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Why Do Some Prayers Go Unanswered?
God is very approachable. Just as a loving father is glad to have his children speak freely with him, Jehovah God welcomes our prayers. At the same time, like any wise father, God has good reasons for not answering some requests. Are his reasons mysterious, or does he reveal something about them in the Bible?
The apostle John explains: “This is the confidence that we have toward him, that, no matter what it is that we ask according to his will, he hears us.” (1 John 5:14) Our requests must be in harmony with God’s will. Some pray for things that are clearly not God’s will—to win the lottery, for example, or to win a bet. Others pray with improper motives. The disciple James warns against such abuse of prayer, saying: “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.”—James 4:3.
Imagine, for example, that both sides in a soccer game pray to win. God can hardly be expected to respond to such conflicting prayers. The same can be said about modern-day warfare when opposing sides pray for victory.
Those who show contempt for God’s law pray in vain. Jehovah once felt compelled to say to hypocritical worshippers: “Even though you make many prayers, I am not listening; with bloodshed your very hands have become filled.” (Isaiah 1:15) The Bible says: “He that is turning his ear away from hearing the law—even his prayer is something detestable.”—Proverbs 28:9.
On the other hand, Jehovah will always listen to the sincere prayers of worshippers who are doing their best to serve him according to his will. Does that mean, though, that he will grant their every request? No. Consider some Scriptural examples.
Moses had an exceptionally close relationship with God; yet, he too had to ask “according to [God’s] will.” Contrary to God’s stated purpose, Moses begged for permission to enter the land of Canaan: “Let me pass over, please, and see the good land that is across the Jordan.” But previously, because of his sin, Moses was told that he would not enter that land. So now, instead of granting Moses’ request, Jehovah told him: “That is enough of you! Never speak to me further on this matter.”—Deuteronomy 3:25, 26; 32:51.
The apostle Paul prayed for relief from what he called his “thorn in the flesh.” (2 Corinthians 12:7) This “thorn” may refer to a chronic eye affliction or to the constant harassment of opposers and “false brothers.” (2 Corinthians 11:26; Galatians 4:14, 15) Paul wrote: “I three times entreated the Lord that it might depart from me.” However, God knew that if Paul continued preaching despite this nagging “thorn in the flesh,” it would clearly demonstrate God’s power and Paul’s implicit trust in Him. So rather than grant Paul’s request, God told him: “My power is being made perfect in weakness.”—2 Corinthians 12:8, 9.
Yes, God knows better than we do whether granting certain requests is in our best interests. Jehovah always responds for our good, in harmony with his loving purposes recorded in the Bible.