Acts 16 Lesson

"Unanswered" Prayers

Today’s lesson focuses on “unanswered prayers,” and how we are to respond when we do not get the answer to our prayers that we were hoping for.

In our lesson, we will look at:

  1. A hypothetical story about a father’s love,
  2. What happens when the answer to our prayers is “no,”
  3. The role that the Holy Spirit plays in our prayer life,
  4. And the example of Paul who listened to God’s will, not His own.


We will begin with a hypothetical story about a small child, french fries, and a loving father’s perspective.  In this story, a father is feeding his young child a bottle.   As he feeds the child, he is eating some french fries that he bought for himself.  The baby looks up at the father and reaches for one of the french fries.   The father, who has a deeper understanding of nutrition and what the developing child needs, pulls the french fry away from the child.

The child thinks to himself:

  • “Why won’t he let me have one of those?”
  • “He really seems to be enjoying them!”

Seeing the child’s reaction, the father says:

“My beautiful child.   I love you, and I am going to protect you from dangers that you cannot see or understand.   I know that you think that giving you this french fry would be good for you.   However, I know more than you do, and giving you this french fry would bring you harm.  Although you may not understand why I am denying your request, I am asking you to trust me.   If I am denying your request, it is because I see things that you do not, and I am always looking out for your best interest, because I love you.”

There are two scriptures that speak to the points illustrated in the hypothetical story above.

  1. “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord.   For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.” – Isaiah 55:8-9,
  2. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” – Jeremiah 29:11.


In the hypothetical example above, the father does what is best for the child, even though it is not what the child asked for.

In the same way, our Heavenly Father will do what is best for us, even if that means denying us some of the things we are asking for.

In the Book of Proverbs, we read about the dangers of giving a child everything they ask for:

  • “He who withholds his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him diligently.” – Proverbs 13:24.

There are times when we think something is in our best interest and it is not. In those cases, the answer to our prayers will be no. This does not mean that God has not heard our prayers, it simply means that He has decided giving us what we are asking for is not in our best interest, spiritually. Consider the following two scriptures:

  1. “This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.” - 1 John 5:14,
  2. “For the eyes of the Lord are towards the righteous, and His ears attend to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” – 1 Peter 3:12.

Because God sees everything, He can see the implications of our requests better than we can.  Sometimes, the thing that we are praying for may not be in our best interest, although we may not see that at the time.   Like the baby reaching for the french fry, our loving Father will protect us from doing something that seems right, but ultimately will be harmful to us.  


In Acts 16, Paul was planning to continue his work for the Lord by heading to Asia Minor. Luke writes beginning in verse 6:

  • “They passed through the Phrygian and Galatian region, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia; and after they came to Mysia, they were trying to go into Bithynia, and the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them; and passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas.” – Acts 16:6-8.

This passage tells us that the Holy Spirit prevented Paul from going to those cities.

Why were they prevented from going to these cities?  

The Bible does not say.

  • Perhaps the Holy Spirit understood that trouble awaited them if they went?
  • Maybe the Holy Spirit knew that their time would be better spent elsewhere?

What we do know, is that God changed Paul’s plans by providing him with a vision of what he was to do.

  • “A vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing and appealing to him, and saying, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’ When he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.” – Acts 16:9-10.


Paul’s faith and trust in God allowed him to change his plans and go where God wanted him to be.  He did not sulk, question why, or delay getting to work on the plan that God revealed to him.   Instead, he accepted God’s plan for him and continued working for the Lord.   That is the example that we are to follow.


There are times when we believe we know where we are heading in life, and then suddenly a major disruption occurs.  When this happens, we need to follow Paul’s example by doing these three things:

  1. Not sulking,
  2. Not questioning why,
  3. Getting to work on whatever plan God has revealed to us.

If Paul were not receptive to the changes that God asked him to make, things would have worked out much differently for him. Paul went on to visit Europe instead of Asia Minor. This opened an entire continent to the spreading of the Gospel and the establishment of churches.  Paul went on to author more books of the New Testament than any other writer. All of this was made possible because Paul embraced the changes that God brought to his life. 

We can get into trouble when we listen only to ourselves and do not seek to understand what God’s plan for us is.  Like Paul, we may be determined to set off in one direction, and then God asks us to go in another.  When our prayers seemingly go unanswered, we need to regroup, repurpose, and continue doing the work of the Lord.

We will end today’s study with the following scripture from the book of James:

  • Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.  Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” – James 4:13-15.


Virtual Bible Study

1) What did today’s Bible study make you think and feel?
2) How can you apply what you have just learned to something specific that is happening in your life?


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Pat Dermody

I am in my 80’s and I can look on the many years of my life from a new perspective. When things didn’t go as I intended, eg. a marriage that ended in divorce, I became stronger and more independent. Many years later, I met a man whom I married and he had a profound impact for the good , on not only my children but my grandchildren as well. So often God answers our prayers but not in the way we thought he would. God has plans for us. I am always better off when, “ I let go and let God.”

Virtual Bible Study

1) What did today’s Bible study make you think and feel?
2) How can you apply what you have just learned to something specific that is happening in your life?



"Have a plan, work your plan, be successful." Great determination to serve God is what we see here from Paul and Silas.