It is very important to make a distinction between, “Does God answer Prayer?”, “Can God Answer Prayer?”, and “Will God Answer Prayer?”. The answer to one of these questions is easy. Can God answer prayer? Absolutely. God’s power stretches beyond our entire universe – after all, God created our entire universe in just 6 days.
The answer to whether God does answer prayer, is a bit more challenging; however, we do have clear answers from the Bible. The answer is, “sometimes”, and “it depends”. The answer to whether God will answer prayer or not is similar. God certainly can answer prayer, but we know that God does not always answer our prayers, and did not always answer the prayers of people in the Bible.
Something that is clear, however, is that God almost always answered the prayers of righteous men who prayed to God with faith and righteousness and godly motivations.
God answers Hezekiah’s prayer
One of the most powerful examples of when God answered prayer is in Isaiah. Hezekiah was a righteous king of Judah, and lived a godly life, following God. However, in his older years, Hezekiah got very sick. God spoke to Hezekiah through the prophet Isaiah and told Hezekiah that he was about to die, so he should get his house in order.
Hezekiah, however, was not ready to go. So Hezekiah went to God in prayer and pleaded with God for more time. He prayed in bitterness and brokenness, and said to God, “Remember now, O Lord, I beseech thee, how I have walked before thee in truth and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in thy sight” (Isaiah 38:3). Then Hezekiah wept bitterly.
In response to Hezekiah, God had pity on him and answered his prayer. Here is what God told Hezekiah in his answer to his prayer, through the prophet Isaiah:
6 And I will deliver thee and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria: and I will defend this city.
7 And this shall be a sign unto thee from the Lord, that the Lord will do this thing that he hath spoken;
8 Behold, I will bring again the shadow of the degrees, which is gone down in the sun dial of Ahaz, ten degrees backward. So the sun returned ten degrees, by which degrees it was gone down.
God answered Hezekiah’s prayer by giving him 15 more years to his life; and not only that prayer but God also offered even more – God delivered Judah out of the hand of the neighboring nation and brought peace to the land.
Further, God showed Hezekiah a powerful sign – God literally stopped the motion of the Sun in the solar system and moved it backward ten degrees. This is the only other time in the Bible that God literally moved the universe. The other time was in Joshua 10:13 where God stopped the motion of the entire universe for a whole day.
It is amazing that one of the only two times that God stopped the universe from revolving around the Earth was in response to prayer. Literally, as a pastor who spoke on the subject said, “God moved heaven and earth” to answer his prayer. Actually, God only moved the heavens, but that is beside the point. If God will even move the entire universe backwards – and not even out of necessity, but merely as a sign of a promise, then of course God has the power to answer any prayer you could possibly ask.
When doesn’t God answer prayers?
The question then, is why – or better, when God does not answer prayers. We know that God does answer prayers, and God does so because God is good, and merciful, and loving. God truly loves us. However, God does not always answer prayers. Why? If we can determine why God does not answer prayers, and at what times God does answer prayers, then we can have some more assurance in our prayer life. Fortunately, the Bible provides us these answers.
In a sermon I listened to on God answering prayers, the preacher made some really good points, but like most of Christianity today, he completely downplayed and rejected any notion that Hezekiah’s faithfulness had anything to do with God answering the prayers. This could not be more wrong. The only reason anyone could say that is if they are brainwashed into the modern Grace doctrine and reject the words of the actual Bible.
The truth is that God really does have clear contingencies for answering prayer. It is very clear that in Hezekiah’s case, one of the reasons why God did choose to answer his prayer in this case is because Hezekiah was faithful and righteous. While it is true that God answers prayers because God is faithful, it would be a lie to say that the person’s righteousness and good works have nothing to do with it.
We know this for a fact, because we only need to look at another king of Israel who made a petition to God in prayer, but God rejected his petition. Let’s look at the story of Saul.
God rejects Saul as king
Saul was the first king of Israel and Judah. Saul was king before King David. Saul was a tall man, at least a head taller than everyone else. The Bible says that he had a beautiful appearance. The people wanted Saul to be king largely because Saul looked like a king. Sadly, Saul’s appearance also contributed to his downfall, because Saul was also a very prideful man.
Long story short, ultimately God rejected Saul as king. The Bible says that God regretted making Saul king. The final disobedient act by Saul was disobeying God by offering a sacrifice, which God had commanded was only allowed to be done by the priests. God said to Saul that the sacrifices were not what mattered, but rather obedience. Saul failed to be obedient to God, and God therefore rejected him.
When the prophet Samuel came to Saul and told him what God had told him, that God had rejected Saul, as you can imagine, Saul was quite upset about this. In fact, Saul became very bitter about it. From Saul’s conversation with Samuel in 1 Samuel 15, it seems that Saul did not really take God’s laws very seriously, but instead argued about it.
Saul said that he did what God told him to in the battle, so why didn’t God care that he, instead of the priests, offered the sacrifice? Clearly, Saul’s error was in not taking God’s laws very seriously. So, instead God annointed David in Saul’s place; but, Saul still continued to reign as the king for a number of years afterward.
God actually gave Saul another chance, telling Saul to destroy the Amalekites, and to keep absolutely nothing. But Saul disobeyed again, as it says in 1 Samuel 15:9: “Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep, the oxen, the fatlings, the lambs, and all that was good, and were unwilling to utterly destroy them.” This was in direct disobedience to God. You would have thought Saul had learned his lesson the first time, but clearly he did not.
God rejects Saul’s prayer
Some years later, in 1 Samuel 28, the prophet Samuel died. Saul sought some advice from the Lord, but God had already rejected him as king. (Perhaps God allowed Saul to remain king during this time because God was preparing David to be one of the greatest kings of all of Israel’s history.) So Saul consulted with a medium, that is, a necromancer, a witch who communicated with the dead; another forbidden act. This medium was to consult with the now dead Samuel to get some advice. Saul used this as a last resort, because as Saul implored in 1 Samuel 28:15,
“God has departed from me and does not answer me anymore, neither by prophets nor by dreams. Therefore I have called you, that you may reveal to me what I should do.” (1 Samuel 28:15)
God actually allowed Samuel’s spirit to answer Saul, surprisingly; but it was probably because God wanted Saul to be clear about why God had rejected him. The spirit of dead Samuel replied in 1 Samuel 28:16-19, in response to Saul’s desperate appeal for guidance with a particular battle against the Philistines:
“So why do you ask me, seeing the Lord has departed from you and has become your enemy? 17 And the Lord has done for Himself as He spoke by me. For the Lord has torn the kingdom out of your hand and given it to your neighbor, David. 18 Because you did not obey the voice of the Lord nor execute His fierce wrath upon Amalek, therefore the Lord has done this thing to you this day. 19 Moreover the Lord will also deliver Israel with you into the hand of the Philistines. And tomorrow you and your sons will be with me. The Lord will also deliver the army of Israel into the hand of the Philistines.”
In that battle, Saul and his sons died.
Why didn’t God answer Saul’s prayer for guidance? Why did God allow Saul to die? If God’s providence and blessings were indiscriminatory; if God indiscriminately answered prayer only based on God’s faithfulness and it had nothing to do with the particular person, then truly, God would have also answered Saul and perhaps even delivered him. However, God did not.
Why God answered Hezekiah’s prayer but not Saul’s
The answer as to why God answered Hezekiah’s prayer with much blessing, literally moving the physical universe as a sign that he would answer Hezekiah’s prayer; and as to why on the other hand God refused to answer Saul’s prayers and ultimately took Saul’s life even though Saul was very miserable and bitter about being rejected by God, is very clear.
God does not change (Numbers 23:19). God was the same when Hezekiah prayed as when Saul prayed. However, God answered Hezekiah’s prayer but God did not answer Saul’s prayer. The reason why God answered one prayer and not the other is very clear. Hezekiah was faithful to God and righteous. Saul was disobedient.
To try to say that the reason God answered Hezekiah’s prayer was only because God is faithful, and that it had nothing to do with Hezekiah’s faithfulness and righteousness, is utterly false. Someone can only say that if they completely ignore the Bible and only speak from preconceived notions gathered from unbiblical theology learned at church and at seminary. You cannot come to that conclusion from reading the Bible.
God answered Hezekiah’s prayer because Hezekiah was righteous. When Hezekiah appealed to God and reminded God that he had been following God all his days, God respected his faithfulness and righteousness, and this is why God granted Hezekiah’s prayer. God did not have to be reminded that Hezekiah was righteous, but perhaps God included this part of his prayer in the Bible to remind us (not to remind God) that Hezekiah was righteous, so that we know why God granted Hezekiah’s request.
Saul on the other hand was unrighteous and disobedient. Saul did not honor God’s laws and did not take God very seriously. Whenever it suited Saul, he did what he wanted to do, even in direct defiance against God. As a result, when Saul prayed for help with his final battle with the Philistines, not only did God refuse to answer him, but he also allowed Saul to be killed in that very battle.
God was not less faithful to Saul. Clearly, a person’s heart, and a pattern of obedience to God, are critical factors in whether or not God will answer prayer.
God does not always answer the prayers of the righteous
Now, it is no guarantee that even if you are faithful and righteous that God will answer your prayer. Job famously was a very righteous man, and due to factors out of his control, God allowed great harm to come to Job. Job lost his entire family who died in freak accidents, and despite his prayers, God also allowed Satan to inflict Job with sores. In this case, God was testing Job to see if Job would remain faithful even if he lost everything including his health.
In the end, God blessed Job with far more than he had in the first place, because Job proved his righteousness and faithfulness and did not curse God even though God had allowed all these tragedies to befall him.
In Job’s case, God did not answer his prayers immediately because God had certain plans for Job. God used Job’s experience to be part of his holy Word, the Bible, which would continue teaching even us today thousands of years later. Moreover, God was also testing Job, so even though Job prayed, things continued to get worse for a time, because God was testing Job to see if he would remain faithful. When he did, God blessed him; but it was in God’s timing, not in Job’s timing.
Hezekiah on the other hand made a request that did not go against God’s plans. In Hezekiah’s case, God was not testing Hezekiah, but Hezekiah had simply become sick with a fatal illness. Additionally, Hezekiah’s request for a longer life apparently did not interfere with any of God’s plans. Therefore God in his great mercy and love, and because Hezekiah had indeed been a righteous king, God allowed Hezekiah to live for another 15 years.
Therefore, we have learned several things so far about God answering prayer. God will not answer the prayers of the disobedient like Saul; but God may answer the prayers of the faithful and righteous like Hezekiah; as long as it is in God’s own timing and aligns with God’s plan, like Job.
These biblical lessons give us a strong picture about when God will choose to answer our prayers. Additionally, the Bible has a number of verses that speak specifically about how and when God will answer prayers, or not.
God does not answer the prayers of sinners
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.” This verse clearly displays the lessons we learned above about Hezekiah and about Saul.
It is important here to distinguish that when it says God does not “hear” the prayer, what it means here is that God is ignoring it. God knows what every person on Earth says and thinks in their heart, and this includes prayers. But God will only listen and answer the prayers of someone who is a “worshiper of God and does His will”.
1 John 5:14 clarifies the other lesson we have learned in the case of Job; “If we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.” In order for God to answer our prayer, it must be according to God’s will and plan for our lives.
For example, if we are a righteous people and we pray every day that God will make a winning 100 million dollar lottery ticket waft in through your window while praying (especially if your window is actually closed), well you can pray that prayer 3 times a day for years and most likely God is not going to make that happen – although He might! But only if it is according to His will. However, the truth is that if you were really praying 3 times a day for years, God would have given you the wisdom to see how that is a foolish prayer.
On a side note, this is not to say that it is wrong to have millions of dollars, especially if you work hard for it, and your work is within God’s plan for your life. After all, King David and King Solomon were both extraordinarily wealthy. However, praying that a lottery ticket just floats through your window does not really fit into the “reap what you sow” (Galatians 6:7) theme that the Bible teaches. So, it is extremely unlikely God would ever answer that prayer. God could do it because God is God, but He probably will not.
Praying for finances
On a similar note, finances are a big concern. I am sure that a large percentage of prayers to God are about money. Say that your prayer is for God to honor your finances and help you through a tough time. If you are really getting in a tough situation and the money is not appearing, maybe you should start looking at your life.
Are you wasting your time unemployed watching television instead of looking for a job? Or, are you truly being diligent at work or are you just wasting your day doing the bare minimum? Are you wasting your money that you do earn on unnecessary things? This includes spending far too much money on food and at restaurants? If these examples apply, then why would you expect God to work a miracle in your finances when you are not being a good steward of what God has already given you?
Alternatively, if you really are being faithful in every area of your life and also with your limited finances, firstly I would say that it is unlikely that God would not answer your prayer if you do pray to Him daily from a pure heart. However, if God is still not answering, then maybe some financial trouble is in God’s plan for your life. Maybe, like Job, God is testing you.
God may answer, but in His own time
Possibly, God has something really great planned ahead, and you need to stop being afraid and trust that God is going to make sure that you are always taken care of, even if He doesn’t give you a big payday.
Or, maybe you are not disciplined enough to handle a lot of money yet, but that a little struggle can teach you to become reliant on God and have faith that He will always take care of you.
Maybe in God’s right timing which is truly going to be best for you, only then will God bless you with plenty, after you learned to be faithful with a little. For the Bible says,
“One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much” (Luke 16:10).
God will take care of the faithful
What you can be confident in, however, is that as long as your heart is right before God, and you are righteous and obedient in your ways, then God will not let you fall to pieces. When you are faithful to God and trust in Him, He will definitely take care of you. For He promised,
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” (Matthew 6:25)
Pray in secret
The Bible also gives us more instructions into effective prayer.
“When you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.” (Matthew 6:5)
If you pray openly with gaudy prayer as a way to try to make others think better of you, then God will not answer your prayer. Jesus said that they already received their reward, which implies that they will not get the reward of an answered prayer in such a case.
“But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:6)
Jesus went on to tell us that praying in secret, where only God knows that we prayed, is the right way to pray. This makes a lot of sense, because when you go to pray between only you and God, and not in front of anyone else, then you are demonstrating to God that you believe in God, because otherwise, what reason would there be to pray if no one else can hear you? You would only do that if you truly have faith that God exists. In doing so, this pleases God, as long as your heart is in the right place.
Pray genuinely and simply
“And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”
There is no point in trying to use fancy words before God, or trying to present a gaudy prayer to God, even by yourself. God already knows what you need. You are not teaching God what you need. All you are doing in prayer is making your requests known to God, and showing your faith by asking God for what you need, even though God does know it.
Prayer is necessary even though God already knows
God wants us to ask God our requests in prayer even though God already knows. The reason why is probably because God wants to have a relationship with us. God knows that when we pray to God for all our needs instead of Him simply providing them, then we can know for sure that it is God who is providing it, and it wasn’t our own power or simply an accident that we come into good health or good fortune or a good relationship, and so on and so forth.
God loves us and wants to have a relationship with us. This is why God wants us to pray to Him even though He does already know what we need. And, God will in some cases only answer certain prayers and honor certain requests when we pray.
The example of Hezekiah is evidence for this. Hezekiah was about to die of sickness. However, after Hezekiah prayed, God decided to grant Hezekiah’s request and answer his prayer, extending his life. Did God already know that Hezekiah wanted to live longer? Of course! But if Hezekiah had not asked God for a longer life, then he would not have received it. We know this because God had already told him he was about to die. But when Hezekiah prayed, God answered and said that He would give Hezekiah another 15 years of life, and that it would also be a time of peace.
God may not answer right away to protect us
Another reason why God does not answer prayer is because perhaps what we are praying for is not something that is good for us. Take the example of a small child standing next to their father on a street corner. “Can I cross the street now?” The child anxiously asks their father, trying to tug free of their father’s strong grip. They are practically bursting at the seams, impatient and really wanting to get across the street to the ice cream shop.
What the child does not know is that the iron grip of their father preventing them from running across the street is also protecting the child from getting hit by a car. The child isn’t aware of how to cross the road safely, but the father knows.
Likewise, perhaps we are praying earnestly for God to make something happen in our lives. We may even wait years, and get impatient and continue begging God to answer our prayer. Maybe it is a job, or a spouse, or a desire to have a child. Maybe it is a better financial situation, ability to relocate, or some other request. Perhaps the reason God has not answered yet is not because God is not listening but because God knows what is best for you more than you do.
Even if God spoke out of the clouds, it might be very much like the child whose father says he can’t cross the street yet to get ice cream because they might be hit by a car. The child does not understand death and injury yet. All the child is thinking about is the pleasure of the ice cream which they can see right across the street. Perhaps sometimes we are like that child, just on a bigger scale. Perhaps we can see what we want, but we don’t yet understand the obstacles in our way. Perhaps God is holding us back to protect us until the time is right.
God may not answer because He wants us to take some initiative first
For some things, like immediate finances or illness, maybe there is another reason God is not answering. Maybe your illness is because of your unhealthy lifestyle. Why would God miraculously cure your illness when you refuse to develop the discipline to eat well and to exercise? If you are disobedient by indulging in excess food and a lazy lack of exercise, God may be allowing illness to help get you back on the right track.
And maybe the real reason your finances are having trouble is because of poor spending habits or not being a good steward of your money. Surely, it is not always the case, but in many cases it may be. Or, maybe it is because you are not being diligent in your work. God said that we reap what we sow, so if we are not being good stewards of our time and working diligently, then it should not be any wonder why your finances may be suffering.
Forgive others in order for God to hear your prayers
Lastly, if we want God to hear our prayers, then we must confess our sins to Him, and repent and turn from our sins, and set our heart to no longer commit those sins. Moreover, we must also forgive others of their sins against us, or else God will not forgive our sins either. Jesus teaches us:
“But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:15)
Therefore if we want God to answer our prayers, then we must forgive everyone who has ever wronged us. This takes work, so if you are not experienced in forgiving others, you can begin by asking God to search your heart and bring any unforgiveness to mind. Surely, God will answer your genuine request to forgive others.
Davis also prayed in Psalm 51:10, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” This is a prayer you can pray every day. Ironically, this prayer can help you have the steadfastness to pray this prayer every day.
The prayers God will nearly always answer
I believe that there are some prayers God will almost always answer, if we ask from a genuine spirit. These are prayers for God to help us be pure, and prayers for God to help us be more forgiving. Surely, God will never reject someone that truly seeks to be righteous, because this type of prayer is always within God’s will for our lives.
Maybe if Saul prayed for righteousness instead of help, for discipline instead of providence, and for God to help him to be obedient and humble, then maybe God may have spared him. But he did not, and instead continued to be disobedient to God, and ultimately, God stopped answering him at all, even through the prophets.
God is good and faithful to answer prayers if we pray right
God will give us good things, because He loves us as a father; but it is clear that sometimes, we have to ask God for our requests in order for God to grant it to us. We have learned from the Bible that if we are disobedient, God will not listen to us or answer our prayers. But if we are righteous and obedient, and if also our requests are part of God’s will for our lives, then God may very well answer that prayer, if it is best for you. Sometimes, God may not answer for a long time, because the time is not right, or perhaps what we want is actually not good for us.
It is important to know that God can, does, and will answer prayer. However, God will not always answer prayer. If we are faithful and obedient, then God will answer our prayers when the timing is right and if it is within His plan for our lives and good for us. But He may not work a miracle if we are failing to do our own part and take the initiative first.
Therefore, remember Philippians 4:6 and be faithful in your prayers on a daily basis, in quiet and alone, and with a right and obedient heart. Be sure to repent of any sins you have committed and turn your heart to no longer commit those sins. And be sure to forgive everyone else, so that God will forgive you; for if you harbor unforgiveness in your heart, then God will not forgive you or answer your prayers.
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.” (Philippians 4:6)