How does God answer Prayers?

This is a statement I heard from a fellow Christian. “When we pray for something that is a true desire of our heart, God does not say No; He says Yes, not now, or I have something better for you.” Is that statement correct? If not, what is the correct statement? Either way, please indicate which bible verses address this topic. Thank you!

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@Deliamj, thank you for posting a great question! I look forward to thoughts from others. Knowing this answer can motivate us to pray or run from it! When I was a young Christian, I remember being encouraged by well meaning Christians that because I trusted in the Lord, God who knows my desires would satisfy the desires of my heart. I would wait for my desires to be answered but I soon realized that our desires dont always come to pass as we hope. One important thing that they forgot to mention clearly was, Why? The promise that God answers the desires of our heart comes from -

Ps 37:4 Delight yourself in the Lord;And He will give you the desires of your heart.

The reason for God answering our desires is because they would be in tune with His desires when we choose to live for Him.

Phil 2:13 for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.

James 5:16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.

Here’s FB Meyer’s commentary on Ps 37 :

Psalms 37:1-17

This is an acrostic psalm, grappling with the problem of the inequality of human life and the apparent failure of God to reward His servants and punish His enemies as they deserve. Life and immortality, where we know that the balance will be readjusted, had not then been brought to light, and therefore the solution was far harder before the advent of our Lord than for us.

But though the psalmist’s solution is therefore not complete, his teaching of the blessedness of absolute trust in God’s providence is very delightful. Fret not thyself; that is, do not give way to passionate resentment or bitter disappointment. Live in God; find your delight in contemplating His nature and His works; roll on Him the decision of your life-choices; trust in Him to supply all your need and work in your behalf. Be silent and rest!

So all the psalmist was saying is to trust that God is good even if we dont seem to prosper as those who seem to prosper despite ignoring God’s law. Even if we dont know His desires for us, and dont know whether we are praying His desires, we can be confident that His will for us is good when we choose to take refuge in Him and so we can assuredly rest in that!

I think sometimes by not answering our desires, God is teaching us that He is enough for all our needs! It’s not something we are called to imagine in faith but something we experience as we hold fast when nothing makes sense. We are not promised that all our troubles will be taken away but that He will be with us through them. ( John 16:33). So yes, sometimes the answer is, No! But when we are in Him and the answer is No, we have great reward in heaven. No labor in the Lord is in vain.

I have always found that His answers come in ways beyond we can imagine. Many a times, a manner by which He gets even more glory, transforming many others in the process. One example I can think of is of the life of Samuel Morris. It was only after his death, that his prayers for his tribe to come to Christ were answered. It came in answer to his prayers but through the works of many other missionaries in a bigger scale after the death of Samuel Morris. So, yes His ways are not always our ways but better in the eternal perspective! ( Is 55: 8-9). We cant predict His ways but can trust His goodness.

God had ordained many things to happen but the means by which they happen is by prayer. For example: Hannah prayed to God to give her a son and He granted that. (1 Samuel).

When I think of how the Lord’s prayer goes, it calls us to acknowledge Him as our Father, trust Him, know His will, live in love with Him and others, putting Him above an other as He alone is worthy. So without prayer, it is hard to unreservedly surrender unto Him, considering we are relational beings.

To conclude, what I would say is when we trust Him, we may or may not get what we desire but it will all turn out to be for our good, as He transforms us to follow His will so that we can fulfill the good works He ordained for us to do.

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@Deliamj

Good question, thank you for asking. First, while the answer may be a bit simplistic, I don’t know that it is wrong. Certainly God can answer a prayer in a short amount of time, or delay the answer to that Prayer, or give the prayer something better than what they have prayed for.

However, I would be careful here, because this is where our own sinful nature, and our lack of biblical understanding about prayer, can get us in trouble.

First, we have to take into account that our intentions may not always be pure. They may be true desires of our heart, as you say, but true desires of our heart are not necessarily right desires. I could truly desire to see everyone who has ever hurt me personally never be forgiven for the things they have done. But this, while a true desire of my heart, would not be a right desire, because it would be against the will of God. So, first, we must not rely on our hearts per se, but on the objective truth of the Word of God to guide our desires so that what we are praying for is more likely than not in line with the will of God.

Second, we should also take into account that not all prayer is intercessory prayer, or at least in the sense of receiving something external to our own selves. We have to also see prayer as intrinsically valuable, in that the practice of prayer effects our soul in a transformative way. Penitential prayer and contemplative prayer are good for us, even if they do not bring us some external good. Prayer as a spiritual discipline is part and parcel of our spiritual formation and sanctification. It makes us more like Christ, so that when we enter into the world we are different people with different sets of values, who react differently to the trials and tribulations the world offers. Prayer should primarily be about personal transformation, not about acquisition.

Third, with regard to prayer for things that are external goods, and that also do coincide with God’s will, at least generally (e.g. the remission of a loved one’s cancer, the health of a child, success in one’s vocation, etc.) we should remember that there are several outcomes to this kind of prayer.

First, often times God does answer prayers, and we recognize those answers. However, we might quickly forget that God has answered those prayers and subsequently become disenchanted again (as in “what have you done for me lately though” thinking). Since we are sinful and forgetful creatures we may want to make a memorial to God when He does answer prayers (perhaps just a journal entry, or a something similar). Second, it may also be the case that God does answer a prayer, but He does so years after we have prayed the prayer and we have simply forgotten that we even prayed for the thing that He just gave us. Thus, we may fail to recognize that a prayer has actually been answered. Here again, maybe it would help to record our prayers, not all of them perhaps, but perhaps the ones that are either most profound, or most frequent.

Finally, there is also the possibility, as your friend suggested, that God may answer our prayer but in a slightly different way from the way we actually formulated it. One potential problem again is that if this happens, we will not recognize it as an answered prayer, but as something else. Let’s say, for example, that I pray for a raise, but then I win the lottery. I don’t get the raise, but I do win a million dollars. Is that chance, or did God give us something more (hopefully because He knew we would steward such wealth wisely). I think that in such a case God did give us more than we asked for, but we would want to make sure we recognized it as such.

So, to sum up I would say 1) how we should pray and what we should pray for matter as much as that we pray. Prayers must not just be from a true heart, they must be from a true heart that is also rightly oriented toward God’s will. 2) Prayer can also, and usually is, about internal goods, more specifically about our own spiritual transformation from a life in the flesh to a life in Christ. Finally 3) sometimes we misrecognize or fail to identify prayers and their results. Keeping tabs on our prayers and making memorials of answered prayers, or highly fortuitous events that seem to go beyond our expectations, can be ways of honoring the God Who hears us, and who responds to us.

in Christ,
Tony

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Tony,
I appreciate you taking the time to answer my question. I understand everything you said. It might be better if I’m more specific about what my friend is looking for.

My friend is a female friend who desires to be married and have a child but is getting older and is concerned about running out of time to have a child. She has been praying for this personal outcome for several years. I’ve encouraged her to continue praying, even if it seems like a long time without a response. But in this case, once she gets past the childbearing years, should she just assume the answer to her prayer is No? I assume you agree that God might answer No to our prayers for his reasons that might not be clear to us?

Thank you!

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@Deliamj, Lakshmi has such good points and I heartily agree with her.

Much more could be said on the subject but I wish to interject and emphasize one point. Rom 10:1 says, “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved”. Paul’s desire in prayer is for unbelieving Israel. We know that, for the most part, they did not live by faith and so Paul’s desire and prayer did not take place - many were not saved

For me, the issue then, isn’t what we are praying for to come to pass or not, but rather the focus of our prayer should be Jesus. I am not trying to come off as some fanatic, but our prayer is not for what we want or think best. 2Co 4:15 says “… so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.”

Whatever we pray, our true desire of our heart will be the heart of Jesus. Our motive is for some to be saved, some to be healed, etc, but the aim of the answered prayer is the glory of God. If the desire of our heart is of God, we ask it for Him to be glorified.

I hope this makes sense.

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@Deliamj, I appreciate you sharing more specifics on your question. I absolutely agree with Tony’s helpful response. Though the question was not addressed to me, I hope you dont mind me sharing my own story which I hope is an encouragement for your friend to persist in prayer. Thanks @Tim_Ramey for your insights and the way God has answered my own prayers has also led me to a similar understanding. God will choose whatever means are necessary to draw us closer to Him for His purposes when we place our faith in Him. He never never never forsakes us! I too have had to wait many years for my marriage because of coming to a faith in Christ from a Hindu background and had to persist through some opposition for a Christian marriage even if I were to meet someone. I do not wish to share my entire journey in this public setting but I would say it was a rough time to press through in prayer for about a decade or more before I met my husband. I can very much identify with the worries of your friend. Interestingly, it was the day that I said I was ready to be single if it was God’s will for me, was the day that I met my husband! In the end, God used that waiting journey for me to trust Him more. He proved that He cared for me but His timing was not mine! I would say if God has not given us the gift of celibacy and we have a desire to be married and have a family, we are in the will of the Lord if we persist in taking our deepest longings to Him. He is a good God and as we submit to Him, what He chooses for us will bring joy to us, however he chooses to answer our pleas (Rom 12:1-3). He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him (Heb 11:6). Recently, I witnessed the marriage of another couple who got married in their late 30’s. My friends and I prayed for them several years to bring a godly spouse into their life. And our prayer was finally answered when both were at the peak of their spiritual journey in Christ a few months ago. We just celebrated their wedding a couple weeks ago and to me it was an encouragement to persist in prayer unless you know otherwise. I hope this is helpful to you. I just hope your friend is encouraged in God’s love. He is faithful!

Tim,
Yes that makes sense and I agree with you, but we can also pray for things we need or want. God will then decide to give us those things or not. I might pray for protection for my children or that they recover from an illness, which I assume are appropriate things to pray for.

Thank you!

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Delia, to pray for a sick child is an aspect of compassion that is indicative of being created after the image of God. However, what do you think happened if the child doesn’t recover?

There was a recent post on Connect of a man who wasn’t a Christian but his 5 year old daughter loved Jesus. She had some kind of illness that took her life. He reported that due to his daughters death, he came to know Jesus. He was so broken up by her death but praised God that He redeemed her death by giving Him Life - a relationship with Jesus.

No one in their right mind would have prayed for the death of his child so that he would come to know Jesus. I would have prayed that she be healed and that by doing that, he would come to Jesus. But my prayer wouldn’t have been correct. Romans 8 says that we don’t know how to pray but the Spirit intercedes for us. We need to pray but I don’t think it is automatic that we pray for what we think best and that is what happens.

I’m not intending to be hard core. I think prayer is terribly important and that there is not enough of it. But I grapple with what is involved with praying. So in my first post I wasn’t trying to come up with the Christian textbook answer. When the levels of prayer are stripped away, the core needs to be Jesus. In saying that, I don’t know what that always looks like but my ultimate intention in prayer is that He is glorified.

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I understand and agree with what you are saying. Thanks.

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Hi Delia,

Thanks for this response. So, in this case it would be very hard for your friend not to recognize the prayer if it were answered. After all, she would go through a pregnancy and deliver a baby. So we can probably rule out any sense of her failing to recognize God’s positive response to her prayer. Unless, of course, he allows her to perhaps adopt a child, which may in some way be a partial answer to her prayer, similar to my lottery example. Especially since it could very well be the case that there is a small child out there in desperate need of a loving mother, and your friend is intended by God to be that mother. But, of course, this is just speculation, and none of us can really know this.

That said, it seems to me that, for now at least, your friend must see this as a means, albeit a very difficult and tragic means, to a greater end, that being her growth in Christ-likeness. The question being: “How do we find our satisfaction in Christ, when there are real goods (like a real relationship with a biological child) that we are precluded from having?” That is part and parcel of the Christian walk though, and although I have by no means solved the problem of suffering, I see no other good option except to embrace suffering as Christ embraced the cross, and then hope that out of evil God will bring good.

So, yes, God might not respond to her prayer either 1) because he does have some other plan for her that is perhaps similar but not identical to her desire (e.g. the adoption case), or 2) because it is exactly this kind of suffering that for your friend, if she fully embraces it, will lead her into a deeper relationship with Christ himself.

Thanks for your sisterly concern over your friend. She is clearly blessed to have you in her life.

Grace and peace,
Tony

Lakshmi thank you for sharing your story. I have just continued to encourage my friend that God does love us and will answer our prayers in His time and based on what God knows is best for us. It is possible that a child might not be best or in God’s will for my friend. Without getting too personal, knowing my friend’s personality, I think a child might not be the best answer for her, but God does know what the best answer should be.

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Tony,
Thanks for your response. I agree that a "No’ answer to my friend’s prayer might mean he has other plans for her or he is trying to bring her closer to him. Also, as I mentioned to Lakshmi, maybe a child is not the best answer for my friend. For me as a mother of two grown children, I was not sure it was best that I had children at all, but having them turned out to be a wonderful blessing for me! So I had the opposite experience from my friend who wants children and might not have them, and that turns out to be a blessing for her - if that is the answer.

Thanks again!
Ejuana

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This is a truly wonderful thread. God made us he know us better than we do. God gives us everything we can handle but holds back the things that will cause us to fall. We seek beyond because we are don’t know our limits. :pray:

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