3 Reasons Why Your Prayers Aren’t Working

I’m really excited about today’s blog post because I think God wants to take a moment to re-up our prayer lives. It’s like the NASCAR drivers that have to make a pit stop to change out their tires. God wants us to take a pit stop so that we can recalibrate our prayer lives.

And the whole entire reason for this post stems from James 4:1-3. It reads:

  1. What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?
  2. You desire but you do not have, so you kill. You covet, but you cannot get where you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God.
  3. When you ask you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

Now before these verses sound like a horror story, James is telling us 3 common reasons why our prayers don’t work, which is a question that a lot of us have, right? We pray. We believe God to answer, but it seems like nothing is happening.

So James gives us the inside scoop on why that is and he starts by telling us that what we think is our issue is not always the real issue. Our real issue more times than not is the spiritual war we have going on inside of us.

Galatians 5:17 says, “For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other.”

And the truth is, we all have fleshly desires! That’s the process of sanctification of becoming more like Christ. God uproots these desires and helps us become more like Him. Sometimes, they can be as little as, I just want more peace and quiet because someone is getting on my nerves to as significant as I want more recognition and success.

If we’re willing to be honest, these fleshly desires can cause us to want possessions, things, money, status, and recognition more than we want Jesus. I’ve definitely been there! And without even realizing it, we take these fleshly desires into our prayer life. We pray from these places and then we wonder why our prayers aren’t working.

If this is you, I don’t want you to feel bad because this is something that we will continue to face as we grow and mature as Christians. So let’s touch on 3 reasons why your prayers aren’t working.

Reason #1: You Don’t Ask

The first reason why your prayers aren’t working is because you simply don’t ask. A lot of us are familiar with the King James version of this verse that says, “We have not because we ask not.” James is hitting on a really important point in that sometimes we want what other people have when really we could have it if we just asked God.

The problem for many of us is we’re either too scared, too busy, or too disappointed to take time to ask God for what we really want. We all know there is power in prayer. You wouldn’t be here reading this blog post if you didn’t think so.

But God wants us to approach Him confidently no matter the reason. With God, there is nothing too little or too small, and there is nothing too big or too hard. God wants to know us intimately. He wants to know what’s on our minds and how we feel. He wants a personal, intimate relationship with us and He wants to know the desires of our hearts, whether it’s big or small.

Hebrews 4:16 says, “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

Because God is a good father, He’s a God who answers prayer. It may not be the answer we’re looking for, but He does answer us and it is always what we need.

Reason #2: You Ask for the Wrong Things

The second reason why our prayers aren’t working is because sometimes, we’re asking for the wrong things. Now let me just say there’s nothing wrong with wanting nice things. In fact, James 1:17 tells us that every good and perfect gift comes from above, and God wants us to enjoy the life that He has given us.

The question that we have to ask ourselves is, do we want things more than we want Jesus? And is God really enough for us? For example, if God didn’t give you another thing, would a relationship with Him be enough?

I know it’s a really tough question to answer, but God is looking for people who desire Him and want Him more than what He can provide. He’s looking for people who want His heart more than they want His hand.

He’s looking for people who are willing to enter into their prayer time with Him and say, “God, I don’t need anything. I just want you. I want to tell you that I love you, that I adore you, that I’m grateful for you. I just want to sit here in your presence.”

That was the original design for creation. He created us to be in a personal relationship with Him and to be loved by Him.

And maybe we’re not asking for things, but what about our agendas? Do we seek God’s approval and invite Him into our plans? Are we willing to lay down our desires for what He wants?

Proverbs 19:21 says, “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.”

And the good news is: everything you think you want, God has better. Everything you think you desire, God has more. His promise to us is that He will do exceedingly abundantly above all that we can ask think or imagine (Ephesians 3:20).

Another question to ask yourself when it comes to your prayers is: if you got everything that you asked for in prayer, would it impact and affect other people? Would it build and help advance the Kingdom of God? These are all really tough questions, I know, but they help reveal where our hearts are.

Reason #3: You Asking with the Wrong Motive

As if it couldn’t get any deeper, the third reason James tells us that we may not be getting what we want in prayer is because we’re asking for the wrong reasons.

We all know when someone is coming to us with an ulterior motive! Everyone knows an opportunistic person in their life or people who try to get close because they want something.

Have you ever felt like somebody wanted to attach themselves to you because they liked what you had or what you could do, but they didn’t really want you as a person? God can feel that too!

Here are some examples of what asking with the wrong motive looks like:

  • Maybe you’re asking for increase, but it’s because you want to make it look like you’ve achieved a certain level of success
  • Or maybe you’re asking God to get into a college program, but it’s to prove yourself to other people rather than resting in God’s approval for you
  • Maybe you want a new job, but it’s because you don’t want to deal with the discomfort of staying rooted in where you are
  • Or maybe you want spiritual gifts, but it’s because you have a completely different motive and you want to seem like you’re a great spiritual leader

Not to play Jedi-mind tricks on you, but we must remember that God does not see us as we see ourselves. He doesn’t see people like man sees. God sees our hearts.

I know you’re probably asking, Hanha, how do I know what’s in my heart?

I’m so glad you asked because you can know what’s in your heart by simply asking God to reveal it to you. That’s why David asked God to search his heart in Psalm 139:3-4.

At the end of the day, God knows everything about us including our hearts. The 3 reasons why your prayers aren’t working discussed in this blog post shouldn’t make you feel intimidated. It shouldn’t be an excuse to avoid prayer. Instead, it is every reason why our prayer lives are so important.

When we open up ourselves and allow God to change our desires to match His, we align ourselves with Him. We grow in our relationship with Him. We get clear on what’s important. We have an eternal perspective and we also love people better.

Let’s Reflect

All of this might seem a bit overwhelming because it can be a lot to take in. Trust me, I’m right there with you! That’s why I’ve created some journal prompts that will help you process this type of conversation. So if you’re looking for a place to start, I encourage you to download the worksheet that’s attached at the bottom of this post.

Well, I hope that this post has encouraged you and as always, I would love to know which of the three reasons why your prayers aren’t working stood out to you the most. Let me know in the comments.

Meet Hanha!

Hanha Parham is a Christian author and speaker. Her personal mission is to help woman overcome fear and self-doubt so that they can confidently believe who God has called them to be. She holds a Masters in Divinity with a concentration in pastoral counseling and is currently pursuing her PhD in Christian leadership. Hanha has published two books, Jesus is Bae and The Confessions Project and she is passionate about teaching, equipping, and discipling the body of Christ. When she is not encouraging others or writing her heart out, she loves spending time with loved ones or exploring new coffee shops. 

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