What Is the Point of Praying if God Doesn't Answer?

Does God care about my prayers? Why does he seem to answer some things instead of others? While prayer can be a bit of a mystery, here are some encouraging thoughts to consider.

What Is the Point of Praying if God Doesn't Answer?

A quick, yet not so quick, story about answered prayer that I shared on my Facebook page last week.

About fifteen years ago, I was a poor Bible college student. Because I was studying to be a pastor, one of the tools of the trade was a good set of Bible commentaries. While I’m thankful for the many free resources available, the more technical series are often over a thousand dollars apiece. So I did what I’ve done many times: I prayed and asked God to provide one for a good deal.

Days later, I walked into a local bookstore in Cincinnati and noticed this little CD of Christian content for $15. It wasn’t marked well, so I wasn’t sure what was on it, but I took a chance. When I got home, I found several thousand dollars worth of books, including one of my favorite commentaries.

Gradually, I added it to my digital library. But in the fall of 2023, as I planned to write a daily devotional that walked readers through the Bible in a year, there were two additional sets I wanted to add. One was the New International Commentary, and the other was the New American Commentary series. I knew I’d use the New International to help me develop content for the first five books of the Bible and the New American for Judges through 2 Kings. So once again, I prayed.

Days into my work on Genesis, the New International series came on sale for a price I’d never seen before. It’s been a tremendous help. And over the past few months, as I wrote through the first several books of the Bible, I kept my eye on the New American series. Last Friday, as I prepared to work on Judges, I noticed the price had dropped just in time to the amount I’d budgeted. This was a small yet reassuring answer to prayer, and I thought I’d share a few thoughts to encourage you.

First, I know people can abuse the “I prayed, and God answered” line. I’ve seen this a thousand times. A ministry leader says, “I am certain X will happen in ten months.” It doesn’t, and then they make some excuse. But this doesn’t change the fact that God still cares about the “little needs” we bring to him and that he is still active in our lives.

The longer I’ve been a Christian, the less I care about God answering all the prayers the way I’d like, and the more I am just grateful whenever I sense his activity. I still pray big prayers, some I’ve been praying for decades. I’ve seen what I consider miraculous answers to prayer, and I’ve also experienced times when God didn’t do what I felt certain he would. These moments have been humbling. I’ve told Janan that sometimes it feels like I’ll pray for a waterfall, but God only sends a few drops. Admittedly, there were times I resented this. I’d spend weeks fasting and praying for a situation, only to see God change my perspective more than the situation itself.

All of this has brought me to this realization: More than answered prayer, I want to experience the presence of God. This is the prayer I have for my family.

Last week, I was working through the Book of Joshua, and in Joshua 5, we see this dramatic encounter between Joshua and a divine being. Joshua’s first question to him is: Are you for us or for our enemies?” The man’s response? “Neither.” This was a subtle way of saying, “Joshua, God isn’t interested in aligning with your mission. He’s more interested in you aligning with his.” As I meditated on that passage, I thought, “How fitting and relevant.”

Over my three decades of following God, I’ve spent more time than I’d care to admit asking him to bless my plans and my agenda and not nearly enough time trying to align with his activity. But this is something I’m trying to change. I’ve discovered that prayer is less about getting the answers I want and more about aligning my heart with God’s desires.

This is why I never make demands of God. I don’t pray prayers like, “God, do this or else.” I don’t say, “God, unless you make yourself perfectly clear, I am not going to take another step.” I just pray. I confess my sins. I pray for those in need. I ask God for lots of things and pray for lots of people. I’ve been talking to him about this book I want to publish and a house I’d like to buy. I ask him to bless our family. But more than all my requests, I want my heart to align with God’s desire for how he wants me and my family to live.

What about you? Are you struggling with unanswered prayer and feeling frustrated at God? Here is a thought. Try not to overthink the process and overfocus on the outcome you think is best. Who knows? Your prayers might be misguided. Instead, focus on getting to know God. Ask, yes. Beg, yes. Cry, yes. But never demand. Seek instead to be aligned so that God’s desires become your desires.

Do this, and you might be surprised by the ways he shows up in your life.