When God Says No to Prayer

Why pray when God knows everything? God didn't answer my prayer. Praying in Jesus' name

Some say that the secret to always having your prayers answered is to always pray for things that God wants. They say that God always says yes to those kind of prayers.


Some prayers may be answered with a resounding NO…even if those prayers are in line with God’s will! Let’s look at two Scriptures:

He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
2 Peter 3:9b

They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power.
2 Thessalonians 1:9

We know that praying for what God wants is ‘praying in His will’. We also know that God wants everyone to be saved, so praying for someone’s salvation hardly seems like a prayer that God would answer with a NO. However…it’s also clear that, despite God’s desire to the contrary, some people will end up in hell.

What can we conclude? It’s safe to say that prayers for another’s salvation depend largely on God, but not entirely…or everyone would end up in heaven. Since we know that won’t happen, we have to face the reality that some of our own prayers – even ones in line with what God wants – may go unfulfilled.

If God Knows Everything, Why Pray?

Why pray when God knows everything? God didn't answer my prayer. Praying in Jesus' name

If god already knows what we want, why pray?


That’s a very good question, and one that lots of people have asked. I’m not sure that anyone has a complete answer…but let me point out a couple of things that might help us think about it further:

  1. God knows how you’ll pray before you start…so prayer isn’t giving God new information.
  2. God may say “no” to whatever you pray…so prayer isn’t convincing God to do whatever you ask.
  3. God can do what needs to be done without our input…so prayer isn’t helping God make difficult decisions.

Seems like a good argument that we don’t need to pray, doesn’t it? Of course, that’s only half of the story. When we check what the Bible says about prayer, we see something different: God wants us to pray, and it’s assumed that we actually will. Jesus, who is God become human, prayed to the Father. Despite the fact that God knows everything, we’re given lots of instructions about prayer…so it’s obvious that we’re supposed to pray:

God wants us to ask for help.
If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.James 1:5

God wants us to pray for others.
Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.Matthew 5:44

We don’t have to know everything about prayer.
We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.Romans 8:26

I’m sure I could find a half-dozen more verses for each, and there’s more to prayer than just those three things…but it’s a start. Christianity is a living relationship with God, and prayer is our primary method of communicating with Him. No relationship can grow without intimacy, and prayer is our way of opening up to God. I don’t know how much or how often you pray, but let me encourage you to be honest with God. Since He already knows what you’re thinking, you should be comfortable talking with Him about your fears, needs, and doubts – even doubts about Him. He won’t be surprised.

If God Knows Everything, Why Pray?

Why pray when God knows everything? God didn't answer my prayer. Praying in Jesus' name

I’ve been blessed with a pretty easy life. I haven’t had to turn to God and plead with Him very often…but I have a few friends whose lives have been shaken by tragedies that would likely ruin me. A friend’s daughter may have a brain tumor. A coworker’s toddler is rejecting her newly transplanted kidney. A young man at my church lost a child at birth, making him a daddy without a baby. Such tragedies are common, but the commonness doesn’t diminish their grief. I often feel compelled to pray for those around me.

One problem: I don’t understand prayer. I’m not sure that anyone really does. Questions about prayer begin with “why pray?” and continue through “does God really wait for us to pray before acting?” and I will readily admit that I don’t have an answer for either. I know that some of you will say that I’m silly for praying without any discernible reason. Maybe I actually am silly. However, it’s clear that Christians are supposed to pray. The Bible is chock full of examples of men and women praying to God, with lots and lots of beseeching and interceding and the like. I don’t know why…but many people feel the need from time to time to reach out to God. That’s not really a problem. After all, we have a few phrases to ‘explain’ such things…one is “any old pickle barrel in a storm” and another is “there are no atheists in foxholes”. Feeling the need to reach out to God isn’t limited to the overly religious.

However: there’s one verse about prayer that really bugs me. In fact, it haunts me. I don’t understand it any more than I understand any other verse about prayer, but it’s a driving force in my life. It pushes me. It chases me. It follows me around like a threat. No matter how I try to avoid or evade it, it regularly comes around to slap me in the face. It’s not even an entire verse, but only half:

The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.

James 5:16

That’s the NASB version. As a child I memorized the KJV which says “the fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much”. The idea that a righteous man who prays with all of his heart will somehow get God’s attention isn’t all that troubling. It’s the reverse, actually, that troubles me…the idea that my selfish willfulness might keep my prayers from doing anything at all.

That frightens me. It overwhelms me. I’m afraid that, in my weakness and rebellion, I’m wasting my time praying and praying and not accomplishing anything. Do people with problems need prayer? Of course they do. I like asking God to interrupt their troubles with a little peace…and it shakes me to the core that God might indeed be waiting for a righteous man’s prayer to act. I know that I need to be that righteous man, and fear that I, too often, am not.