Is God Really Listening?
Dear Dawson, I try to pray regularly, but sometimes it seems like God's not listening. Why doesn't he answer my prayers?
Sometimes it does seem like our prayers are just bouncing off the ceiling. But what we feel isn't always the same as what's really true.
The Bible teaches us that God does answer our prayers (John 16:24). But there are a few things we have to remember: God's answer may not always be what we were hoping for. His answer sometimes is simply "no." And his answer might be something we'll never completely understand. In any case, his answer is always the best answer. He loves us dearly, and his answers to our prayers are always what we need … even if they're not necessarily what we want.
Yes, prayer is a time to be honest with God about what we want. But it's also a time for us to recognize who's really in control. And it's a time to ask God to help us understand—and accept—what he brings to our lives.
Having said all that, there are other reasons our prayers might be ineffective. If it seems like our prayers are going unanswered, we might need to ask ourselves:
- Am I asking with wrong motives? The Bible says, "When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures" (James 4:3). If we're simply asking God for stuff—as if he were some kind of supernatural vending machine—we might need to check our motives. Prayer is about so much more than simply getting stuff, anyway. It's about giving God our adoration and thanking him for his goodness.
- Have I confessed my sins to God? Unconfessed sin separates us from God so that he won't even hear our prayers: "Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor His ear too dull to hear. But your iniquities [sins] have separated you from God; your sins have hidden his face from you so that he will not hear" (Isaiah 59:1-2). Is there something you need to confess to God?
- Have I made anything more important than God? God told the prophet Ezekiel that some people had "set up idols in their hearts and put wicked stumbling blocks before their faces. Should I let them inquire of me at all?" (Ezekiel 14:3). Idols aren't always false images of God. Anything that becomes more important than God—whether it's popularity, grades or success—is an idol. Ask yourself, "Are there any idols in my life right now?"
- Am I digging into God's Word? Jesus said, "If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be given to you" (John 15:7). Are you spending enough time reading your Bible?
All of these points are vital, of course, but most importantly, people must belong to God before they can communicate with him. Jesus said, "He who belongs to God hears what God says" (John 8:47).
The bottom line: As Christians, we need to put God first in our lives to have an effective prayer life. If you're doing that, God does hear your prayers, and he answers them.
You just have to trust God that he's giving you the best answer for you, for your life, for all eternity: "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight" (Proverbs 3:5-6).
Dawson McAllister is a popular youth speaker.