't want to pray to the wrong person; we address our prayers to God the Father.
10) The wrong motivation. James 4:2-3, "You lust and do not have…" Lust is the primary motivation of the sin nature. There are all types of lust: approbation lust, materialism lust, power lust, sex lust, drug lust, computer lust, food lust, etc. "…ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts."
11) Lack of humility. Humility is a recognition of the authority of God. In prayer we are not commanding God, not trying to manipulate God. James 4:1-5; Job 35:12-13, "There they cry, but none giveth answer, because of the pride of evil men. Surely God will not hear vanity, neither will the Almighty regard it."
12) We attempt to manipulate God. We either try to manipulate and bargain with God or we try to get God to manipulate the volition of other people. We cannot pray that God would violate the volition of others. So we have to craft our prayers in a way that will avoid trying to get God to manipulate other people.
13) Rejection of doctrine. If we reject doctrine then we enslave ourselves to carnality. For whatever reason, when we reject doctrine we will forget the mechanics of prayer, we'll forget what the mandates are for prayer, and many other things will enter into our prayer life. So when we reject doctrine we will go into carnality and our prayers will not be heard.
14) Relating to a nation under the discipline of God for its carnality. When a nation is under discipline its prayers cannot be answered because God has already determined in His justice to discipline and remove that nation. Lamentations 3:44, "Thou hast covered thyself with a cloud [rejection of doctrine], that our prayer should not pass through." At a certain point in time judgment becomes irreversible and prayers will not be heard.
15) Imprecatory prayers, prayers that are praying for something wicked to happen to an enemy. There are several imprecatory prayers in the Psalms. This was legal and valid in the Old Testament dispensation but we do not have examples of that in the New Testament for the church age believer. So imprecatory prayers are not answered.
16) We fail to concentrate. Concentration is very important to develop in the spiritual life.
17) Because we fail to persist. In Luke 18 Jesus instructed the disciples and gave them a parable so that they would not lose heart in prayer.