So often we are inclined to think that the only answer God can give our prayers is “yes.” We need to remember that “no” is an answer also. “No” is certainly an answer of love on the part of our Heavenly Father when we ask Him for things which are not really for our good or for His glory. God does not always give us what we want; He gives us what we need. Just as a good parent does not grant all the requests of his child, God does not answer every request in the way we desire.
When we think of “unanswered” prayer, it may be that we do not understand the way in which God responds to our requests. He may not grant an immediate answer, and sometimes our prayers are answered in a way that we fail to recognize. We pray for prosperity, and sometimes financial stress is given. But our souls are made stronger for the test. We pray for health, and affliction is given, and we are better able to sympathize with those in affliction. God makes no mistakes, though at times we may question His wisdom. “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” (James 1:5)
Our motive for making a request to God must be pure. If your prayer is self-centered, concerned with the gratification of your own desires, God cannot, in faithfulness, grant your requests. James 4:3 says, “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”
Perhaps you are praying for a person close to you, and you have not seen any changes. God can work through your prayers to soften a heart or to bring about circumstances to draw those for whom you are praying closer to Him. However, God has given man a free will. If your prayers are not always answered as you expect, it is not because God is not working in the situation. It may be that the person for whom you are praying has not yet responded to God’s call. You must not permit yourself to give in to despair. You should, however, continue in prayer, knowing that the Lord is more concerned for them than you are and that it is His will to help them. “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of Him.” (1 John 5:14-15)
Whether or not the Lord has answered your prayer in a way you expected it, it’s important to still thank Him for hearing your prayers. “I will give you thanks, for you answered me; you have become my salvation. You are my God, and I will praise you; you are my God, and I will exalt you. Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever.” (Ps. 118:21, 28-29) “Prayer is not an argument with God to persuade Him to move things our way,” writes Leonard Ravenhill, “but an exercise by which we are enabled by His Spirit to move ourselves His way.” Do you want to be able to trust God’s way? Pray for wisdom. Pray for the desire and power to follow His will and not fight for your own. You’ll never know what God has waiting for you right down the road. “Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill His good purpose.” (Phil. 2:12b-13)