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Biblical, battle-tested, real-life help for "living by faith in the Son of God" (Galatians 2:20). — Steve Fuller

What About Unanswered Prayer?

Unanswered prayer

Every believer has unanswered prayer.

We have longings we’ve prayed about for months — years — which have not been answered.

And those unanswered prayers can leave us disappointed — and bitter against God.

So how can we fight the fight of faith to trust God when prayers are unanswered?

What helped me was discovering —

An astonishing promise

In Matthew 7 Jesus tells us how God will respond to every prayerHere’s Jesus’ promise about prayer —

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. (Mat 7:7)

Here Jesus calls us to pray — to ask God to do certain things.

And He is assuming certain things about prayer — that prayer must —

  • be in Jesus’ name (John 15:16), trusting His blood and righteousness — not our own — to make us welcome to God
  • be from surrendered hearts (Psa 66:18), not that we are perfect, but that we are not stubbornly holding to sin
  • be in accord with God’s general will (I John 5:14); not that we have to know God’s specific will for every situation, but that we are not asking for things Scripture says are sin
  • sometimes be persistent (Luke 11:8)

And Jesus promises that whenever we ask in these ways — it will be given to us.

Which means — our prayer will be answered.

Then in the next verse He states it even more strongly —

For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. (Mat 7:8)

So who receives?  Everyone who asks.

Who finds?  Everyone who seeks.

To whom does God open the door and grant their request?  Everyone who knocks.

But what about our unanswered prayers?

Jesus anticipates that question in the next verse —

Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? (Mat 7:9-10)

Say you ask God for bread.  Even if he doesn’t give you bread — He never gives you something worse — like a stone.

Or if you ask God for fish.  Even if He doesn’t give you fish — He never gives you something worse — like a serpent.

So if God doesn’t give you the bread or fish you are asking for — what does He give you?

If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! (Mat 7:11)

Even if God doesn’t give you exactly what you ask for — He will always give you good things.

So here’s what Jesus is saying —

If you ask for bread — God will either give you bread — or something even better (maybe a turkey and avocado sandwich).

If you ask for fish — God will either give you fish or something even better (maybe fresh Maine lobster).

So here’s the principle —

God will always either give you exactly what you are praying for — or something even better.

How Paul experienced this

In 2 Corinthians 12 Paul says he had a thorn in the flesh — some terrible affliction from Satan (2Co 12:7).

And Paul prayed — with great earnestness and passion — on three different occasions — for God to remove it (2Co 12:8).

But God said — No.

Why?  Because God was going to give Him something better.

God was going to use this weakness to give Paul an even greater experience of Christ’s grace and power (2Cor 12:9).

To have the thorn in the flesh removed would have been very good.

But — to know and feel more of Christ’s grace and power — even if it meant keeping the thorn in the flesh — was even better.

So Paul experienced what Jesus taught in Matthew 7 —

God will always either give you exactly what you are praying for — or something even better.

How this has impacted me

This truth has —

  • motivated me to pray — since “everyone who asks receives.”  I often quote this promise to myself as I begin to pray.
  • given me peace as I pray — since I know that God will either give me exactly what I am asking for — or something even better.
  • made me content with prayers that have not yet been answered — because I know that every delay is planned by a loving and wise God who has ordained the delay to bring me something even better.
  • made me content when God says No — because He’s actually saying Yes to something even better.

How does this impact you?

I’d love to hear — leave a reply below.  Thanks.

Do you know someone struggling with unanswered prayer?  Email this to them using the “share” button below — or use the buttons to share it on your favorite social media.

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(Picture is by Eric The Fish on everystockphoto.)

Category: Help with Prayer

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32 Responses

  1. Katherine F. says:

    What about when you are praying for someone’s salvation? How could anything be better than that? If nothing could be better, would that mean He would always bring to salvation anyone we pray that for?

    • Steve Fuller says:

      You are raising a crucial question, Katherine.

      I believe Scripture gives a clear answer – an answer that’s not been easy for me to embrace.

      But after much wrestling I do embrace it — and it both fuels my prayer and sorrow for the lost – and gives me peace and comfort in God’s sovereign plan.

      Here’s how I’ve put it together —

      It’s clear that God does not save everyone we pray for. I see that in Romans — where Paul says both that he prays that all Israel will be saved (10:1) — and that God has brought a partial hardening upon them (after patiently holding His hands out to them and having them continue to reject Him — 10:21) so that some end up not saved (11:7).

      So what does this mean for my prayer?

      God calls me to pray and long earnestly for the salvation of the lost (Rom 10:1), and to sorrow and grieve at the thought that they might not be saved (Rom 9:1-2).

      I do this, because I know that in many cases God will use my prayers to stir His heart to save them.

      But I also know that — after revealing Himself to them through Creation and having them persist in rebellion against Him — God might justly choose let them continue in their rebellion, not save them, and have them face His judgment.

      In that case I believe God tells me this would be better — because that display of justice will be used to more powerfully display the glory of His mercy to the redeemed. I see that taught in Rom 9:22-24.

      Like I said – this has not been easy for me to embrace. But now I do embrace it — and find that it stirs me to pray and long and work for the salvation of the lost – and gives me peace and comfort in the wisdom of God’s ultimate plan.

  2. I appreciate this post, Mr. Fuller! I find the passage in Matthew 7 so encouraging to press on in prayer. And yet, I was blessed by the reminder that when God appears to be saying “no” it is because He has something better for us. Keeping that in mind makes it so much easier to submit to the will of God when we know that He is working His perfect will in our lives because He loves us and wants what is best for us and what brings Him the greatest glory! Thanks for sharing! Also, I really appreciated how you responded to Kathrine. Challenging!
    BTW- I read your twitter page, but I don’t have a account to use for personal purpose, so I can’t comment. But I just wanted to say that I hope you get to feeling better soon! Will be praying for you!

  3. Katherine F. says:

    Thanks for that answer, Steve. I love the way everything you write is peppered with scripture references – all of which I looked up. Now there’s a real foundation for saying something. You’re right, that does fuel my prayers to be extra-fervent. *Please, God, choose THIS person to save, because I love them so much!!!* I’ll have to let the Spirit work on me more to come to the “peace and comfort” part in this! Although, intellectually, I do get that part that God knows best, and is perfect in His justice & mercy and owes none of us anything.

    • Steve Fuller says:

      You are so welcome, Katherine. And thank YOU for raising the question — which was helpful to ponder.

      I think that this side of heaven we will feel *mostly* grief over the condition of the lost and longing for their salvation — not *mostly* peace that they might not end up saved.

      But I find that understanding God’s overall purpose puts a floor under my grief so it doesn’t fall into despair.

      And — when we behold Jesus Christ face to face in the new heavens and earth — that’s when we will feel complete peace and wonder at the flawless wisdom, justice, love, and mercy of all that He has done.

      Much love to all of you!

  4. Paul Walton says:

    “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” Romans 8 29-30

    When it comes to the matter of justification the verses that I put my trust in, are these. The text doesn’t tell us “what” Christ foreknew about those He predestined, but it does tells us “who” He foreknew and predestined to be justified.

    Like you said Steve we will stand before Him, and worship His perfect justice, wisdom and grace in these matters, knowing all His ways are perfect.

    • Steve Fuller says:

      Thanks again for sharing your thoughts, Paul.

      And isn’t it strengthening to know that the day will come when we see Him face to face — and that all His works have been flawlessly glorious.

  5. Louise says:

    I like to say that if God gives you a snake, go ahead and eat it because it is really a fish in disguise. I can cite numerous examples in my own life – even the experiences of cancer and disability. Fish and fish.

  6. Lorraine Kashdan says:

    Great! How encouraging, just what i need to hear. Yes, I have been really lacking in faith in certain areas and I googled the subject and ended up reading several encouraging articles from this website!

    I feel more confident that the answer is alway ‘yes’ or ‘something better’ and when I see other people walk away with something I’m desperate for I can now just praise God and thank him for the something better that is making these opportunities walk past me!

    Great! I feel great…so encouraging thanks.

  7. Nikki says:

    I’m sorry but recently I haven’t experienced your idea of God giving us what we ask for or better! I prayed for my ‘believing’ yet pew warming husband to become the spiritual head of our home and today I was quite surprised when I found out he wasn’t even going to come with me to church with me…so upsetting! I said I’d never sit alone in church and there I was, all alone:(
    Best regards,
    Nikki

    • Steve Fuller says:

      Hi Nikki,

      I am so sorry to hear about your husband. That must be deeply disappointing and difficult.

      And I understand how hard it would be to see this setback as a good thing. Probably the best thing I could suggest would be to read my post on “A Promise For Those Disappointed By God” to see if it helps.

      Let me know your thoughts, and I am going to pray for your husband right now.

      In Christ,

      Steve Fuller

  8. Doug Boys says:

    Hi Steve,

    I was encouraged today as I read your post on prayer.

    I got help for the day as I sit with my father who has perhaps a week left to live because of aggressive brain cancer.

    Why hasn’t God healed him?

    I don’t know, but he is a man of faith and I know that God has something better.

    • Steve Fuller says:

      I’m so glad this post was helpful for you, Doug. And you are absolutely right — the only reason God would not choose to heal your father is because God has something even more loving, more wise, more satisfying for him than physical healing.

      My heart goes out to you as you are with your father. May the Lord fill both of you with peace, comfort, and hope in Him.

      Steve

  9. Kathie says:

    Do you think that the Lord might give you assurance about some person’s salvation before they are saved? I have read about this in Christian biographies – (http://www.shadesofgrace.org/2010/04/29/5-thoughts-from-george-muller/)

    I think this would be most encouraging to those who are praying for the lost.

    Thanks for your thoughts on this.

  10. joe says:

    Hey I have been praying for about 6 months for God to heal me and we usually have this prayer night circle thing and I took a step of faith and asked them to pray for healing over me for my two diseases and yet I didn’t get nothing and God has something better for me but what do i do until then because its really hard for me to take care of it and I keep hearing the doctors say all these things that can happen if I dont start taking care of it and I keep telling God to take it because this burden is way to heavy

    • Steve Fuller says:

      Hi Joe,

      I am so sorry that you were not healed. I’d suggest you check the posts under “Check Here For More Help,” under the category “Help For Prayer.”

      I have some posts there dealing with unanswered prayer that you might find helpful.

      I also just recently wrote a post on how to cast your burdens on the Lord that might encourage you.

      In Christ,

      Steve Fuller

  11. Gary says:

    I think prayer for me ,is one of the most important parts of a Christian’s life. The fact that perhaps the Lord does not answer straight away does not mean he hasn’t heard you. My example.: My partner was looking to buy a house as the house she was living in was going to be sold.We prayed about finding the correct house to buy as this is surely the biggest investment one can make. She knew what she wanted and prayed about that exact house. Nothing was forthcoming. No amount of houses seen was the one she wanted. Eventually she had to move and live with a friend for a few months. Out of the “blue” (so to speak) a house appeared in the housing advertisement…. in the perfect area, the perfect size , the perfect position. One cannot make a comparison of the importance of prayer , but we must allow for GODS TIME and i firmly believe he will answer prayers , BUT IN HIS TIME.

  12. Felicia says:

    Thanks so much for this post. I have been meditating on Luke 11:9-10 and Matthew 7:7-8 for quite sometime. They are saying the same thing; so when I pray I reference them both. I have seen God move in my life while continuously praying and meditating on those verses in each chapter. However, when I was supplied with the very thing I was praying for then to have it taken away (so to speak), I became discouraged and disappointed. I didnt/dont understand why it was taken away. Was it not God’s will? But reading your post has made me look at it in a different light. Maybe He has something better for me. But why would he supply it instead of giving me the best he has for me right then! Im still growing in my faith. Your post are very helpful. Even though I don’t understand, I know God loves me and I am so very thankful for his faithfulness grace favor and mercy. I trust Him so I know my understanding will come. I continue to meditate on theses verses in Matthew and Luke. Thanks for all you do. God bless!

    • Steve Fuller says:

      Hi Felicia,

      Thank you so much for sharing your story. You raise a crucial question.

      Why would God give you what you were asking for at one point, only to take it away later?

      I’m not sure, and you are right that you can trust that whatever he does it out of great love for you.

      But maybe he gave you what you asked for to show you his goodness — so you would have even more joy in him. And then later he took it as a way to show you how Jesus himself will completely satisfy your heart.

      All I know is that Jesus Christ is our all-satisfying joy and treasure — and that whatever God does — giving or taking — is done ultimately to deepen our joy in Christ.

      In Christ,

      Steve Fuller

  13. Felicia says:

    Thanks Steve! I’ve learned something today. While reading another one of your post; once I received the very thing I had meditated on, I took my mind off of God. My thinking was that if God answered my prayer he wouldn’t take it away. Instead of looking toward my Father I looked at the thing he blessed me with for love guidance peace provision. Its only now that I realized that I may have thanked God that my prayers were manifested in my life but I shifted my focus and attention away from the source of my life. I stopped putting him first. All I can do is praise God. Its like a light finally broke thru and I see how my wrong thinking kept me from receiving what He has for me. AND yes Steve!, he took it away so that he could bring me close to him and come to understand that everything I need comes from him…..not from man. WOW! My mind is open my heart is receptive as I ask for His forgiveness. I am closer to him and I’ve learned to trust in him now; but only tonight do I understand that I must put him first in all things. Thanks again, and God bless.

  14. Nan says:

    Steve,

    This was so encouraging. Thank you. And if you would, please help me implore God for a good husband. Thank you.

  15. Cynthia Trevizo says:

    Mr. Fuller,
    You have no idea how much this has helped me. I received the Lord as my savior last July after going through a traumatic experience. My Lord is still healing me and I’m slowly seeing now that He took someone from my life in order to bring me closer to Him. I know He has something better for me. It’s exactly where I need to be. Please pray for me and my son. Also please pray for my ex husband who is lost.And once again thanks for this post.

    • Steve Fuller says:

      Hi Cynthia,
      You are so welcome; thank you for your encouraging words.
      And you are so right — whenever God takes something from us it’s to bring us even closer to him — and he is worth it all.
      In Christ,
      Steve Fuller

  16. julian says:

    God don’t answer prays with something better because I know.. Everything I asked him for nothing happened only very very bad things everything I asked for the opposite happened and know matter how much you say I am personally worst off to the point where I wishing I die things are getting so bad so this is supposed to help me if this his way of helping then I say don’t bother and it’s not only me but every person I love because I feel so useless and can’t even help them.. So to say he only gives better is WRONG

    • Cynthia Trevizo says:

      Julian,
      I’m sorry things are so bad. Funny I’ve had the most horrible week. Things have gotten worse for me as well. But one thing I know is that its these times where I need to be even closer to God. I don’t understand what God is doing in my life right now but remember his ways are not our ways. Stick to God please now more than ever.

  17. Dave says:

    Thank you for your response to “Unanswered prayer” This was very helpful and I believe biblically based!

    I’ve been unemployed for the past 8 months.(The company I was with sold my Region and moved out of the state. I was told that they did this because since I came aboard I’ve improved the region to a point that it was now attractive to buyers and could now be sold) I’ve sent out over 200 applications with very little response. The ones that I did get a response from I have interviewed with. I was even told that “I’m there person for the job”. However, the jobs have fell through. It seems as if I’m being brought to the brink of success/employment to only have the door closed shut at the very last moment.(Example: the position is now on hold, the company has merged in the last week and they are not hiring. This has occurred(Like experiences) over 4 times in the last 8 months.

    I’m a believer. I trust God and believe that He wants the best for me. Not sure why I’m being brought all the way to the point of hire and then the door closes. I have earnestly prayed for the past 8 months as you suggested that Jesus be glorified and that I be in His will. Not mine! I just have to believe that God has something else out there and that I need to hold on and endure. I also believe that a closed door is Gods protection. However, 200+ closed doors are hard to swallow.(being completely honest)

    I love our Lord and have zero bitterness towards Him. Just don’t know what else to pray or how to know what His will is for me.

    Any other thoughts?

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