Author Greg Koukl
Published on 11/27/2023
Christian Living

Isn’t God Faithful Even if He Doesn’t Give Me What I Prayed For?

Greg and Amy respond to the idea of saying God is “faithful” when he gives us what we prayed for, offering some alternative ways we can respond to answered prayer that don’t convey the idea that God’s faithfulness depends on his giving us everything we ask for.


Question: I meet Christians that say, “God is faithful. He answered my prayer and granted my request.” But isn’t God always faithful? Isn’t a denial or a no answer an answer, too?

Greg: God is always faithful. What is he faithful to do? That’s the question. It’s similar to the question “Does Jesus work?” Yes. Jesus works for what he was meant to work for. What did you have in mind? So, the same concept is in play here. God is faithful, but does faithfulness mean that God is going to give us everything we ask for? Certainly not. That would be lack of faithfulness if the things we ask for were not good in the long term.

There is much that we ask for that is not good because we have a different end in mind than God does. The end we have in mind frequently is our personal comfort, our personal ease, and our personal prosperity. We want relief from pain and difficulty. We want pleasure and benefit to befall us. I get it. I’m not going to say I never prayed in that way. But remember that James says you have not because you ask not, and then, when you do ask, you ask with wrong motives to spend it on your pleasures. God is not that concerned about our pleasures. Sorry, best-life-now guys. He’s not. He is concerned about our character and developing us in virtue because virtue is what we take with us when we go to Heaven. Physical exercise profits little, but godliness is a means of great gain, for it holds a promise, not only for this life, but also for the life to come.

Here is God’s promise to us—and a lot of times people truncate this passage in Romans 8. They should keep reading: “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren” (Romans 8:28–29). The way that God works all things for our good is to use them to conform us to the image of Christ—to make us like Jesus. So, this is the way we need to understand God’s purposes in our lives.

Paul also says in Romans 8:18, “The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” He says in 2 Corinthians 4:17 that “momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison.”

So, why pray away the afflictions when the afflictions are the things that God has designed to give us something better than we’re praying for? Now, having said that, I’m not saying we shouldn’t try to pray away the afflictions. I do it all the time, but because God is faithful, he is not going to answer all of those prayers all of the time. He may let us live in the afflicted state for a greater benefit, and that’s what we must trust him for, because he’s faithful.

Amy: You know, Greg, I had to chuckle a little bit when I saw this question because I just had a conversation with somebody about this. This is something that really bothers me when I hear people say it, and I’m going to take this in a practical direction right now. Imagine you are praying desperately for something. Imagine that you and your spouse are trying to conceive a child, and you can’t get pregnant, and you are praying, and you are praying, and you are praying, and then someone comes along and says, “Oh. Guess what! I’m pregnant. God is faithful!” What has that person just said? They have just said, “God is faithful to me because I’m pregnant.” And what does the other person hear? “God’s not faithful to me.” I strongly think we should not use the word “faithful” when we’re talking about God’s gifts that he hasn’t promised. He has not promised that he is going to give every person a child. There are a lot of things he hasn’t promised.

What I think we should say is, “God is gracious.” He’s gracious. He gave this to me. I didn’t deserve it. I’m thankful for it. This is wonderful. It’s not a matter of faithfulness. I don’t want us to contribute to the idea that God has promised certain things that he has not promised, because then, when you don’t get those things, now you think God has failed you.

Greg: Or that faithfulness is tied to getting what we asked for. So, here I have an additional suggestion. How about if people only use the statement “God is faithful” when they do not get what they want. In other words, here’s all these prayers. God did not give me what I asked for, but God is faithful. I didn’t get healed. This relationship didn’t get repaired. These circumstances didn’t come out the way that I wanted them to. But God is still faithful. When they do come out, we say, “God is gracious.” Well, of course, that even raises another issue, then. Isn’t he gracious if he doesn’t answer? So, there’s another issue. What we should do, instead of looking at an answer to prayer and then tying it to a quality of God, let’s tie it to an act of God, because the qualities of God—faithfulness, graciousness—they are fixed. They’re always there. Let’s tie the response to the act of God: “God answered my prayer. Thank you, God. You answered my prayer.” So, God answered the prayer. We can praise God for answering the prayer, but if he doesn’t answer the prayer, he’s still gracious. If he doesn’t answer the prayer, he’s still faithful.