When I collected my mail today, I found a greeting card that I had mailed weeks ago, returned to me marked "Return to Sender". It surprised me because the address I had mailed it to was the address given to me by a close friend of the family, and they would surely have known that the family had moved. Nevertheless, the intended message in the card, to welcome the arrival of a new baby to the family, was not delivered as intended and had gone unseen. The only response was mine: disappointment.
Very often, our reaction to prayers that are not answered as we would like tends to be similar: disappointment. In fact, most often, Christians call them "unanswered prayers", as if God either doesn't receive our prayers, or else sits in His prayer mail room with a "Return to Sender" stamp in His hand and refuses to respond to our appeals when He hears our prayers. Many Christians consider a prayer to be "answered" only when God responds as we would expect or want: "I heard you, and My answer is 'Yes.'"
James 4:3 – You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. (NKJV)
Psalm 37:4 – Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart. (NKJV)
When we claim that we have not received an "answer" to our prayers, James responds by suggesting that we were praying for the wrong thing. It only seems as if He has not received our requests when He does not agree with them and does not "deliver", i.e. say "Yes". Instead of praying for our own desires or pleasures, we should have been praying for God's will in our lives. So it's not the address of our "unanswered" prayer that is incorrect — after all, we directed our request to God — but rather it is because we ask amiss. In effect, God marks the prayer "Return to Sender" for us to meditate on the situation and petition Him in accordance with His will. A prayer will not be "answered" when God knows that it would not be of benefit to the asker. God is not obliged to answer our prayers with a "Yes", even if we continually ask — He will not go against His will for us.
God listens to our requests and is ready to give us the "desires of our hearts" — but only if in so doing, we have delighted ourselves in the Lord. Then it will be a benefit to us and it will do us good. So let us consider, carefully, how we pray and for what we pray, to ensure delivery and a reply that we are pleased to receive and not be disappointed with.
Prayer: When you pray, do not use vain repetitions. In this manner, therefore, pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen. (Matthew 6:7a,9-13 NKJV)