Unanswered Prayers? Q. The Letter of St. James tells us, “You ask but do not receive, because, you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions” (4:3). Is this the definitive statement explaining why prayers are not answered and that we should not pray for anything for ourselves?

R.C., Sergeant Bluff, Iowa

A. Here’s a reply from TCA columnist Father Ray Ryland, Ph.D., J.D:

This verse in James tells us God will not answer requests which reflect purely selfish desires. Our infinitely loving Father will not grant such requests because granting them would be harmful to us.

On the other hand, this verse does not explain why some prayers seem to receive no answer.

Someone has said, perhaps a bit simplistically, that God always gives one of three answers to our prayers: “yes,” “no” or “not now.” Legitimate prayers may seem to receive no answer because we are not really listening, or perhaps even because we don’t like what we hear God telling us. Certainly we are encouraged in sacred Scripture to pour out our hearts to God repeatedly: “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thes 5:17).