Unanswered Prayers

Have you ever wondered why it feels like so many of your prayers go unanswered? How often have you prayed for something and nothing seems to change or happen based upon your clearly articulated requests? If we take a moment to look at the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6, you may have a better idea for why some of your prayers are not answered in just the way you wanted. Let’s start with some basics.

The Lord’s Prayer has six petitions. 3 “Your” and 3 “Our”. The first three focus our attention upward to God. 1) Your Name 2) Your Kingdom 3) Your Will. The second three focus our attention on our needs. 1) Our Bread 2) Our Forgiveness 3) Our Deliverance from Temptation.

9 “This, then, is how you should pray:
“‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, 10 your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us today our daily bread. 12 And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’

Seeing this order helps us as we think about what it means to specifically pray for our daily bread. We have to pray the “our” petitions in view of and through the first three “your” petitions.

When we are praying for “our daily bread,” it is easy to confuse our needs and wants. Daily bread has to do with the necessities of life, not the luxuries (that does not mean it is wrong to enjoy things beyond the necessities, but we have to be careful not to confuse the two in our prayers for daily bread). That is why we must start with the first petition, “Hallowed be Your name.” Whenever we hallow or make something ultimate in our lives other than God, we will begin to confuse our wants as needs. Hallowing God means we keep things in their proper place. When we don’t hallow God and make something else central to our lives, we will tend to pray self-centered prayers. James puts it this way,

You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures (James 4:2-3).

Whenever we confuse our wants for needs, our prayers will become self-centered. They also will not be about his kingdom but our own.

When I was a young parent, I would find myself praying that God would change my children. On the surface, that doesn’t sound all that bad. In fact, it can seem pretty godly. But whose kingdom was driving that prayer? Sometimes it was God’s, but many times it was my kingdom. “God, change my childrens so that my life won’t be so difficult.” “God, change my children so my reputation is not harmed.” Those prayers sound like I am praying with my own pleasures in mind.

What about you? What seemingly good things are you praying about, but sometimes with your own pleasures and glory in view, not God’s? “God, work in my spouses’ life.” “God, make this week’s sermon really good.” “God, make everything at work go just right so that I can relax a little and enjoy an early retirement.” “God, take this struggle with temptation and sin away so that I can be free.” “God, remove this suffering from my life so that I can really glorify you.”

What are you praying for today? Are you praying at all? Take a careful look at your “Our” petitions and examine them a bit more closely. You might find, as I have, that your perspective needs to be aligned more clearly by hallowing God and his kingdom more than your own.

If you find that difficult, remember that Jesus prayed, “Not my will but your will, Father” so that we might be rescued from the tyranny of our self-centeredness.

Copyright © 2015 Timothy S. Lane


Tim Lane

Dr. Timothy S. Lane is the President of the Institute for Pastoral Care and has a counseling practice in Fayetteville, GA. He is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), having been ordained in 1991 and a member of Metro-Atlanta Presbytery. Tim has authored Living Without Worry: How to Replace Anxiety with Peace, and co-authored How People Change and Relationships: A Mess Worth Making. He has written several mini-books including PTSD, Forgiving Others, Sex Before Marriage, Family Feuds, Conflict, and Freedom From Guilt.

He has experience in both campus ministry (University of Georgia, 1984-1987) and pastoral ministry where he served as a pastor in Clemson, SC from 1991 until 2001. Beginning in 2001 until 2013, he served as a counselor and faculty at CCEF in Philadelphia, PA (Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation). Beginning in 2007, he served as its Executive Director until 2013.

In 2014, Tim and his family re-located to his home state, Georgia, where he formed the non profit ministry the Institute for Pastoral Care. His primary desire and commitment is to help pastors and leaders create or improve their ability to care for the people who attend their churches.  For more information about this aspect of Tim's work, please visit the section of this site for the Institute for Pastoral Care. He continues to write, speak and travel both nationally and internationally. Tim is adjunct professor of practical theology at several seminaries where he teaches about pastoral care in the local church.