God is infinite. And so our prayer potential is without limits! Often, though, we don’t experience what we desire when we pray. Why? Could I be self-sabotaging my prayers? It always comes down to our heart …
Thomas Brooks said, “O the power of private prayer! I hath a kind of omnipotency in it.”
We’re not God (all-powerful), but yes, we kind of become “omnipotent” in prayer as we partner with God!
I think we can say prayer—conversing and interacting with the Creator—has unlimited potential.
Why? Simply because authentic prayer is conversing with the Creator who has no limits! And we can grow in our prayer effectiveness.
But what do we do when we experience unfulfilled prayers … when we pray for something important, something we passionately desire, and no resolution seems to come?
Prayer Is Not Just a Transaction with God—He’s Invested in Our Transformation
The #1 reason a prayer is not answered is that it’s never prayed! Simple. And yet a big loss.
“You do not have because you do not ask” (James 4:2).
If we are asking and not receiving (at least yet), we’ll want to explore the personal issues of steadfastness, the state of our mind and how we’re doing with relationships.
You see, prayer is not just a transaction with God. He’s interested in our growth. Prayer transforms us! In a real sense, we become the prayer.
- Often we quit too quickly. Jesus coaches us to be steadfast in prayer. Explore the parable of the widow before the wicked judge in Luke 18:1-8. Also the friend who relentlessly requests in the midnight hour in Luke 11:5-8. They received because of their relentless faith. They just would not quit! It’s tragic to fade away short of complete victory.
- James writes we should not expect to receive anything from the Lord if we doubt. Double-mindedness kills prayer effectiveness (James 1:5-8). We must guard the state of our mind so that it’s sincere and single in focus. Strong belief is key … we receive it from Jesus.
- And what about unforgiveness? Don’t be casual about this—it’s a prayer killer! We almost always underestimate the value God places on relationships. Jesus hit the issue of unforgiveness immediately after saying our faith could move mountains. “Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone …” (Mark 11:25). He also taught: “Leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering (Matthew 5:24).
There’s another key reason our prayer may be short-circuited … we could be “asking with wrong motives.”
Asking with Wrong Motives—a Failure of Tuning the Heart
Like a musical string out of tune, our heart may not be resonating with the Father’s heart.
You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures (James 4:3).
Our prayers are not all they can be when our inner condition is in a state of dissonance with the Father … instead of harmonious.
What are we moving toward? Is it Jesus and His dream—and our Life-Story swept up in the Beautiful Story?
Or are there areas of our heart which still harbor an affection for the world?
James is strong!
You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God (James 4:5).
As we tune our heart to things above, our prayer life becomes more fruitful
It’s not that the Creator does not want us to experience pleasure. David wrote, “You will make known to me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; In Your right hand there are pleasures forever” (Psalm 16:11).
We find our highest pleasures in life in God and in his Life-Design for us. If we try to pray for things just to pursue our own pleasures, apart from God and his best design for our life, then we are asking with “wrong motives.”
The New King James translates James 4:3 as we do not receive because we “ask amiss.”
What’s Really Going on Deep Within?
Prayer is highly relational. Conversation. Partnership.
It’s not just a transaction—something we request or say and then receive. Authentic prayer is grounded in relationship.
Jesus said, if we dwell in Him, and His message lives in us (and so we’re walking with the Lord in authentic relationship), we can ask anything we wish, and it will be done for us (see John 15:7).
An almost-too-much-to-believe promise!
We have to be honest with ourselves though. At our core, what is the orientation of our heart?
If we are dwelling in Christ and his message is living in us (and this is a growing process), we will not love the world more than Father God.
Trying to Love Both the Father and the World
“Don’t love the world’s ways. Don’t love the world’s goods. Love of the world squeezes out love for the Father. Practically everything that goes on in the world—wanting your own way, wanting everything for yourself, wanting to appear important—has nothing to do with the Father. It just isolates you from him. The world and all its wanting, wanting, wanting is on the way out—but whoever does what God wants is set for eternity” (1 John 2:15-17 MSG).
Loving the world in some way is our futile attempt to experience authentic life apart from Christ.
We can ask wrongly. This is what James wrote.
Is it possible to ask God for good things, even things we’re meant to experience and possess … and yet not receive because our heart is still leaning too much toward the world?
It’s an authentic request, but if it’s coming from a heart which is wrongly oriented, we could be self-sabotaging our prayers.
Are we trying to pursue good things … authentic desires we’re meant to live in, and yet we’re missing out because we’re not living accurately?
Jesus may use the delay to get our attention. He knows we will not be authentically happy unless we are on a growth curve where more and more of our heart is yielded to Him.