For the past several weeks our church has been learning some biblical truths about prayer. For some prayer is a great mystery. For others it is a huge bore. Still for others it is a lifeline, as natural and necessary as breathing. In the past two decades I have been asked a lot of questions about prayer. Let me address a couple of them here.
Question one: Does God always answer our prayers? The simple answer to this question is “yes.” God does always answer our prayers. It’s just that He does not always answer them in the way we pray them. He is not a big Coke machine in the sky who always delivers when you push the right button! God is not a giant slot machine that yields an answer sporadically but it more than often disappointing. He is more like a parent. Here’s what I mean.
God sometimes answers YES. We see example after example in the Bible of God answering prayers. This room is filled with testimonies to answered prayers. God delights in saying “yes” to us, but He doesn’t always answer that way.
God sometimes answers NOT YET. God told Abraham he would make him the father of a great nation and give him a wonderful inheritance … but he’d have to wait. Jesus said He’d come again … but we’ll have to wait. Sometimes what we pray for is not bad. God isn’t saying “no.” He’s just saying hang in there. Wait. In time I will act on your behalf. Trust me.
And then there are times when God answers NO. Remember the prayer of Paul when he asks the Lord to remove the “thorn”? God told him “no.” God sometimes tells us the same thing.
We do the same with our kids, don’t we? We delight in being able to say “yes,” but there are times when we have to say “not yet.” And, of course, from time to time we have to say “no.” We don’t like to tell our kids “no,” but sometimes it is the best possible answer. The same is true when God tells us “no.”
Question two: Why does God sometimes say “no” to our prayers? The Bible helps us answer with this question.
Sometimes our prayers are not answered because we pray for something that is outside God’s will. We cannot expect that God will answer our prayers with a “yes” when what we ask for is contrary to His revealed will. God’s Word says, “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.” (1 John 5:14)
Sometimes our prayers are not answered because we pray with the wrong motives. James wrote, “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” (James 4:3)
Sometimes our prayers are not answered because we are living outside the will of God. It’s amazing how we can go to God and ask Him to bless us while we live completely contrary to His will for our lives. If God were to bless us regardless of our lifestyle choices, then we would likely be too comfortable in our sin to ever change. “For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” (1 Peter 3:12)
God calls us to pray. He desires to hear our prayers. But we cannot expect that God will do everything we ask just as we ask it as if He were our servant. He is not a genie in a magic lamp declaring, “Your wish is my command.” He is God. His wisdom is greater than ours. He is able to answer our prayers and wise enough to know how and when. Why not trust Him?