Why Prayers Go Unanswered
PRAYER has become popular. There are now prayer hours, prayer days, prayer weeks, prayer months and prayer years. Widely acclaimed are the so-called “Holy Years,” when a whole year, as in 1950, is set aside for “special devotions and prayers, especially for world peace.” Also receiving wide acclaim is the World Day of Prayer, when people in over a hundred lands unite in prayer for peace. Prayers for the world and its rulers are heard at inaugurations, coronations, sessions of lawmaking bodies and political conventions. Clergymen, politicians, presidents and pope not only urge others to pray but pray themselves for the United Nations and the world. So much praying goes on for the world. Yet the grim fact is clear: the world is in worse shape than ever before. Thus prayers for the world go unanswered and even seem to backfire. What are we to think of such a confusing situation?
One of the first things that thinking people realize is that, instead of there being something wrong with God, there must be something wrong with the prayers. Indeed, one defect is glaring. This is the prayers’ inconsistency. Yes, prayers uttered by preachers of a religious faith often conflict with prayers uttered by other preachers of that same faith. Thus during the two world wars Protestant and Catholic clergymen, in both Germany and America, prayed for victory for their respective sides. Here were clergymen of the same faith presumably praying to the same God, yet their prayers were not of the same mind! They were horribly inconsistent. In effect the clergymen prayed for the destruction of their spiritual brothers. Yet Christ’s apostle declared: “I exhort you, brothers, through the name of our Lord Jesus Christ that you should all speak in ‘agreement, and that there should not be divisions among you, but that you may be fitly united in the same mind and in the same line of thought.” So when the wars ended, what were the people on the defeated side, those who had hoped in their clergy’s prayers, to think? Would not their faith in both prayer and God be shattered? Or at the very least would they not think that God was partial? Yet the apostle Peter said: “For a certainty I perceive that God is not partial.” So then there must be something wrong, not with God, but with the prayers.—1 Cor. 1:10; Acts 10:34, NW.
To understand just what is wrong and why prayers go unanswered we must turn to God’s Word, the Bible. There we find three reasons: (1) Failure to pray to the right One, (2) failure to pray in the right manner and (3) failure to pray on the right matters.
JEHOVAH—THE RIGHT ONE
If prayer is to be answered it must be directed to the right One. That right One is the God of heaven and earth. His name is Jehovah: “I am Jehovah, that is my name.” Of Jehovah it is written in the Psalms: “O thou that hearest prayer, unto thee shall all flesh come.” Only he can hear prayers, and all flesh that desire their prayers answered must direct them to Jehovah.—Isa. 42:8; Ps. 65:2, AS.
Many professed Christians direct their prayers to some “saint” or to Mary, the mother of Jesus. There is no Bible support for such a practice. It is praying to the wrong one. When the Son of God gave instructions on praying, only prayer addressed to Jehovah was approved: “You must pray, then, this way: ‘Our Father in the heavens, let your name be sanctified.’” Clearly, then, praying to statues or images is no part of true Christianity. Says the Bible: “Idols are silver and gold, the work of men’s hands. They have ears, but they hear not.” People “have no knowledge that carry the wood of their graven image, and pray unto a god that cannot save.” So prayer directed to any other than Jehovah is futile: “For all the gods of the peoples are idols; but Jehovah made the heavens.”—Matt. 6:9, NW; Ps. 115:4, 6; Isa. 45:20; Ps. 96:5, AS.
Not only must prayer be made to the right One but the one praying must be right, that is, he must be righteous, living in harmony with Jehovah’s written Word. At 1 Peter 3:12 (NW) the apostle explains: “Jehovah’s eyes are upon the righteous and his ears are toward their supplication, but Jehovah’s face is against those doing injurious things.” The rulers of this world, together with the clergy who have blessed their wars, have stained their hands with blood. Yet with outstretched arms they continue to pray to God for his blessing on their armies and navies. Says Jehovah: “So, when you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many a prayer, I will not listen. Your hands are full of bloodshed.”—Isa. 1:15 AT.
THE RIGHT MANNER
Now what does it mean to pray in the right manner? First of all it means to approach Jehovah in the name of Christ Jesus, who the Bible says is the “one mediator between God and men.” So can one expect an answer to his prayer if he does not ask it in Jesus’ name? Said the Son of God himself: “No one comes to the Father except through me.” Since Christ is the only mediator, the “one mediator,” there can be no more mediators between God and men. Hence, praying to Jehovah in the name of some “saint” or the mother of Jesus is unscriptural. It is praying in the wrong manner. The right manner is explained by Jesus: “If you ask anything in my name, I will do it.”—1 Tim. 2:5; John 14:6, 14, NW.
To pray in the right manner also means to pray with faith. There are the so-called “enlightened” clergymen of today who do not believe God’s Word to be inspired. Prayer, these preachers imply, is a psychological tonic; it enables one to maintain an inner calm and confidence. Such persons are totally devoid of faith. Their prayers receive no answer from God: “Without faith it is impossible to win his good pleasure, for he that approaches God must believe that he is and that he becomes the rewarder of those earnestly seeking him.” And many are the churchgoers who call themselves “Christian” but who deep down in their heart lack faith in God and his Word, the Bible. Of such persons the scripture says: “Let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from Jehovah.” So faith is truly vital. “All the things you ask in prayer, having faith,” said Jesus, “you will receive.”—Heb. 11:6; Jas. 1:7; Matt. 21:22, NW.
A prayer made in the right manner is one that stems from sincerity. “Out of sincerity,” said the apostle Paul, “we are speaking.” (2 Cor. 2:17, NW) But are the high-sounding prayers that are frequently heard really “out of sincerity”? An item in the St. Petersburg Times, July 27, 1952, under the title “The Rambler,” gives a revealing answer: “Often ministers and others who pray before an audience talk to the people in the assembly room rather than to God. This was especially true at the big political conventions that were held in Chicago. At the Republican convention one minister made a good political speech under the guise of a prayer. At the Democratic convention another minister made a speech rather than a prayer.” Yes, how often the minister who delivers the grandiloquent prayer in church is talking to gain the praise of men! The words do not come from the heart; they come from a manuscript. This praying for praise was also popular in Jesus’ day. His condemnation of the practice was sharp: “When you pray, you must not be as the hypocrites; because they like to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the broad ways to be visible to men. Truly I say to you, They are having their reward in full.”—Matt. 6:5, NW.
Many prayers are aimed not only for praise but at the purse as well! Using prayer as a means to fleece the flock was not uncommon in Jesus’ day either: “They are the ones devouring the houses of the widows and for a pretext making long prayers; these will receive a heavier judgment.” (Mark 12:40, NW) So all who pray with an ulterior motive are praying, not “out of sincerity,” but in an improper manner.
Does the right manner of prayer allow for “aids” such as prayer books and rosaries? Prayer with the use of prayer books and rosaries is mechanical, routine, repetitious. This tends to destroy sincerity. Not only that but nowhere in the Bible do we read of God’s servants using prayer aids. Certainly they have never used beads! On the contrary, history shows it was pagan religion that used rosaries. To this day the Tibetans employ prayer wheels and beads. They think that because of their huge volume of prayers they will be heard. So it is with many professed Christians today; they use the rosary and even devices for counting the prayers. One special device, which has eight patents on it, was recently invented by a man named Doherty. He developed the device because he found it difficult to say the rosary while working or driving his car, when he would be interrupted and lose his place on the circle of beads. How does the device work? As the user finishes each prayer he pushes a plunger near the top of the recorder and a pointer on a revolving disc points to the next bead. Inventor Doherty could have saved himself much trouble and learned how to pray in the right manner if he had only read the Bible, especially Jesus’ command at Matthew 6:7, 8, (NW):
“When praying, do not say the same things over and over again, just as the people of the nations do, for they imagine they will get a hearing for their use of many words. So, do not make yourselves like them.”
THE RIGHT MATTERS
Though one prays to the right One and even in the right manner, his prayer may not be answered! Why so? Because one must also pray on the right matters. To be answered, prayer must be in harmony with the divine will. All prayer not in harmony with Jehovah’s purposes, as revealed in his Word the Bible, will go unanswered. Take, for example, a subject people often pray for, the world. During the 1950 “Holy Year” some 3,000,000 pilgrims at Rome prayed for peace. Millions of others prayed along with the pope. But the “Holy Year” brought instead the Korean War and some ten other uprisings. Since these prayers fail so miserably, even when uttered by such dignitaries as the pope and President Eisenhower, there must be something wrong with praying for the world. Such prayers are clearly out of harmony with Jehovah’s purpose. That is why Jesus in a very unpopelike manner said to his Father: “I make request, not concerning the world, but concerning those you have given me.”—John 17:9, NW.
The reason that Jesus did not pray for this world is that it is controlled by “the god of this system of things,” Satan the Devil, and it is doomed to destruction. Chapter after chapter in the Bible foretells a day of Jehovah’s vengeance, when he executes judgment against this wicked world. Time and time again the book of Isaiah tells of the destruction of this world. Isaiah 28:22 (AS) is an example: “A decree of destruction have I heard from the Lord, Jehovah of hosts, upon the whole earth.” How futile, then, to pray for this world when Jehovah, the Almighty God, has decreed its utter destruction! Jehovah is not going to patch up this world. It is rotten to the core. It is hypocritical. It does not obey God’s commands. So God’s way to world peace is not through any kingdom or league of kingdoms of this world but is through a new world: “Behold, I create new heavens and a new earth.”—2 Cor. 4:4, NW; Isa. 65:17, AS.
Instead of sobbing about the present anguish of nations and praying for its abatement, true Christians see that these turbulent times, indeed such calamities as famines, earthquakes and wars, are fulfillment of Bible prophecy pertaining to the sign of the “last days,” hence they rejoice, as Jesus said they should. (Luke 21:28) They rejoice because they know deliverance to a new world is at hand, that this present evil world must end in that “great tribulation such as has not occurred since the world’s beginning until now, no, nor will occur again,” namely, the war of Armageddon. This is Jehovah’s decree. When Jehovah decreed the fall of Jerusalem because of the Israelites’ unfaithfulness, he told Jeremiah not to pray for the people: “Pray not thou for this people, neither lift up cry nor prayer for them, neither make intercession to me; for I will not hear thee.” So likewise praying for this destruction-bound world is useless. It would be contrary to this explicit command of Christ’s beloved apostle: “Do not be loving either the world or the things in the world.”—Matt. 24:21, NW; Jer. 7:16, AS; 1 John 2:15, NW.
Still people continue to pray for “things in the world”; then they wonder why their prayers are not answered. Prayers for politicians, governments, victory at sports, armies and navies and the United Nations are prayers for “things in the world.” There are those who pray for great wealth, prosperity and power. These persons ask amiss. Their motives are all wrong: “You do ask, and yet you do not receive, because you are asking for a wrong purpose, that you may expend it upon your cravings for sensual pleasure.”—Jas. 4:3, NW.
Those who want their prayers answered must now be diligent to learn proper prayer. How? Study and heed God’s Word. Show love for Jehovah by obeying his commands. Voice petitions that are in harmony with his purpose of a peaceful new world. Pray on matters authorized by Jehovah himself. Some of these matters that God’s Word authorizes are for food, for forgiveness, against temptation, to know Jehovah’s will, for knowledge, for family and for the destruction of the wicked. So pray to the right One, pray in the right manner and pray on the right matters, and you will find that God does indeed answer prayers and that he can “do more than superabundantly beyond all the things we ask or conceive.”—Eph. 3:20, NW.