(see part one here–the first reason for unanswered prayer is unbelief; the second is disobedience)
The third reason for unanswered prayer is wrong motives. While chastising the church for her friendship with the world, James writes “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” (Jas. 4:3) It’s an amazing part of our sinfulness–that we can use prayer, a gift that should be uniquely spiritual, and use it in worldly ways!
Like James’ original audience, we ask God for things all the time. But God’s Word would have us answer the question, “Why?” Why are you asking for this? Because a surefire path to unanswered prayer is to ask with worldly motives. Consider the following motives that may drive our prayers:
- Wanting more than we need to do God’s will: Jesus taught us to pray for our daily bread, not our daily rack of lamb. Solomon shows us the right path: ...give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, “Who is the LORD?” or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God. (Pro. 30:8-9; see 13:25)
- Keeping up with the neighbors: Are you praying for that new job or raise so you can hold your head tall at your next high school reunion?
- Self-promotion: Am I praying for our church to grow because my heart is set on Jesus’ kingdom or because it will make me look good?
Bad motives lead to unanswered prayer. But here’s the catch: have you ever tried to really examine your own motives? They’re difficult to pinpoint and even harder to change. So once again we go to God, asking him to “search me…and know my heart; try me and know my thoughts!” Only God can fully diagnose our motives and only His Spirit can change them.
Related, the fourth reason is not being centered on God. Psalm 37 puts the formula to us so wonderfully and simply: Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Ps. 37:4) The Lord’s Prayer teaches us to begin our prayers with our eyes and hearts set on God’s glory and kingdom. How do you begin your prayers? Praying without praise is like trying to make a cake without any sugar. Do you skip straight to the request like you’re sitting on Santa’s lap?
The Puritan Thomas Manton wrote that “self-love may lead us to prayers, but love for God excites us to prayers.” Just because we pray doesn’t mean we aren’t self-centered! Beginning and under-girding our prayers with continuous praise to God not only glorifies Him but also puts us in the right state of humility before Him.
Please understand that being God-centered doesn’t mean we pretend ignorance of our situation; surely the psalms teach us that saints don’t wear blinders to reality. But the psalms also lead us to sing and pray with (1) submission to God’s perfect plan and (2) a concern for God’s glory that rises far above a concern for our own comfort or even our lives. So we must be centered on God–which isn’t something to accomplish in the few minutes before we pray. No, this is a lifetime of reorienting ourselves, putting our minds and hearts and lives in orbit around our Savior.
[to be continued]