“Why won’t God answer? Is He not listening?”
How many of us have asked this question, whether openly or in secret? There’s something so disconcerting when we pray earnestly, confidently, possibly desperately, and yet it seems to go unanswered.
God is silent. Or so it seems.
Paul Tautges, in his new book, Brass Heavens, examines several reasons why our prayers may go unanswered. The result is a book that serves as much as a treatise on sin as it does on one of prayer.
This is important for us to keep in mind as our sin does directly affect our prayer life—because Christians have a real, living, active relationship with our Father in Heaven, we can expect what we do to either strengthen or weaken that relationship.
So what are the causes of unanswered prayer? Tautges identifies six reasons why we might not receive an answer to our prayers:
The nurturing of pet sins. “To establish, maintain, or permit the existence in your life of any avenues by which your flesh could seek to fulfill its rebellious desires—this is the cherishing of pet sin,” he writes. “By this you will guarantee the short-circuiting of your prayers. This effort to live two different lives—one in which you cherish God and another in which you cherish sin—is the very definition of being double-minded.”
Neglecting our responsibilities of conflict resolution and offering forgiveness. “Mishandling either area can severely damage not only our horizontal relationships with others, but also our familial relationship with the Father and consequently the effectiveness of our prayers.”
Religious sins. “There is an outward righteousness that is legitimately connected to the true inner righteousness of Christ imputed to us by the Father,” he writes. “But there is also an apparent outward righteousness … of independence and self-justification, a false righteousness that presumes to possess an inherent, self-contained goodness—something only God possesses in and of himself.”
Being an inconsiderate husband. “To live in ignorance of a wife’s spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical condition, or to be uncaring about what it means to lead and love her as Christ does the church, this is disobedience to God.”
Stubborn pride. “Our self-sufficient pride, our persistent refusal to listen and yield to God, can close his ears to our prayers,” Tautges writes. “When we willfully choose to be stubborn against God’s correction, we become slaves to our own pride and our fellowship with God is interrupted.”
It’s easy to see the connection between all of these sins—they’re interpersonal and often based upon a higher view of self than we ought to have. When our sin causes our prayer to go unanswered, it’s often because we do not judge ourselves with right judgment (John 7:24). We look at our appearance or we look at what others have done (legitimately or otherwise) and too often respond self-righteously.
We too easily become like the Pharisee who prayed, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men” (Luke 18:11).
Is it any wonder God would find that offensive?
This is a constant struggling point in my own own life. There are certain people I find myself looking down upon far too easily—sometimes because of questions about competency in professional areas and others because there’s just something about them that drives me up the wall—and struggling to figure out how to deal with the conflicts at the heart of the matter. But too often, instead of taking my concerns to God in prayer, I’ve let that frustration fester, and waste an opportunity to grow in my faith.
Why do I—and presumably many others—do that? I suspect it’s because I and those like me often forget the most critical reason for unanswered prayer:
It is to test our faith.
God often leaves our prayers unanswered so that we might become increasingly conformed to the image of his Son. Unanswered prayer is a gift from God for our growth—in holiness and in every other good and godly way—and sometimes it has nothing to do with whether we are hanging on to any of the sins described [previously].
When God appears to not answer our prayers, it isn’t necessarily because we’re guilty of a particular sin—the lack of an answer isn’t intended as a chastening act of discipline, but as a means of drawing us closer to Him. “Our faith is our life, and the status of our faith is the most important thing about us,” Tautges writes. “The tests of faith that God sends our way are reminders to keep us focused on what is true and real and primary.”
Of everything Tautges says about unanswered prayer in Brass Heavens, this surely is the most critical for us to remember: prayers may go unanswered not because God is displeased us, but because He loves us enough to say “no.” And this truly is a gift, whether we realize it or not.
This testing of our faith is an opportunity for us to grow not only in patience, but in perseverance. God delights in our asking, and He delights in giving good gifts to His children—and His good gifts will always be those that transform us increasingly into the image of Christ.
While it may be a faux pas for me to review Brass Heavens—after all, I’ve been published twice by Cruciform Press and also work behind the scenes with them on some of their marketing efforts—the subject is one too important to not talk about. Tautges’ analysis of the reasons for unanswered prayer is sound, thoughtful and, most importantly, hopeful. Give this book your careful attention. You won’t regret it.
Title: Brass Heavens: Reasons for Unanswered Prayer
Author: Paul Tautges
Publisher: Cruciform Press (2013)