God has the ability and the desire to hear all prayers. He wants to hear from us, and He wants to give us good things. But clearly He does not grant any and all requests made in prayer. If you’re wondering whether there’s anything you can do to get God to grant your requests, or get Him to use His awesome power to help you accomplish your goals, it’s not quite that simple.
There’s no set formula for prayer that would obligate God to grant a request. If that were true then God would be more like a magic genie in a lamp. We cannot control or manipulate God through any words, actions or rituals. Sometimes God answers our prayers with a “yes,” a “no,” or a “not right now.” He chooses to answer, or not, as He pleases.
However, we do have a part to play in our interactions with our Intercessor. And our prayers must be offered to our Father in heaven in the name of and through the authority of our Intercessor Jesus Christ. The Bible tells us that our attitudes and actions have an effect on how God responds to our prayers.
How We Affect Our Prayer Life
On the negative side, indifference or disobedience to His commands, as well as violence, dishonesty, pride and injustice create a separation (called sin) between us and our Creator (Isaiah 59:1-2). God can choose to not hear, or not attend to, the prayers of people who are actively living unrighteous lives.
John 9:31 says, “Now we know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does His will, He hears him.”
And 1 Peter 3:12 says, “For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their prayers; but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”
God may choose to act in mercy in certain cases to get the attention of evildoers and lead them towards meaningful change. But these verses show the damage that can happen to our potential closeness to God if we continually reject His guidance and commands.
On the positive side, taking His commands seriously and trying to live by them—seeking peace and having honesty, humility, personal integrity, generosity and fairness—these please our Creator and draw us closer to Him. The Bible shows that God will give careful attention to the prayers and requests of those who love His ways and live by His Word.
Psalm 66:17-19 says, “I cried to him with my mouth, and high praise was on my tongue. If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened. But truly God has listened; he has attended to the voice of my prayer” (English Standard Version).
And James 5:16 says, “. . . The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (New International Version).
He will still choose to act, or not act, according to His will, but it’s clear that there is a difference in how God hears and responds to those whose hearts are turned toward Him.
The Bigger Picture
Ultimately, the good that God desires for us is to learn to think and act like Jesus Christ and receive the gift of everlasting life. This means that even when we pray requesting something we genuinely believe to be good for us or our families, God may have a different perspective. The path to His family and eternal life involves suffering and perseverance, just as it did for Jesus Christ. And just because God might answer with a “no” or “not right now” doesn’t necessarily mean our prayers are not answered because of a personal sin.
Consider how Jesus prayed the night before His execution. He prayed that God the Father not require Him to endure the painful suffering and death that lay only hours ahead of Him. The request was not granted. Jesus’ long session of prayer that last night ended with His submission to the will of the Father (Matthew 26:39-44). Jesus’ suffering was the only path to the greater goal: God’s desire that many children receive eternal life.
In the same manner, our sessions of prayer and our requests are often the way in which we get our thoughts, attitudes and goals in sync with the thoughts, attitudes and priorities of our Creator.
We might pray for release from pain, sickness or suffering, or we might pray for specific blessings, and our Father is happy to give us these good things. But if granting a certain request held us back from achieving our full potential as an eternal child of God, it wouldn’t actually be good for us in the ultimate sense. We must have confidence that God knows the difference between the two and can make a better decision than we alone can.
Even though it’s up to God to decide how He responds to us, we must not give up prayer thinking we are powerless to influence events. We are instructed to pray continually, to keep hanging in there; and to expect an answer (1 Thessalonians 5:17, 1 John 5:14).
We should pray completely convinced and confident that God hears our prayer and is fully capable of answering our every request (Hebrews 11:6). We should also pray with a humble attitude, understanding that what we think is best for us may not be the way to achieve the greater goal our Creator has in mind for us: growing in spiritual completeness after the pattern of Jesus Christ, and in the future receiving the gift of everlasting life. CC