God on Mute: Dealing with Unanswered Prayer

Have your prayers ever gone unanswered? Do you ever wonder if God is listening? If you have ever prayed, then you have faced the problem of unanswered prayer at one time or another.

We often hear that God answers all our prayers. Sometime he answers “yes,” sometimes “no,” and other times “later.” There is a lot of truth to that, but when we talk about unanswered prayer, we are usually talking about the prayers that God answers “no” or “later.” Why does God answer this way? Are there good reasons that we can understand?

Scot McKnight over at Jesus Creed has been posting on a new book called God on Mute: Engaging the Silence of Unanswered Prayer, by Pete Greig. I have not read the book yet, but I have already benefited from Scot’s summary of the main points. Here are sixteen reasons Greig suggests that God sometimes does not answer prayer:

  1. Common sense: Am I asking God to do something stupid, meaningless, or illogical?
  2. Contradiction: Are my prayers likely to be conflicting with those of someone else?
  3. Laws of nature: Are my prayers potentially detrimental to the natural order or to the lives of others?
  4. Life is tough: Am I expecting God to spare me from stuff that’s just common human experience because of the Fall?
  5. Doctrine: Does my prayer reflect God’s character and His promises in the Bible? Might it be out of line with His will for my life?
  6. Second best: Although my desire in prayer is for something good, is it possible that God has something even better in store for me?
  7. Motive: Are my prayers essentially just selfish?
  8. Relationship: Is there an opportunity here for going deeper in my relationship with God?
  9. Free will: Am I expecting God to override someone’s free will?
  10. Influence: Am I trying to exercise ungodly power over a person’s life in prayer?
  11. Satanic opposition: Is my prayer in line with God’s will but experiencing specific demonic resistance?
  12. Faith: Do I really believe that God can do this? Am I out of my league?
  13. Perseverance: Do I want it enough to keep praying?
  14. Sin: Honesty time: Is there some secret sin you need to confess?
  15. Justice: Am I actively seeking to express God’s love for the poor?
  16. None of the first 15: Am I trying to find answers where I need instead to trust?

I think this is an excellent list worthy of study and reflection in relation to our prayers. What do you think?

Note: You can access Scot’s full comments on the book here:


  1. Barrie says:

    Hi Pastor,

    Thanks for printing Scot’s 16 reasons on why God does not answer prayer. I found them very enlightening. I am attending a small group study and we are studying that subject at the present time. Many many times I feel that we think that God is not answering our prayers but in fact He is Answering them in His own way. We need to remember that God’s time is perfect. Our human nature is always expecting things to be done on our schedule and in our own way. God has other plans. Our task is to try and understand his plans for us. I do also believe that he does delay his answers to us to encourage our total trust in Him.

  2. Bethany says:

    Another great book on this topic is by Philip Yancey – “Prayer: Does it Make Any Difference?”. Yancey uses Scripture, and the stories of many faithful believers who wondered why God “wasn’t” answering their prayers. No easy, neat, answers, but a lot of incentive to focus on why we pray, how we pray, and what the Bible has to say about prayer.

    It was personally very meaningful for me.

  3. CMN says:

    Thanks for posting that, Pastor Ray. I think I’ll print it and tuck it in my prayer journal. ( ;

  4. Ray Fowler says:

    I just picked up the book yesterday and started reading it last night. Greig shares very honestly about the struggle he faced when he and his wife discovered that she had a large brain tumor and how this prompted a crisis of faith in his own prayer life.

  5. Sharon Gamble says:

    Hey Ray,

    This was excellent. I liked reading the list. My thoughts, when I come to God with a request, are these: He is my Father, and He tells me to ask Him. He tells me I often have not because I ask not. So…I ask. Then, I trust Him to answer as He sees best. If I don’t get a “yes”, it no longer rocks my faith the way it used to. My job is to ask, as I understand things. He’s my Father. His job is to take care of me and to answer with the information that He has – which is vastly superior to my own. This has helped me not be disappointed when I haven’t seen the answer I wanted. However, I have to say, God says “yes” a whole lot!! I am grateful for both the “yeses” and the “no’s”.

  6. david says:

    how about god doesn’t exist and that he is imaginary. That one answer seems as good as any

  7. Ray Fowler says:

    David – I guess that would provide a neat and tidy answer to the problem of unanswered prayer, but it leaves unanswered other questions relating to the existence of the universe, the meaning of life, the place of morality, the origin of the Bible, and the resurrection of Jesus. Plus it doesn’t deal with the “problem” of answered prayer!

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