It is popular to say that no prayer goes unanswered as long as we take "No" as an answer. Other possible responses to our prayers, other than getting what we asked, include "Wait" and "No, but here is something better." However when God responds in one of those ways, we can know it. We "hear" His answer in our spirit. What about when nothing at all happens?
Hindrances to prayer, things that keep us from communicating with the Father, fall into two basic categories. There are things that keep us from being heard. Then there are things that keep us from asking.
Jeremiah found out that there were conditions under which the Lord would refuse to hear His people's cries (7:16; 11:14; 14:11-12; 15:1). The Psalmist wrote, "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear" (Psalm 66:18 NKJV). Examples of sins that block prayer (Isaiah 59:1-2) include idolatry in the heart (Ezekiel 14:3), failure to help the poor (Proverbs 21:13), mistreatment of one's spouse (1 Peter 3:7), self-indulgence (James 4:3), and lack of faith (James 1:6-7). This list is representative, not exhaustive.
One preacher who grew up on a farm told how he would sneak off behind the barn to hide his smoking from his father. Once while he was indulging his habit, he heard his father coming. Hiding the cigar behind his back, he tried to distract his father by calling attention to a circus poster on the barn wall and asking if he could go. His father replied, "Son, never ask for a favor with a smoldering disobedience behind your back." Those who would approach the Lord must have "clean hands and a pure heart" (Psalm 24:3-4). Only through Jesus may we approach the throne with confidence of receiving what we need (Hebrews 4:14-16).
Sin may keep us from receiving what we ask. However, in His grace God often gives us what we don't deserve. He uses kindness to lead us to repentance (Romans 2:4). So even non-believers will sometimes have their prayers answered.
But there is a prayer that goes unanswered 100% of the time--the prayer that goes unoffered. It is like the basketball player who said he failed to score on all the shots he failed to take. James said, "You have not because you ask not" (James 4:2). If we are too lazy or too distracted or too busy to ask, then God will not answer. Just as there is a vital connection between prayer and faith (Mark 11:24), so is there a link between lack of prayer and unbelief. The more we believe in the God who answers prayer, the more we pray. The more we pray, the stronger grows our trust in Him who answers. On the other hand, if we have little faith that God will answer, it is unlikely that we will pray. Then when we don't see answers to prayer, what little faith we might have had diminishes. Soon we find ourselves going without prayer, serving Him in our own way and in our own strength. Such a life is doomed to fruitlessness.
Just as the only way to learn to swim is to get in the water, so the only way to learn to pray is by praying. Let's start with baby steps or by crawling. And if we can't do either of those, let's learn to roll over. But we must begin. God will be as delighted with our efforts as a parent is in his child's first steps. He will help us. He will teach us.
Let us pray.
The Purpose of This Blog
In response to the challenge by the Southern Baptist Convention that churches take on the task to share the gospel with unengaged unreached people groups, the missions team of Harmony Pittsburg Baptist Association felt the need for a way to focus prayer on the task. This blog is intended to facilitate prayer for those contemplating their role in fulfilling the Great Commission. This on-line prayer guide may prove useful to those exploring a call to missions involvement as well as to those who have sensed a call to pray for those who will go to the front lines.