In the gospels Jesus gives incredible promises about prayer. One of these promises is, “If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it.” (John 14:14) Yet, many people pray and do not have their prayers answered? Why is this? Since Jesus gave broad, sweeping promises about prayer, should not every one who prays get what they ask for? Why are many prayers not answered?
First, the promise of answered prayers is only given to believers. The Bible never promises the unsaved that God will give them what they ask. God may graciously answer some of the prayers of the unsaved, but He does not promise to do so.
Second, every one of Jesus’ promise of answered prayers is conditioned upon the properness of the prayers. The gospel of John contains the most remarkable of Jesus’ promises. The promises in John are all dependent based upon the one praying being in a right relationship with Jesus. This propriety in prayer is described in one place as,“asking in Jesus name.” Asking in Jesus name is more than ending a prayer with “in Jesus name, amen.” Asking in Jesus’ name is asking under the authority of Jesus and in agreement with His character. Sinful prayers or prayers for things opposed to the increase of the kingdom of God will not be answered. The promises of answered prayers are not unlimited promises from God that He will give whatever the person asks for, no matter what. The promises are dependent upon the requests being in submissive obedience to will of Jesus.
James 4 gives another reason prayers are not answered. Requests are not answered if they are never asked.“Ye have not because ye ask not.” A desire for something is not the same as praying for something. To have your prayers answered you must speak to God and ask Him to grant your desires.
Sin in the life of the believer will cause prayer to go unanswered. Sin hinders the Christian’s relationship with God, and if a Christian willfully continues to disobey God he cannot not expect God to grant his requests. God is gracious. He often answers prayers despite our sin and He does not withhold answers because of inadvertent or unnoticed sins. The Christian need not fear that some forgotten sin is keeping God from answering his prayer. Rather, it is when the child of God “Regards iniquity in his heart” (Psalm 66:18) that the Lord does not hear.
One final reason God may not answer your prayer is if your requests are selfish. “Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your own lusts.” (James 4:3) This is related to the promise of answered prayer in 1 John, “If we ask anything according to His will He heareth us.” God does not promise to give you whatever you want whenever you ask. He is not in the business of spoiling His children. When the Christian asks for something merely to gratify his own desires, he must not expect God to give it. When the Christian asks for good things, for the glory of God and the increase of the kingdom of God, God promises to give His child the desires of their heart. God answers prayers that are selfless and seeking the furtherance of His kingdom.