Why Doesn’t God Answer My Prayers?


In 1990, country musician Garth Brooks sang a song that has always been a bit of a mystery to me. The title of the song is “Unanswered Prayers.” Here is just a sampling of the lyrics below. If you want to listen along, click here.

Just the other night, at a hometown football game,

My wife and I ran into my old high school flame.

And as I introduced them, the past came back to me

And I couldn’t help but think of the way things used to be.


She was the one I wanted for all times,

And each night I’d spend praying that God would make her mine.

And if He’d only grant me this wish I wished back then,

I’d never ask for anything again.


Sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers.

Remember when you’re talking to the Man upstairs

That just because He don’t answer, doesn’t mean He don’t care.

Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.

Unanswered Prayers

Thanks for indulging in some 90s country music with me, but how does it help us when we feel like God isn’t answering our prayers? Unanswered prayers are frustrating and confusing. “I’m a good person. I love the Lord and others. I go to church. Why isn’t God answering me?”

The possibilities are many and varied. Maybe Garth is right. Perhaps God doesn’t answer some of our prayers because he has a better plan for our lives. In the next verse of this song, Garth even suggests that he’s doubly grateful that God didn’t let him wind up with his old high school flame because now she’s ugly. “She wasn’t quite the angel that I remembered in my dreams,” he croons.

As silly as the song is, there’s some truth there. Sometimes, God doesn’t answer our prayers because he has something in store for us that is much better than what we’ve asked for. An often cited verse to back this claim is Jeremiah 29:11. “For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, plans for prosperity and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope (NASB).”

I’ll grant that’s a possibility.

Alternative Answers

However, I’d like to offer an alternative possibility. Maybe God doesn’t answer our prayers because we have a submission problem. James, the brother of Jesus, suggests this in his letter. Take some time to read James 4:1-12.

I think the profound truth that James reveals to us is that God answers the prayers of a person who has learned to surrender to Him completely.

Covetousness and Community

James begins by addressing fighting and arguing. He says that the fights and quarrels in the Christian community have to do with covetousness, the sin that makes us want something that belongs to someone else (Ex. 20:17). Covetousness was one of the Ten Commandments. According to the Jewish people, it was one of the worst sins that you could commit against another person. That seems a little strange to us today. Why is covetousness in the “Top Ten” list of worst sins?

It’s because covetousness destroys community.

Two deadly aspects of covetousness – two sides of a coin, you might say – make up the whole. The two sides are envy and jealousy. These two are a little different. Envy is wanting that which you don’t have. Jealousy is fear of something being taken away from you.

Imagine a social structure filled with envy and jealousy. Imagine your own neighborhood. What would your neighborhood be like if everyone person was constantly envious or jealous of one another? You would walk around feeling suspicious of everyone else. Whenever a person spoke to you, you would think, “What do they want from me? What are they after? What can I take from them first?”

A community filled with covetousness people won’t stay a community for very long.

That’s not the only reason James says covetousness is wrong, however. Covetousness hurts not only our relationship with others but also our relationship with God.

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Faith or a Lack Thereof

James also says that covetousness is a lack of faith. God can give you the desires of your heart. God can answer your prayers. Whatever you’re lacking, God can supply. You don’t have to keep up with “Joneses” or chase after another person’s life when God is on your side.

A young boy went to a convenience store with his mother. The shop owner, a kindly, rather large man, passed him a large jar of lollipops and invited him to help himself to a handful. Uncharacteristically, the boy held back. So, the shop owner pulled out a handful for him. When they got outside, the boy’s mother asked why he had suddenly been so shy and refused to take a handful of suckers when offered. The boy replied, “Because his hand is much bigger than mine.”

No matter how much you try to grab in life, you’ll never be able to provide for yourself more than God can. His hand is much bigger than yours.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Okay, James, if that’s true, then why isn’t God answering my prayers?”

The Wrong Ask

That’s the original aim of this passage. “If I don’t have to chase after other people’s stuff because God is so good and caring and can give me the desires of my heart, then why doesn’t He?”

James says, “It’s because you’re asking for the wrong things.”

Your motives are all wrong. When you ask God for things, you’re asking for selfish things. You’re asking for a bigger house, a faster car, a raise, a better vacation, or a better job. You may be directing your prayers to Heaven, but your eyes are still on the world. You’re asking God, “Help me keep up with the Joneses.”

You’re asking God for more of this world when you should ask for more of His world.

You wonder why God doesn’t answer your prayers? It’s because you haven’t learned how to submit yourself to God. You’ve got a submission problem.

Submission Is Key

When Jesus prayed, He prayed from a place of one who was perfectly in tune with the will of the Father. The night before He was crucified, in the Garden of Gethsemane, He made His petition known to God. He said, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me.” He asks for something specific to happen. But then He also says, “Yet not as I will, but as You will.”

It’s an approach to prayer that Jesus modeled from the beginning of His ministry. When teaching his disciples how to pray, He puts God’s kingdom and will before our daily provisions. “Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven,” comes before, “Give us this day our daily bread.”

Do you know how we can paraphrase all of Jesus’s prayers? You can phrase all of them like this: “Lord, I want what you want.” That’s faithful prayer. “God, what do you want? I want that, too.” That’s the way Jesus prayed.

The Secret

James reveals that this is the secret of having our prayers answered. That’s the key to escaping covetousness. When you truly begin to pray, “Lord, I want what you want. Sync my heart to Your heart, my will to Your will, my desires to Your desires,” you may find more of your prayers answered.


Ryan Chandler

Ryan Chandler

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