Unanswered Prayers

We are not to think that God has not heard our prayers because no favorable answer is given. The heavenly Father hears every prayer that is addressed to Him, but it is not always possible for Him to grant the request. For this there may be several reasons. We may not know what is best for us, and so ask unwisely. God may have some better thing in store for us, and hence does not give us that for which we ask. We may ask for patience, and, knowing the tribulation works patience, God may send affliction as an answer to our request. Every prayer comes up before God and is given due consideration, and the answer sent is the one we would want if we knew the circumstances as God does.


The Bible records many instances of answered prayers, and many prayers that were not answered. When God denies a prayer, it is not necessarily, because the petitioner is unworthy. Quite the contrary.  We shall cite the cases of Moses and Christ in support of this view. It must be admitted that each of these men was dear to the heart of God, and that denial of their prayers was not because God did not esteem them highly. Yet their prayers were not granted: Moses, because he failed to give God the glory; because He had taken man’s place, and must experience the feeling of being forsaken of God as well as of man.


Moses’ prayer that he be permitted to enter the Promised Land was a most natural one. Forty years he had herded sheep in the wilderness, and forty more years he had led Israel, until they were about to enter the Promised Land. Moses stood before the entrance to Canaan and begged God pathetically if he might not enter. Hear him plead, “I besought the Lord at that time saying… I pray Thee, let me go over, and see the good land that is beyond Jordan, that goodly mountain, and Lebanon. However, the Lord was wroth with me for your sakes, and would not hear me: and the Lord said unto me, Let it suffice thee; speak no more to Me of this matter…. Thou shalt not go over this Jordan.” Deuteronomy 3: 23-27.


This must have been a grievous, almost staggering disappointment to Moses. For this moment, he had worked forty years, and now at the very time when he could have entered Canaan, God denied his request. He had been disobedient in what might have been considered a minor matter. On a previous occasion, God had asked him to smite the rock, while this time he was to speak to it. Instead of speaking as God had commanded, he smote the rock, and it gave forth water. Because of this disobedience, God said to Moses and Aaron, “Because ye believed Me not, to sanctify Me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them.” Numbers 20:12.


In this case, more was at stake than a rebuke to Moses personally. His punishment was a lesson to Israel as a whole. Naturally, Israel expected Moses to lead them into the land to the border of which he had brought them after these many years. Surely, God would not deny him the one thing for which he had toiled, prayed, and endured so many hardships!



When the news first reached Israel that Moses had been denied entrance, it must have caused consternation to the whole people. They had come to look upon Moses not only as their leader, but their hope, their intercessor, God’s chosen man. What terrible sin had he committed that he was to be set aside? 


They knew that their fathers had died in the wilderness because of sin and lack of faith. Bit Moses! What had he done? It must have been a great sin beyond what the people could imagine, or God would not so deal with him.


It was therefore a matter of perplexity to them when they learned that Moses’ sin was a seemingly trivial thing, one that did not deserve the punishment God had meted out. They knew that God was particular even in small things; but the fact that Moses had smitten the rock instead of speaking to it seemed so inconsequential that it hardly deserves notice.


However, God did notice it, and in such a way that it was not merely a rebuke to Moses, but a lesson to Israel in carefulness even in the smallest matters. The reason for Moses’ ungranted prayer  (Deuteronomy 3: 23-27), was primarily his disobedience; but chiefly it was for the sake of the people who were largely responsible for his transgression and who needed to be shaken from their self-satisfied complacency. Moses said pointedly, “The Lord was wroth with me for your sakes.”  Verse 26. They could not fail to understand that if God were strict with Moses, He would be no less strict with them. They needed to have this impressed upon them, as they were about to enter the Promised Land.


Moses was not permitted to enter the Promised Land, the earthy Canaan. His request was not granted; but God had reserved some better thing for him. We do not know at what time Michael, the Archangel, “disputed about the body of Moses” (Jude 9); but we do know that Moses was taken to heaven, and later appeared to Christ on the mount of transfiguration (Matthew 17:3). Moses did not enter the earthy Canaan; he had entered the heavenly instead. God’s denial of his request brought Moses a greater reward than he asked for.


Jesus Christ

At the supreme moment in Christ’s earth experience He prayed, “O My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me: nevertheless not as I will, but as Thou wilt.” Matthew 26:39. The second time He prayed, “O My Father, if this cup may not pass away from Me, except I drink it, Thy will be done.” Verse 42. After finding the disciples asleep, He “went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words.” Verse 44.


We have no record of the answers that Christ received to His repeated prayers, except as they are suggested by the text. It appears that after His first request he was told that there was no other way by which the cup could be removed if He were to accomplish the task He had come to do. He had said to God, “All things are possible unto Thee” (Mark 14:36), which was true in itself; for God could have removed the cup; but that would have vitiated the plan according to which Christ was to give His life. It was possible for God to remove the cup, but it was not possible to do this and also save man.

This information must have been conveyed to Christ as an answer to His request, for He accepts the decision in the words, “If this cup may not pass away from Me, except I drink it, Thy will be done.” Matthew 26:42. This prayer breathes complete submission after He understood that the cup could not be removed.


Christ’s prayer to have the cup removed “if it be possible” can be understood only in the light of Christ’s perfect humanity. He had taken man’s place with man’s limitations. However, Christ had been one with God, and there had been perfect union and co-operation. Now He stood in a different relation with the Father. The sins of the world were placed upon Him, and He must bear the consequences. With the load of the world’s sin resting upon Him, He must suffer the Father’s displeasure because of sin. “Who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree,” or as a more correct rendering has it, “up to the tree.” 1 Peter 2:24. Being thus made sin for us, God must treat Him as we deserve to be treated, and must turn His face from His beloved Son.


Christ had fully understood the cost of saving man as He and the Father in the councils of eternity had evolved the only plan that could save man. He knew and understood Gethsemane, Golgotha, and Calvary. Now when He was a man, clouds enveloped Him. He could no longer see His Father’s reconciling face. All was oppressive and gloom. It was one thing for Christ as God to decide to die for man. It was another thing for Him as man to pass through the dark waters alone. It was the realization of the necessity of being separated from the Father that broke the heart of the Son of God, and in His humanity, He shrank from it. However, faith broke through, and in submission He says, “Thy will be done.”


Was Christ’s request that the cup pass from Him denied? Yes, the cup was not and could not be removed. He must drink it.


Was His prayer heard? Yes. Hear these words: “In the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto Him that was able to save Him from death, and was heard in that He feared.” Hebrews 5:7. Christ “was heard,” but He was not saved from death nor from drinking the cup.


Are we then to draw the conclusion that God heard His prayer but denied the petition, and that the word “heard” here does not denote what it does in other places, namely, that of a favorable answer, but only that God heard what He said? Not necessarily, for in a larger sense God granted Christ’s petition. This can be understood only as we appreciate the full force of the words, “Thy will be done.”


In using these words, Christ submitted Himself so fully to the Father, that the Father’s will became His. In this submission lay the answer to Christ’s request. Christ’s will was fully in harmony with the Father’s; and as it was not possible to remove the cup, God’s will became Christ’s will. Thus, His prayer was answered. 


With the examples of Moses and Christ before us, we should not be discouraged if our prayers are not answered immediately, or indeed, if they are never answered. There are good reasons for what God does. There are times when God ought not to answer our prayers for our own sake and that of others. In all conditions we are to submit to God, and whatever the answer to our prayers may be, we should from the heart be able to say, “Thy will be done.”


Memory Verse:

“During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death. And he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him and was designated by God to be the high priest in the order of Melchizedek. Hebrews 5: 7-10




1.   Is there anything to big or small that does not concern God? Explain.  



2.   Can you see now, that God may not answer our prayers for our own good? Explain. 




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