It’s frustrating and just plain hard when our prayers are not answered. We pray for God’s will to be done and in Jesus’s name with the assumption that our prayers align with how God intends. Sometimes, however, it’s true that our prayer requests are not answered. Consider these three examples from Scripture.

Join me in my struggle by praying to God for me. Pray that I may be kept safe from the unbelievers in Judea and that the contribution I take to Jerusalem may be favorably received by the Lord’s people there, so that I may come to you with joy, by God’s will, and in your company be refreshed. The God of peace be with you all. Amen.
(Ro 15:30–33).

Paul asked for prayer that he be rescued from Jewish unbelievers in Judea and that his ministry would be acceptable to the believers in Jerusalem. His hope was that he would be “refreshed” in Rome on his way to more ministry in Spain. But, Acts records different results and tells us how things really turned out (Acts 21:15ff). Paul was not rescued from the unbelievers in Judea but was arrested (Acts 21:33) and he did not go on to Rome for “refreshment” but eventually stood trial in Rome after incarceration in Caesarea for some 2 years and suffering a shipwreck along the way.

I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.
(2 Cor 12:7–9).

Paul explicitly asked God to remove a “thorn in the flesh” (2 Cor. 12:1-10). Yet God saw fit to say no but instead supply more grace to endure rather than merely answer his request as he prayed.

He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”
(Lk 22:41–42).

Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane was for God to “take this cup from me” (Lk. 22:42), which either was a) his impending death, b) the weight of the world’s sin he would soon bear, or c) both a) and b). Regardless of your answer I’m thankful to God that Jesus’s prayer was not answered!


  1. I suppose I’m only thankful in hindsight since otherwise I wouldn’t have been praying for X. My most frustrating times are when I think I’m praying for what God would want for me (i.e., increase my love for someone) and it doesn’t happen. I then start to question my motives in praying and get a little too introspective. I won’t bore you with details but I had a particularly difficult time in my life where I was pleading with God for changes in my life but they were not to be. I learned through that experience that I thought the changes had to come in a particular way or in a certain time frame. Some changes did come but they came later. There are all kinds of lessons about waiting on God and enduring dry seasons of life that could come from this. I can now say I’m thankful for those times because the lessons I learned were what I needed to learn at the time. In the midst of my darkest nights I had to trust that God was gracious and wise and continue to wait on him. Contemplating it is one thing–living through it is entirely different.

  2. Thanks for your keen and very personal comment, Louis. “Hindsight” does indeed serve us well and bring perspective to our prayers, if only occasionally. However, sometimes the light is dim and changes are simply “not to be.” We can never nor will ever see all the links in the chain of events that help us understand why “No” is God’s answer. Maybe the only rhyme or reason in hearing a resounding “No” from God is one big exercise in patience. Maybe, as I hear you say, God is sending us to the gymnasium of life where we must build the muscle of a steadfast faith that learns to rest in His care, no matter what. Hindsight does help, but where mystery remains, the faith of Heb 11:1 must fill in the gaps. After all, what other biblically responsible or existentially viable option is there? I know of none. Sola fide!!

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