Why Doesn’t God Answer Prayer? (Part 1)

Where is God When you are happy and turn to him with gratitude and praise, you will be—or so it feels—welcomed with open arms. But go to him when your need is desperate and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence. You might as well turn away. (C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed)

If God is not going to answer prayer like we want, then why even pray?

When Jesus taught the Lord’s prayer in Luke 11:1-4, it seems that he anticipates that question because he follows the prayer with this little story. Jesus’ disciples asked Him to teach them about prayer. Jesus responds by telling them what to pray, how to pray, and why to pray. In the next three blogs we’ll look at Jesus’ teaching on prayer.

Learning What to pray

Jesus did everything by imitation. It was the Lord’s praying that led to the Lord’s prayer. So the disciples were asking, “Lord, teach us to pray like you pray.” His simple response was what we call the Lord’s Prayer:

“Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread,
and forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
And lead us not into temptation.” (Luke 11:2-4)

Learning How to Pray

Then Jesus explains how we are to pray through a simple parable we call The Friend at Midnight.

And he said to them,

“Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’? I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs. (Luke 11:5-8)

Jesus gives two applications to this story. First, pray with boldness. What is translated “impudence” in the ESV is simply unfettered audacity. The point is to pray with incredible boldness. Then Jesus makes His second application when He says,

“And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” (Luke 11:9-10)

The second lesson is to pray with persistence. Prayer then, by definition, is bold and it is persistent. However, this practical help raises a horrific question:

Is God really like that!?

Is Jesus teaching us that we must pray and pray and pray because God is really annoyed with us? Jesus only tells two parables on prayer, and they both have the same theme. Is His point really that you have to bug God to get what you want? He just commanded His disciples to pray for daily bread, but here is the fine print: God does not want to give it to you. He resents it. It bothers him. You might get it, but only if you wear Him out about it and pester Him until He does it just to get you off His back. God’s muteness probably means He’s also deaf – so yell.

Learning Why to pray

If this is what Jesus is teaching then we are lost; doomed to a life of trying to figure out God’s breaking point in an effort to push Him to finally give what we want. But none of that is the case. Jesus now explains why we pray that way:

“What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:11-13)

When my son asks me for milk I don’t give him poison. I know not to do that. And if, being a sinful father, I know to give a good gift to my children, how much more can the Father give?!

Now we see the point. The point is not that God is like this “friend” at midnight. The point is that this is exactly and precisely what God is NOT like.

The friend said, don’t bother me. God says come to me.
The friend said, I cannot. God is holding a trillion stars in His hand, managing all global affairs while keeping the earth orbiting on its axis and you have His undivided attention.
The friend said, “My children are more important than you are”. God says, “You are my child”.
The friend said, I am on the inside and I can’t get out. God says I will meet you where you are.
The friend was trying to get him to go away. God is trying to get us to come close.
This is not a parable of comparison; it’s a parable of contrast. God is the opposite of the friend. He will not belittle you. So now we see Jesus’s point,

Prayer is a response to the character of God. God is good: so pray boldly. God is good: so pray persistently. Our response to the goodness of God is to pray with tenacity.

Pray about everything. Pray with tenacity and persistence because God is a very good God.

So now the question is, what do you want? Do you respect God enough to believe He can answer it? Are you willing to keep asking until you receive? Pray with tenacity because God is a very good God.

This parable still leaves me with a question, “Why does God not answer my prayer?” We will deal with that in tomorrow’s post.


This blog is adapted from the sermon “The Unfriend at Midnight”. Click here for the audio and video of this sermon.


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