One of the greatest gifts God gives his people is the privilege of prayer. Like a beneficent father bending his ear toward his child, God listens to our prayers and responds appropriately. I am a Christian because I believe in the power of prayer in my life.
When we worry that God is not answering our prayers we really mean that he did not say “yes” to our request. It is often true that we are better off when God says no than when he says yes. God answers prayer – it’s just not always the answer we want.
God Hears the Righteous
The Bible is clear that God hears the pleas of his people. In Exodus 3:9 God told Moses that he had heard the cries of his people in Egypt who were in slavery. He sent deliverance in the form of plagues that caused Pharoah to release them. Later Moses would often be found praying to God on behalf of the Israelites (c.f. Numbers 11:2).
Near the end of Job’s travails God instructs Job’s friends to turn to Job and to ask him to pray for them for, God says, “I will accept his prayer…” (Job 42:8, see also Genesis 20:7). This demonstrates that there are some people God will not hear in prayer and some that he will. From the context of the Book of Job we know that his friends were not speaking the truth about God. In the New Testament we are told that God does not listen to sinners (John 9:31). Although uttered by a common man not previously associated with Jesus until his healing, the words seem to point back to the comment in Job and other Old Testament teachings which teach that only the righteous may approach unto God. In the New Testament we are also plainly told that God hears the prayers of the righteous (James 5:19).
It seems important to understand that prayer is reserved for the righteous, righteous at least in the sense of being righteous through the blood of Jesus. The corrupt sinner who rebels against God and lives a life of immorality and sin should not expect to suddenly find his prayers answered apart from a life changing conversion.
God Answers Prayer “No” Sometimes
Earlier we mentioned that God is like a loving father listening to his children. While I do not put myself on the same level with God I too am a parent. My children often ask for things theywant and think they need. But as their Father I sometimes have to say no.
Have you ever met a child who never heard the word no? He is a spoiled, self-centered terror with little or no ability to function in the world. God does not and should not give us everything we ask for.
“Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg will you give him a scorpion? If then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:11-13)
Notice that fathers give gifts their children need and likewise God gives great gifts to his children; in this case he gives the Holy Spirit. Some view God as some kind of celestial Santa Claus or Genie that will shower us with gifts just because we ask. No, God gives what we need and when we need it.
Consider this from James 4:2,3:
You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.
I underlined that last sentence because it answers the question about why we do not always receive what we ask for. Notice first that our motives govern what we receive from God. The point of prayer is not to see how much we can get for ourselves. In the last phrase he says their problem was that they were asking for things for their own personal pleasures. Perhaps we should rethink our prayer life. Maybe by re-focusing our prayers on someone else we might begin to see more prayers answered with yes!
God’s Answer is Always Right
God has a way of surprising me. Every now and again I start to think about what life would be like had I taken a different path. Some of those paths I prayed long and hard about but God simply said “No!” In every case I can honestly say that this present life is far superior to anything that might have been had my prayers been answered in the affirmative. I sure am glad God didn’t listen to me!
It shouldn’t suprise us that God knows better than we do. He knows what the future holds for each of us and knows the best paths for our life. He isn’t overwhelmingly interested in the small moment to moment problems in our life. He wants us to live with him forever! Our real problem is sin and separation from God. Hear his words through Isaiah:
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts and my ways are not your ways, declares the Lord. 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).
There is a difference between God and man. Only the fool would dare elevate his knowledge and reasoning to God’s level.
Actually, it should have been unnescessary for God to tells us how much wiser he is. A quick look around nature should reveal his power and might. The greatest minds of our timescannot so much as be certain whether particles in the nucleaus of an atom spin or vibrate yet God placed them there in their order. Surely he knows best!
Our problem is that we think we know what we need. Sadly we do not know. But God who loves us does know and will give us what we need.
Maybe We Should Pray Differently
If a person is fixed on whether or not God is giving him the answer he wants in prayer, maybe that man should change his prayer life. What if our prayer consisted of the following five items:
- Adoration and worship of the Maker,
- Thanksgiving for our specific blessings,
- Shame over our sin and shortcomings,
- Intercession for the needs of other people, and
- Joy and praise for the future salvation from his wrath.
If these things made up our prayer life I just suspect we would find greater fulfillment in Christ. When our eyes and hearts are turned inward there is little God can do with us. But when we surrender there is only a magnificent life awaiting.
Will you pray right now and praise God for his blessings? Can you go one week without asking for something you want or think you need? Can you just turn yourself over to God and let him do as he sees fit? Try it. You may like it!