Why Doesn’t God Answer My Prayers?

Have you ever felt that God wasn’t answering your prayers? Perhaps you have been praying for the conversion of a loved one, the physical healing of a close friend, a new job, a broken relationship, etc. Despite many prayers, the outcome wasn’t what you expected. In some cases, you may have just given up and stopped praying. You may question the validity of Jesus’ words, “Ask and you shall receive”. Does prayer really make a difference or is it just something that makes us feel good? Let’s take a look at prayer and why it is important that we not only pray, but “pray without ceasing” (1 Thes 5:17).

According to St. John Damascene, a 6th century bishop and doctor of the Church, “Prayer is the raising of one’s mind and heart to God or the requesting of good things from God.” St. Thérèse of Lisieux stated, “For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes Christian prayer as, “a covenant relationship between God and man in Christ” (CCC 2564). While we are most familiar with prayer of petition, the above statements make it obvious that there is more to prayer than merely asking God for something.

To put it in simple terms, prayer is a means of communicating and sharing with God. The Catechism discusses several different forms of prayer, including Blessing, Adoration, Petition, Intercession, Thanksgiving and Praise. While each of these methods of prayer uses a different approach, they all involve an encounter between God and man. Understanding that encounter will help us to better comprehend the meaning of prayer in our lives. Utilizing several of these methods will allow us to grow closer to the Lord, which is the ultimate objective of prayer. As we turn to the Lord in prayer, we’ll begin to increase our desire for the things of Heaven and focus more on letting God’s will guide our lives.

must make time for prayer. Even if it means giving up 15-30 minutes of your leisure time — some quiet time with the Lord is a necessity! Prayer doesn’t have to be formal and it doesn’t have to take place inside of a church. We can talk to Jesus like we would speak to any of our friends. He wants to know all of our worries and concerns. Conversing with the Lord should be the main foundation of our prayer life.

We can then build on that foundation by expanding our definition of prayer. Origen, one of the early Church fathers observed, “He ‘prays without ceasing’ who unites prayer to works and good works to prayer. Only in this way can we consider as realizable the principle of praying without ceasing.” In other words, we can turn all of our work into prayer simply by offering it to the Father. The traditional Morning Offering provides an excellent means of offering our work to the Lord and can be said in less than a minute! By employing this technique, we are even able to pray while we work. While this form of prayer should never replace our quiet time with God, it provides us with a means to “pray constantly” throughout the day.

According to the Catechism , “The habitual difficulty in prayer is distraction” (CCC 2729). This is a problem common to all forms of prayer. Whether you’re in a church, praying the rosary in your car or praying before the Blessed Sacrament, you will encounter distractions at some point. These distractions provide us, according to the Catechism, with an idea of “what we are attached to” (CCC 2729) and give us an opportunity to choose the Lord over the distraction. When these thoughts occur, we should simply turn our minds to God and continue praying. Another common difficulty that we may encounter is dryness, which is a lack of feeling when we pray. This is something that many of the saints struggled with and is best overcome by perseverance. We need to rely on our faith during these times and struggle to continue praying, no matter how we feel. Bouts of dryness provide us with an opportunity to love God for who He is, not for the good feeling that we may experience during prayer.

As mentioned earlier, one of the most common complaints when we pray is that God doesn’t answer our prayers. This complaint usually occurs with prayers of petition and provides an honest look into the reality of our human nature. The Catechism puts things into perspective with the following comments:

In the first place, we ought to be astonished by this fact: when we praise God or give him thanks for his benefits in general, we are not particularly concerned whether or not our prayer is acceptable to him. On the other hand, we demand to see the results of our petitions. What is the image of God that motivates our prayer: an instrument to be used? or the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ? (CCC 2735).

When we pray, are we truly lifting our hearts to Almighty God or are we looking to “get what we want”? If we really trust in His will, we should be satisfied with whatever answer we receive. Our frustration arises when we think that we know better than God. We decide how our prayers should be answered and are not pleased when the Lord’s answer may differ from ours. While Jesus does promise that we will receive an answer when we ask (Mt 7:8), He doesn’t promise that we will get what we ask for…Instead, He promises that we will get what we need . Jesus assures us of this when He states, “Which one of you would hand his son a stone when he asks for a loaf of bread, or a snake when he asks for a fish? If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask Him.” (Mt 7:9-11) Still not convinced? Scripture gives us a very clear explanation for why we may not get what we request, “You ask but do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” (James 4:3) We could save ourselves a lot of aggravation by accepting this advice and seeking to discern God’s will for our lives. In doing so, we would get a clearer idea of those “things” that God wants us to have.

Knowing God’s will for our lives can sometimes be difficult, but a few basic principles can be very helpful. For one thing, it would be wrong to pray for something that goes against a teaching of the Church. For example, praying for the success of in-vitro fertilization or an invalid marriage would not be examples of praying with God’s will in mind. God never wills anything that is prohibited by His Church. While He does respect our free will and permits us to do things that are not in line with the commandments, praying for sinful things is not an example of praying with God’s will in mind.

Second, we should append all of our prayer requests with, “if it is your will.” If we truly mean what we say, we’ll have no problem accepting whatever God sends…even if it wasn’t what we asked for. The ultimate example of praying in this manner was given by Our Lord as he suffered in the garden prior to His arrest and crucifixion. His prayer shows us the art of praying in union with the will of the Father. “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will.” (Mt 26:39)

While we do not know exactly why prayer is effective, we do know that it is important. Jesus instructed us to pray and prayed Himself on many occasions. The reason that it works is known only to God and is beyond our understanding. Our main concern should be that we continue to pray as often as possible. Most importantly, the next time that you are tempted to say that God doesn’t answer your prayers, remember that He can answer in a few different ways — “Yes”, “No” or “Not yet” are all valid answers! Therefore, when we complain that God doesn’t answer our prayers, don’t we really mean, “God doesn’t answer my prayers…the way that I want”?

Lord, help me to trust in your perfect will for my life. May I always be content with your answers to my prayers, even if I don’t understand them. Amen.

Subscribe to CE
(It's free)

Go to Catholic Exchange homepage

  • adveritas

    Through this article, God answered one of my prayers. Thanks be to God! And to you Gary for doing the will of God.

    I believe it was C.S. Lewis that said, “Prayer doesn’t change God, prayer changes me.”

  • sj

    I have a friend who lost her father while she was still young (in grade school), then her husband, while she was pregnant with their first baby, then she lost her only child, to a tragic accident, shortly after he turned 18. She’s never lost her faith as a Catholic but she is so sad whenever I see her and speak with her. She says she has so many questions of “why” for God. I dont even know any more what to say or how to help her and I cant help but wonder myself…where is God at times?? Her life of faith is returned with all this remorse?? How has prayer helped her?? She prays but bad things just keep happening to this poor girl. Now, she lives with her aging mother and she has no time to herself. She says she feels so alone and trapped….I dont understand.

  • 1LostSheep

    Been waiting years for a clear voice or answer from God as to why after sincerely trying to do what I believe is God’s will, why nothing but discouraging situations keep cropping up.  Getting tired of waiting for that answer.

  • Ms17815

    Ive been praying for my son to be healed. He is a good boy whio deserves to be able to walk. The Lord’s answer has been to make my husband sick. I had always believed. Miracles are for other people.

  • Peter

    I know what you mean, but I’ve come to the conclusion that each prayer we make is a spiritual brick to be used in heaven to build something wonderful for us and for those we pray for in the eternity that God has promised us, if God says that He answered prayer then if nothing happens here below then something very special happens up there, for us and for those we pray for, so keep praying for one day in glory you’ll be at our Lord’s feet and you will be able to say, now I understand, bless you, Peter

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/6IUUXRT6HPY77EQF5KZRZTMTI4 L

    Ms17815.  Continue to pray and hold on to your Faith.  God’s answer is never of destruction or evil doings.  This is more than likely an attack of the enemy (satan).  Usually when your breakthrough, blessings, and miracles are on the way more struggles come about. I pray that God heals your son…in the name of Jesus. 

  • Trnmelus

    I personally think that God doesn’t care. We rationalize reasons for God when our prayers aren’t answered. I have seen too much suffering for no apparent reason. I wish God would step up to the plate and at least give a reason for prayers not being answered. It’s no wonder God is becoming less popular.

  • Trnmelus

    I don’t buy that. Here is a guy who loves his son. Love is from God. How could Satan attack iii the bible is accurate. Just more rationalization. I’m very disgusted with god these days. I really don’t think he cares one bit. He abandons us at our time of need and simply lets those who step out in faith simply fall,off the cliff. I have prayed and prayed for things only to witness more suffering. I can’t fathom why god created us only to let us suffer. Please don’t pull the free will card as god made is.. He designed us therefore he knew how we would behave. Most people are good, just hurt and damaged. God does give a lot of us more than we can handle, hence Prozac. Sorry I’m so cynical but I’m 52 and have zero hope that prayers get answeredq

  • Petcac

     I know what you mean, but when I look at mankind and see what they are capable of and where their headed I see no hope for them, and you’re right when we start to rationalize reasons for God, but in my life I’ve come to believe that if Jesus Christ is wrong, then there is no hope for mankind, so if I’m honest I’m hoping that the big picture that God paints is true and our problem is with seeing it all, and understanding it all, just like we are imperfect so is our understanding,

  • Jason

    well, there’s always the story in the bible about the widow lady who kept asking and asking and finally the judge let her have her request . . . I for one don’t intend to stop asking and will til the day I die. Jason

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002448441798 Sam Jones

    Lost, as someone who has prayed constantly in life, I’ve discovered a few things for myself when it came to my prayer life:

    Sometimes the answer is “no.” Very frustrating and very upsetting for us to try and understand, but God doesn’t always give us what we want at the moment. It can take years down the road, but often we’ll think “ah, I’m so fortunate I didn’t get an answer to my prayer on that one…”

    Sometimes we’re being “tested.” Oh boy… I can write a book on this subject. Why are we tested? Well, beats me, but I’ve seen the end of the “testing” and yes, there was a reason for it. I was being “tested” for another level in my life. I passed, but the waiting was excruciating.

    Sometimes we have to do as the woman in the bible and “pound, pound, pound on the door…” Keep at it, do not give up, shout “God, God, God” keep ringing the bell to heaven. Why would a benevolent father want us to keep pounding on a door, and not simply open it up? Again, beats me, but I’ve been there and He did open the door after I’ve literally pounded my heart out. Perhaps He wanted to see how fervently I (or anyone who prays like this) WANTS an answer to the prayer?

    Lastly, sometimes our prayers are “intercepted” by the enemy. Yes, I think so. We can be praying and still living with something out of alignment (not little sins). Sin can hold back our answered prayer. The enemy delights in this. So, if you are truly in need of a great intercession, check yourself and your life, keep aligned, keep pounding on the door, and pray without ceasing. Magic bullet: FAST. Yes, FAST. Fasting is a wonderful tool to commune closer to God and to help propel an answer. It’s not meant to “force” God but by fasting we’re able to discern and concentrate more on God. Our spiritual bodies are illuminated.

  • Justplaintired

    I really feel some of the comments on here. There are just sometimes I feel like He really doesnt care. I’ve worked and struggled for the past 2 years. Im the kind that is not asking for a hand out but a hand up. I work at a low paying state job and do clerical work on the side. Sometimes Im barely making ends meet. On bad months Im a step from being thrown out. I have dreams and goals that Im working towards one publishing my novel and have put in the work to get that dream accomplished. Ive had to sacrifice health and food sometimes for the basics. Yet I see people who dont do jack managing to get the breaks(money comfort) just by knowing someone, or just dumb lucky then milking it for what its worth, throwing it away or just being plain ungrateful. I have prayed at night asking questions “What did I do to deserve this?” “Why them? Why not me” And havent got one straight answer or sign of relief or that He’s there

  • GiveGloryToGod

    God DOES answer our prayers. I’ve experienced it. THE ANSWER IS: Wait for God’s perfect timing.

    I felt betrayed and abandoned by God. I couldn’t see Him, hear Him, or feel Him when I needed Him. There was a time in my life when I ended my relationship with God because I felt that He did not answer my prayers no matter how hard I prayed and cried out to Him everyday.

    I am glad to say that I have rebuilt my relationship with God after He proved to me that He answered my prayers.

    Here’s my personal testimony:

    I worked for a company where I was mistreated and bullied in the worst possible way. The worst part was that some of the bullies were my best friends. They betrayed me, turned others against me, got me fired — and worst of all — totally abandoned me. The worst part was that one of the “best friends” was a fellow Christian. NOTHING was more painful than his betrayal and abandonment. I saw the worst side of human nature. It was unbelievable how two-faced he was towards me. These people left me feeling very hurt, confused, and unable to trust another soul.

    With nobody to turn to for healing, I cried out to God. I shouted, screamed, and vented to Him. I was full of anger and bitterness over what they had done to me. I asked God to SHOW ME that He has punished them. I felt that the only way for me to get over my hurt was to see them get punished. I very badly wanted to see them get punished. God never answered my prayer. I argued to God, “How could You not punish them when You saw everything they did to me?? When You know their evil hearts???” I felt betrayed by God too. I mean, if He’s our Heavenly Father who helps the downtrodden, why doesn’t He punish my enemies? “Hello?? I was the one who got hurt! You should be helping me! Why are You letting them off the hook??” I cried out like this EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. for 7 MONTHS.

    Literally every waking moment of everyday for 7 months, I was haunted by the memories of what my enemies did to me. I became severely depressed. The memories TORCHURED me and I desperately wanted it to stop. I knew this was Satan messing with my mind. It became unbearable at times. I actually asked God to get someone to shoot me in the head with a gun because I didn’t want to wake up everyday with these memories.

    Another prayer God didn’t answer, was to help me get a job. I asked Him to “Please correct all wrong — all of the wrongs people had done to me.” I was very worried and didn’t think I could find another job. I searched for a job on the internet everyday for 7 months. It was very discouraging. I applied for a few jobs that were right for me, and never got called for interview. I argued to God, “Are You punishing me or something?? How could You just watch and do nothing to help me when I’m down like this?”

    So hurt, betrayed, abandoned, jobless, depressed, and worried, I gave up on God. If He wasn’t going to help me with my problems, I felt that praying to Him was useless. “Are you deaf???” I said this in frustration whenever I cried out to Him.

    But, even when I was mad at God, I still read the Bible. Reading the Bible had a healing effect. Every time I read the Bible, God “spoke” to me in the passages He guided me to read.

    These are the Lessons He taught me:

    1. God understands my feelings of being betrayed and abandoned.

    Psalm 41: 5-9

    My enemies say of me in malice,
    “When will he die and his name perish?”
    When one of them comes to see me,
    he speaks falsely, while his heart gathers slander;
    then he goes out and spreads it around.
    All my enemies whisper together against me;
    they imagine the worst for me, saying,
    “A vile disease has afflicted him;
    he will never get up from the place where he lies.”
    Even my close friend,
    someone I trusted,
    one who shared my bread,
    has turned against me.

    2. God guided me to read a booklet on the internet called “What the Bible says to you… If you’re between jobs” by Paul R. McGraw. I could relate to Paul’s experience of unemployment. I learned from Paul’s article that God has a plan and purpose for us when we are out of work:

    http://www.c3g.org/documents/BetweenJobs.pdf

    Why would God want me to have lost my job? The answer could be one of many:

    - God wants to get my attention.

    - God wants to have a closer relationship with me.

    - God wants to give me an opportunity for salvation.

    - God did this so that the work of God might be displayed in my life.

    - God wants to humble me.

    - God wants to remove me from what is now or could later become a bad situation.

    - God wants me to pay more attention to some other area of my life.

    - My job was too important for me — it stood between me and my relationship with Him.

    - God wants to build my character.

    3. God directed me to Rev. Dr. Daniel O.C’s youtube channel.

    http://www.youtube.com/user/charisglobalvision

    Through this pastor’s sermons, I learned a very important lesson: “God is not a puppet.” It is not what I want God to do; it is what God thinks I need to do. Also, I learned that a true Christian shows love to their enemies, not wish them to get punished. Be like Christ. Show and practice love at all times.

    4. God told me not to revenge, and to leave the matter with Him.

    Romans 12:19

    “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.”

    5. God taught me that I must learn to forgive others, just as God forgives me for my sins.

    Ephesians 4:32

    “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.”

    6. God told me to trust in Him completely.

    Proverbs 3:5

    “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.”

    Matthew 14:31

    “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”

    Luke 18:27

    “What is impossible with men is possible with God.”

    These passages, especially the one about trusting the Lord with all my heart, kept me going for 7 months. A company I applied to months ago called me for an interview, and I was hired the next day! For real! I couldn’t believe it. EVERYTHING fell into place beautifully. God even helped me with my housing situation. I found a place right next to the company, and now I can walk to work! I was overwhelmed by how fast and easily everything worked out. Upon reflection, I know for certain that God made sure I got this particular job, and not all the other ones I applied for. For me, I had to wait 7 months to witness God’s perfect timing.

    With a dent on my resume due to getting fired, I really landed this job against all odds. And I know God has corrected all wrong and TRULY BLESSED me. People at this new job treat me with kindness and respect. I must admit, that from time to time, I remember the bullying I faced at my previous job. But the amazing thing is that I no longer feel bitterness and hatred towards them. I never could have gotten over the feelings on my own effort. It was only possible with God’s help.

    So, brothers and sisters, the answer is this: Wait PATIENTLY upon the Lord and TRUST IN HIM WITH ALL YOUR HEART. I know this is extremely hard to do, and it feels like an eternity of unanswered prayers and suffering. It was a VERY HARD lesson for me to learn. But I know for sure now, that God never betrays us. God never abandons us (even when Satan tries to make you think so).

    When there’s silence after praying to God, we tend to think that He didn’t listen to our prayers. I’ve learned that silence doesn’t mean God hasn’t listened to our prayers. He’s heard them. He even hears our random passing thoughts. He sees your heart – whether you can really trust in Him wholeheartedly, without any doubt. God sees our effort to hold onto our faith in difficult times. Don’t rely on your own understanding. HE knows what is best for us, and He wants us to wait for His perfect timing. Often times, the waiting period is a time of God dealing with your personal character. Everyone in this world needs to learn to practice patience.

    I chose to share my personal testimony with my brothers and sisters in Christ so they wouldn’t get discouraged in difficult times. It is the least I could do to give my sincere thanks to God. Pray before you start your job search. Ask God to guide you. Acknowledge His power. And always give glory to Him.

  • jj

    Man I hear you. I am sickened by some of the comments on here. Continual rationalizations. Fact is I don’t have the energy to keep struggling to figure prayer out. Fact is prayers don’t get answered Period. All the excuses and reasons why are just that EXCUSES. And the saying that god doesn’t give you more than you can handle it the biggest joke going.

  • HurtTurtle

    Am I the only one to whom it seems that all this rationalizing deliberately avoids the obvious? Instead of cherry-picking the easier sayings of Jesus in regard to prayer (e.g., “Ask and you shall receive”), why do these discussions never seem to refer to Christ’s less-ambiguous, less-equivocal declarations on the subject?

    Jesus said:

    “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you receive it, and you will.”

    “And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.”

    Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.”

    “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide; so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.”

    While apologists in discussions like this one typically apply all sorts of conditional contingencies (God will grant your request if it accords with his will, if it’s for the best, if it’s in keeping with his plan for you, if it serves some higher purpose, etc.), Jesus used the simple term “whatever.” Whatever you ask, it will be given to you. I don’t know what “whatever” means to you; but here’s what Merriam-Webster’s says it means:

    a : anything or everything that [take whatever you want]

    All rhetorical contortions aside, that defines a term that’s unconditional (if we agree to forgo self-evident hyperbole like: “Do you expect God to give you heroine or magical powers, if that’s what you ask for?” — we’re assuming that what’s requested in prayer is reasonable; e.g., a cure, a job, deliverance from oppression, etc.).

    This leads me, then, to ponder the conditions Jesus DID apply, not the ones that theologians, preachers, or bloggers see fit to apply. What were those conditions? Only two that I read: you have to ask in his name (whatever that means) and have faith that your petition will be granted.

    These two conditions are extremely problematic, particularly for those of us who experience the rejection of our requests. We’re forced to ask “How do I ask ‘in his name’? Am I doing it right?” and “Is it my fault my request isn’t granted, because my faith is insufficient? If I believe more strongly will my request be granted?”

    In all honesty, it should be no surprise to anybody — least of all to an omniscient God — if the protracted failure of prayer to secure what’s requested ultimately leads to other questions:

    “Does God love me, personally, or am I not one of the ‘chosen’ to whom Jesus referred?” (Again, let’s be honest for a change and concede the fact that when Jesus refers to “you” in his many promises, whether or not one decides that “you” refers to oneself, rather than to some circumscribed group, such as the inner circle of his disciples, is entirely a matter of interpretation.)

    “Does God reject me because I’ve committed some unforgivable sin and am now damned?”

    “Was Jesus telling the truth, or was he just a deluded man?”

    “Is prayer unanswered because there’s no God to answer prayers?”

    The latter two questions are especially troubling because, for Christians, they’re freighted with imputations of sinful infidelity and the horrific consequences obtaining thereto. One is damned just for thinking such thoughts, notwithstanding their complete reasonableness from a logical standpoint.

    I’m not posting this to suggest answers. I’m posting this in hopes of hearing your answers. At least, if you answer these questions, you’ll be required to delve a bit more deeply than into the shallows from which ineffectual boilerplate bromides and pious cliches are so readily plucked. I’d like to hear some convincing answers to some hard questions. I find this assertion by Mr. Zimak especially unsatisfying, to the point of being downright irksome:

    When we pray, are we truly lifting our hearts to Almighty God or are we
    looking to “get what we want”? If we really trust in His will, we should
    be satisfied with whatever answer we receive.

    This strikes me as a rank absurdity. If we don’t want what we’re asking for, why are we asking for it? This statement delegitimizes prayers of petition (with which the Psalms are filled to overflowing). And, again, if we’re supposed to be completely satisfied with our situation, then where’s the sense in asking for anything else?

    If one is going to take upon himself the task of explaining the ways of God to his fellow humans, the first requirement should be to make sense.

  • HurtTurtle

    Stop pretending to be a theologian and offering this suffering person your uninformed opinions that are likely to do more harm than good.

  • kemp

    I sincerely hope that God grants you your heart’s desires; and without delay.

MENU