I think one of the toughest challenges that Christians struggle with is the issue of unanswered prayer.  It raises doubts.  It leaves us wondering if there was something we could have done differently to change the outcomes.  Did we pray right?  Why does God not want to answer that prayer?  We pull out all the prayer scripture to remind God that he should answer.  But sometimes, in his sovereignty he doesn’t.  It could be because of selfish prayers and not in alignment with what is best.  But  mostly, we just don’t understand.

Some will make the claim that God always answers prayers.  If you pray for an outcome and it doesn’t happen, then that is essentially God saying “no”.  I recently got into a few discussions about this and one person was adamant that we cannot insist that God does not answer prayers; ‘God always answers’, this person says even suggesting that the contrary was a direct violation of scripture.  It sounds plausible.  It sounds like closure.  And I think it sounds dishonest.  It is a dismissive response that essentially has the impact of saying ‘God answered, get over it’.

Christians are commanded to pray.  Pray without ceasing. Pray fervently.  Pray for one another.  Pray with expectancy that God does hear.  Some common passages that support this expectancy (and ones I tend to rely on anyway)

  • Mark 11:24 – Therefore, I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted to you
  • Matthew 7:7-11 – Ask, and it will be given to you, seek and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.  Or what man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he?  If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him.
  • John 14:14 – If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it

Also, we’re told in James that the doubters do not receive (1:6-8) nor do requests with wrong motives (4:3).  More than just a perfunctory exercise, it is communication with the most high who has so graciously allowed access to his presence through Christ (Hebrews 4:16)

I do believe that God wants us to approach him with expectancy of a response, that he hears our prayers and will respond.  I believe that He delights in responding to our prayers.  Sometimes, prayers are answered immediately.  Sometimes, the response is years in the making.  Sometimes, the response does not come at all.   Why?  Because in his program he is working out something far greater than we can ever understand.

But to that person for whom the expectancy was met with an outcome contrary to the request, it is essentially being denied the request.  I think we should be honest about that and not force trite answers for the sake of preservation.  I think this is more than just an issue of semantics.  “No” is of little value in these cases and as I said before, is dismissive of this very real challenge.  What is meant to provide some type of solace, I believe can actually push the griever into further doubt.

So I would encourage desisting with the use of “no”.  It is no answer.  But rather, address the real issue that in God’s plan and program, he will sometimes have to deny the requests of his children for a much better outcome though at the present, it leaves us in bewilderment, sadness and in some cases disillusionment.  But he is good and deserves our trust regardless.

Here is an interesting article on the subject.

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

    26 replies to "“No” is No Response to Unanswered Prayer"

    • Jessie

      I think one of the greatest difficulties of unanswered prayer is the doubt about whether we are even heard or taken into account by God. If we received at least a clear answer that a request has been denied, we could then stop praying or worrying about it, knowing that it is not God’s will, and prepare ourselves to accept that reality. But sometimes God seems to be hidden, so that we don’t even have the comfort of knowing that our request has been heard and denied. We just get the unexpected outcome and feel the bewilderment. Having someone state the obvious “you have just gotten your answer and it is a no” doesn’t really help. We need some way to address the emotional void left by God’s apparent silence in denying the request.

    • Wayne in Frisco

      An interesting read with some good notes. From reading this, it is easy to see how a failure to systematize our theology can allow one doctrine to elevate above others and become a false doctrine. Looking only to the verses quoted herein, we see the heart of the Word/Faith error. An over-emphasis on prayer with expectancy coupled with a lack of understanding of God’s sovereignty. I am not saying that the author makes such a mistake here. I AM NOT saying that the author makes such a mistake here!

      God declares the ends from the beginning. While we should pray with expectancy, we should not fool ourselves into thinking that our prayers are in an effort to bring God’s will into submission to our own. On the contrary, we should recognize that prayer is to conform our wills to His. God has also declared the means by which He accomplishes His ends and prayer is one of those means.

      To determine whether or not our prayers are answered, we would have to first define what counts as an “answer”.

      Here’s a book worthy of consideration – http://beforegodbook.com/

    • Ed Kratz

      Wayne, no the author is NOT saying that 😉

      I think Romans 8:26-27 is a good foundation for prayer. You’re right, it is about aligning our will with his.

    • Wayne in Frisco

      Lisa, I think of that passage every time I pray. Without that promise, I would be too afraid to approach God on my own. It is certainly “a good foundation for prayer”.

    • Scotti

      “But rather, address the real issue that in God’s plan and program, he will sometimes have to deny the requests of his children”

      I’m sorry. But how is this NOT a “No?”

      I don’t have an issue with “No” being an answer. If He is sovereign, then how do we get to tell Him what answer we will accept from Him and what we will not?

      Yes, we are commanded to keep pursuing Him in prayer. But we’re also told to pray that “Your will be done.” Personally, I take comfort in His “no” answers. I never am sure when I have asked for something that ultimately is not good for me, or is against His plan, or what have you. Knowing that I can trust His judgement, no matter how persistent I am in asking wrongly, is a gift. Currently, I am wrestling with an issue that I *know* is not His will, yet it is where my heart is. Should I resist bringing it to Him anyway? I bring my heart and my hurt to Him, even when I know what His answer is. And for not it has to be “No.” That may not always be the case, and I may not always feel so conflicted. It is a way that I bring my will in line with His.

      He is my Father. I can accept “no” from Him. What I find puzzling is when I don’t get a clear answer at all. Then you keep pressing in, and seeking understanding. Or so it has been in my experience.

    • Ed Kratz

      Scotti, you said

      I’m sorry. But how is this NOT a “No?”

      I think Jesse’s comment (#2) most resonates with the sentiments behind this post. Specifically, he says

      “Having someone state the obvious “you have just gotten your answer and it is a no” doesn’t really help. We need some way to address the emotional void left by God’s apparent silence in denying the request.”

      That right there is the heart of the issue. There is a void and I think we do a disservice to the very real pain that silence can cause. By flippantly dismissing it as “God just said no” does not help us grapple with the reality of needing to reconcile the denials with God’s sovereignty.

    • Steven Moore

      Are we to be persuaded then that God _never_ says no? If not, how are we to discern between a No, a not yet, and general silence?

      Surely no one is suggesting that anyone be flippant and rush to judgement that silence == “no”, but that does not necessitate that there is never a no answer.

      Seems to me to go to the heart of ones epistemology and understanding of God – How does He answer? What does He answer, and how are _we_ to respond/interact with that answer or lack thereof?

      On the subject, I’ve enjoyed Gary Friesen’s book – Decision Making and the Will of God and found it to be very helpful.


    • Damon


      I do not necessarily agree that “No is not an answer to prayer”. Rather I hold that God does alway answer prayer. BUT, I believe He answers “Yes”, “No” or “Wait”. We cannot limit him to simply “Yes” and “No”. However, I submit that “No” is a legitimate answer. I know that God has told me “No” before. I did not recognize that answer as “No”, but in reflection, study and hindsight, I can very clearly see the “No”…and it was always exactly what I needed.

      I guess I would say that I believe God always answers prayers with just exactly the answer we need in that moment…

      I hope that was on point.

      Continued blessing to you and Michael and ‘the House’.

    • Minnow

      Lisa–Your title messes with your point.
      No is often an answer to prayers prayed outside His will. Silence is also an answer and not necessarily no. As others have said it can be a no or a wait but it can just as easily be a “Press in. Go deeper. What is really needed hear? Ask more questions. How can you be the answer you seek? Where are you standing and what is the first step you must take?” Culturally we want fast and easy but God is not stuck in our culture. And while I understand your concern that we not be too harsh with one another at times, “God answered. Get over it.” is exactly what I have needed to grow up a little.

    • WenatcheeTheHatchet

      If “no” is not an answer to prayer then was God’s answer to Jesus in Gethsemane something else? When Paul petitioned the Lord three times for the thorn in the flesh to be removed the answer was “My grace is sufficient for you for power is manifest in weakness.” David fasted in the hope that God would not let the child die and the child died. The continuing thorn in the flesh and two deaths would seem to suggest in the starkest possible terms that there are times in life (and death) where God not only does not answer “yes” but answers affirmatively “no”. The three young men expressed confidence that Yahweh was able to save them but also said “Even if He does not, we will not bow before the idol.”

    • Ed Kratz

      Guys, I think some of you are missing the point. I am not saying that God does not deny requests, or in essence says “no”. What I’m talking about is when those denials, or worse absence of any response, is identified as God always answers prayers and the answer is “no”. I think we should just be honest and call an unanswered prayer just that rather than avoiding the tension and putting every thing into a nice neat box. I don’t think it is helpful for the person that has to deal with unanswered prayer. Nor do I think it does justice to the fact that our finite minds are no match for an infinite and wise God.

    • Ed Kratz

      Minnow, good point. I think a better title would have been

      “‘No’ is No Response to Unanswered Prayer”

    • Blastocyst

      Of course, those who say God answers prayers with a “no,” are using what is called in Philosophy a merely punning, “semantic” word game. Normally of course, “anwering” a prayer means delivering what is prayed for; not just delivering a verbal response; like “no.”

    • JJ

      Of course God can answer no.

      Good parents often answer no.

      But I believe Lisa’s point is that we need to be more focused on the “Good Parent” than to flippantly tell someone that their prayers were met with a “no.”

      As I thought about the Scriptures, I first thought of Jesus pray that “this cup” might pass Him by. God’s will was done and the cup was not passed over. Point: Jesus was desirous of what He prayed for, but MORE desirous to see the Father’s will done.

      Then, with Paul, he prayed three times that a certain thorn in the flesh would be taken from him. It was not. The answer wasn’t SIMPLY NO, however. It was, “My grace is sufficient for you.” Point: when NO is the answer, it is because that Christ’s Grace is sufficient for us to be solidly in the Father’s good will.

      God Bless!

    • Stephen Satterfield

      Thanks for this thought provoking post!

      I did not see another way to think of “unanswered prayer”. Could it be that God is really answering our prayers with an answer that we are not expecting so we miss the answer and think that it is unanswered? I think of the disciples when they asked the Lord: “Will you restore the Kingdom now?” or something to that effect. I think it is clear that the disciples was thinking of the physical kingdom which would restore Israel and Jesus be the King in the same way as David. When Jesus died on the cross it looked like the answer was “NO”. It was not until after the resurrection that the disciples understood the answer to their prayer was “yes” but a different kingdom! What if the disciples was so “stuck” on their physical kingdom that they missed the idea of the spiritual kingdom? Do we do likewise? What does everyone think?

    • Jon Bartlett

      Interesting discussion! I can’t resist adding the slightly flippant additions to the range of answers to prayer that I heard recently. God may answer:

      1) Yes
      2) No
      3) Not yet
      4) Use your own brain that I gave you
      5) Mind your own business

      I can think of a good number of my prayers that come under (4) and (5)


    • Damon


      Thanks for clarifying…it is sometimes easy to miss the finer points (or ‘the’ point) in a written forum.

      I would like to ask if you could give an example of ‘unanswered’ prayer that others might define as an answered ‘no’?

      Let’s say that I am praying for the salvation of a friend who is not a Christian. I may pray for 40 years for this friend and he may not become a Christian and he dies. Is that an unanswered prayer? I don’t think it is. Because although God did not answer it as I would have liked or expected, there was an answer. The answer was not ‘no’. But as Wenatchee restates from Paul, God says “My grace is sufficient for you…” And I was being obedient to the burden God was putting on my heart to pray for this person.

      Now I would adamantly agree that there are things we pray for in this life that we will not understand the reasons for until the next life. God is sovereign and we do not know all He is doing in this world or the next. But I am not sure I can make the leap to “there is such a thing as ‘unanswered’ prayer”.

      Ultimately, I think you have to look at the purpose of prayer. If you are praying to ‘get an answer from God’, the perhaps you are expeting something you should not be expecting. Answers to prayer are a function of prayer, but I don’t believe they are the object of prayer.

    • Ed Kratz

      Damon, in the case of the scenario you present regarding praying for salvation of an unsaved friend and that does not happen, then I would say that is an unanswered prayer.

      I do agree with your last paragraph. I see prayer as alignment with the will and word of God. That will entail asking for changing our perspective. But in that process, we are told to bring our petitions to him and should make sure they are in alignment. If so, its God’s desires that we should seek.

    • JP


      You said (in comment #12) that it is more “helpful” for the one who prays (who does not seem to be getting an answer) to call it simply “unanswered” rather than to say that God answered with a “no.” From my perspective I think the opposite would be true. Prayer being “unanswered” means that all I’m getting is silence. And I know for myself, if I’m seeking God for something, I would much rather have an answer–any answer, even a “no” answer–than silence. Because what we ultimately want is not merely the object prayed for but God himself. Anything but cold silence.

      Perhaps the debate here just boils down to different opinions of what people find “helpful.”

    • Steve

      I agree that we shouldn’t just toss NO into the equation to keep from having to dig deeper into the situation when someone is in need, but I think that the fact that God will sometimes “deny the request” still means no. Great post and comments.

    • P.Paulraj

      Spot-on Lisa!Oh yes, God always answers our prayers by a seemingly ‘no’ at times though not. You rightly said, “God is working out something far greater than we can ever understand”

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    • Kathryn

      I’m 34 and still single 🙁 was told – not by god – that god called me to be single 🙁 — me to that NO!!! I don’t want that for my life – why do Christians speculate when it comes to prayer – it’s not up to them – so god calls people to be single only if they are single lol – then again I saud at beg not by god lol

    • Kathryn

      Jon – ur not god so stop telling us how god answers prayer – let god do it – thanks

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