A primary reason why prayer is unanswered is sin. God cannot be mocked or deceived, and He who sits enthroned above knows us intimately, down to our every thought (Psalm 139:1-4). If we are not walking in the Way or we harbor enmity in our hearts toward our brother or we ask for things with the wrong motives (such as from selfish desires), then we can expect God not to answer our prayer because He does not hear (2 Chronicles 7:14; Deuteronomy 28:23; Psalm 66:18; James 4:3). Sin is the “stopper” to all the potential blessings that we would receive from the infinite “bottle” of God’s mercy! Indeed, there are times when our prayers are heinous in the Lord’s sight, most notably when we clearly do not belong to the Lord either because of unbelief (Proverbs 15:8) or because we are practicing hypocrisy (Mark 12:40).
Another reason why prayer seems to go unanswered is that the Lord is drawing out of our faith a deeper reliance and trust in Him, which should bring out of us a deeper sense of gratitude, love and humility. In turn, this causes us to benefit spiritually, for He gives grace to the humble (James 4:6; Proverbs 3:34). Oh, how one feels for that poor Canaanite woman, who cried out incessantly to our Lord for mercy when He was visiting the region of Tyre and Sidon (Matthew 15:21-28)! She was hardly the person a Jewish rabbi would pay attention to. She was not a Jew and she was a woman, two reasons that Jews ignored her. The Lord doesn’t seem to answer her petitions, but He knew all about her situation. He may not have answered her stated needs immediately, but still He heard and granted her request.
God may often seem silent to us, but He never sends us away empty-handed. Even if prayer has not been answered, we must rely upon God to do so in His own time. Even the exercise of prayer is a blessing to us; it is because of our faith that we are stirred to persist in prayer. It is faith that pleases God (Hebrews 11:6), and if our prayer life is wanting, does that not reflect our spiritual standing also? God hears our impoverished cries for mercy, and His silence inflames us with a sense of persistence in prayer. He loves us to reason with Him. Let us hunger for the things that are after God’s heart and let us walk in His ways and not our own. If we are faithful to pray without ceasing, then we are living in the will of God, and that can never be wrong (1 Thessalonians 5:17-18). (1)
So, if unfulfilled prayer is not the result of our failure to live for Christ or unconfessed sin in our lives or inadequate faith, then what are we to make of the fact that our prayers are sometimes unanswered? Perhaps the answer is not found in what we do wrong when we pray, but in our failure to understand what Jesus meant when He said that we could move mountains and have whatever we ask for if we pray with faith.
Live for today, and put tomorrow into God's hands. Begin to eliminate the words 'what if' from your vocabulary. God will always be one step ahead of you. 'The Lord, He is the One who goes before you. He will be with you, He will not leave you nor forsake you; do not fear nor be dismayed' (Deuteronomy 31:8 NKJV). The reason God is called the 'Alpha and Omega' in Scripture is because He not only initiates the starting point of your spiritual journey, He has arranged every step of it according with His will. He says to you: 'I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope...when you pray, I will listen...I will end your captivity and restore your fortunes' (Jeremiah 29:11-14 NLT).
I was very impressed when I read a short write up by R.T. Kendall on "Thank God for Unanswered Prayer".What he says is very apt, precise and thoughtful.
You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives... —James 4:2-3
I have lived long enough, as far as I can tell, to thank God for every unanswered prayer. That is, prayers prayed in the distant past. To be honest, I have offered prayers more recently that have gone unanswered (so far), which makes no sense to me at all. But I predict that, in the end, I will have no complaints. God is not only sovereign, but He is also loving and gracious. No good thing does He withhold from those who sincerely try to do His will in everything (Ps. 84:11).
Unanswered prayer is still an enigma—that is, puzzling in the light of Jesus' words, "You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it" (John 14:14). God does not answer prayers that are not in His will. After all, John said, "This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us" (1 John 5:14).
I can only conclude that asking in Jesus' name must in some direct sense relate to God's will. The enigma of unanswered prayer lies in the apparent incongruity between what seems good to us at the time and what God knows is good for us.
Sometimes our prayers, which seem so right, flow from a faulty theology. When we are in love with our theological assumptions—and can't imagine they could be wrong—we tend to presume God surely agrees with us! The disciples asked the resurrected Christ, "Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?" (Acts 1:6). It had not crossed their minds that Jesus never once planned to do anything of the kind.
Although unanswered prayer is a mystery, there is also an explanation. It is only a matter of time before we will be given an explanation. But it comes down to this: God has a better idea than that which we asked for.
If you're fearful of the future, check with the past. 'Blessed be the Lord, who has given rest to His people...according to all that He promised. There has not failed one word of all...He promised' (1 Kings 8:56 NKJV). You will never conquer your worries entirely, for worries, just like weaknesses and character flaws, draw you closer to God and keep you dependent on Him.
For forty years in the wilderness the Israelites never missed a meal. God delivered it to the door of each of their tents daily. And He will provide for you too. As Bradford Torrey wrote: 'Not so in haste, my heart! Have faith in God, and wait; although He lingers long, He never comes too late.'
(1) S. Michael Houdman, CEO, Gotquestions.org, How should a Christian respond to unanswered prayer?