Three Conditions for Prayer to Be Answered
Question: I have been a Christian for many years and have attended hundreds, perhaps thousands, of prayer meetings. I have heard many earnest prayers for good purposes but rarely have I seen an answer. This is rather shattering to my faith. Why are so few prayers answered?
Response: First of all, you admit that you have personally seen at least some prayers answered. In addition, you have surely heard or read the testimony of others who unquestionably have had miraculous answers to prayer. Consider, for example, George Müller, whose life was an amazing testimony to answered prayer. He housed, clothed, and fed thousands of orphans, made it a point never to ask for any financial help from man but only from God, and recorded in his diary literally thousands of specific answers to prayer. Müller wrote:
“Now if I, a poor man, simply by prayer and faith obtained without asking any individual, the means for establishing and carrying on an Orphan-House, there would be something which, with the Lord’s blessing, might be instrumental in strengthening the faith of the children of God, besides being a testimony to the consciences of the unconverted, of the reality of the things of God.
This, then, was the primary reason for establishing the Orphan-House. I certainly did from my heart desire to be used by God to benefit the bodies of poor children, bereaved of both parents, and seek in other respects, with the help of God to do them good for this life…[and] to be used by God in getting the dear orphans trained in the fear of God – but still, the first and primary object of the work was (and still is) that God might be magnified by the fact that the [thousands of] orphans under my care are provided with all they need, only by prayer and faith without anyone [other than God] being asked by me or my fellow-laborers [for help or funds] (A. E. C. Brooks, compiler, Answers to Prayer from George Müller’s Narratives (Moody Press, undated paperback), p. 10.]
We could multiply other examples to show that God does answer many prayers. Robert Ingersoll, who was the epitome of agnosticism and who ridiculed Christians for praying, demanded “just one little fact” proving that prayers are answered. There are facts by the thousands that he and other agnostics and atheists have refused to accept – not because it could not be proved that prayers are answered, for that has been proved repeatedly, but because their prejudice wouldn’t allow them to face the truth.
In fact, an entire library could be filled with testimonies of answers to prayer that cannot be explained away as mere coincidence. The issue, then, is not whether God is able to, or even does, answer prayer but why His answer to so many prayers is no. There are, according to the Bible, at least three factors that determine whether a prayer will be answered or not: 1) whether it is God’s will to answer it; 2) whether it is God’s time to answer it; and 3) whether those praying are living in such a relationship with God that it would be appropriate for Him to answer the prayer.
We can thank God that many of our prayers are not answered. We are supposed to pray at all times, “Not my will but thine be done.” Yet many of our prayers are not in that spirit at all but are actually attempts to persuade God to do man’s will, to bless or bring to pass man’s plans. Since we are far from perfect in wisdom, it could bring disaster upon us if God always did what we asked.
There is the matter of timing as well. Consider, for example, Hannah’s prayer for a son. It was years before the Lord gave her the son for whom she had prayed. At last Samuel was conceived and brought into the world. It must have seemed a long and inexplicable wait to his parents-to-be; but Samuel had to live at a certain time in order to accomplish a particular mission in Israel.
Or consider Nehemiah’s prayer for the rebuilding of Jerusalem. We are told of one occasion when he “wept, and mourned certain days, and fasted and prayed before God of heaven” (Nehemiah:1:4) for the restoration of Jerusalem. The implication is clear, however, that Jerusalem was on his heart continually and that he must have prayed for months and probably years without any answer. The answer came in God’s time, and how important that timing was! It had to occur on a specific day foreordained of God. From that date, 69 weeks of years (483 years) would be counted to determine the very day that Jesus would ride into Jerusalem on a donkey and be hailed as the Messiah (Daniel:9:25). Yet Nehemiah may not have even suspected the importance of this timing, although the prophecy of Daniel declaring this remarkable fact had already been recorded.
Finally, an affirmative answer to prayer, when it comes, is at least in part a blessing from God that indicates that the petitioner is living according to God’s will (1 John:3:22). How does one get to know God’s will? Based upon his life and experience of many years of walking with God, George Müller gives us some advice as he explains one of the secrets to answered prayer:
I never remember, in all my Christian course a period now (in March, 1985) of sixty-nine years and four months that I ever sincerely and patiently sought to know the will of God by the teaching of the Holy Ghost, through the instrumentality of the Word of God, but that I have been always directed rightly.
But if honesty of heart and uprightness before God were lacking, or if I did not patiently wait upon God for instruction, or if I preferred the counsel of my fellow men to the declarations of the Word of the living God, I made great mistakes. (Emphasis in original) [Brooks, Answers, inside title page].
Prayer is not a one-way street on which we get everything we want and God gets nothing. Prayer, in fact, is to conform us to God’s will. For God to answer the prayers of those who are not willing to take time to know His will and are careless about obeying Him in their daily lives would only encourage them to continue to live in disobedience.