God always answers prayer, right?

Hands crossed in prayer
Male hands crossed for prayer in dark

A few weeks ago, I was watching a clip of a Francis Chan message. He was re telling a situation where some Jehovah’s Witnesses approached him and asked if they could talk to him. He said yes,  and in the course of the conversation he was told, “We can’t pray directly to God, it needs to come from our leaders.  God won’t listen to the prayers of just anyone. ”

Chan’s response shocked me at first, but the more I think about it, and search the scriptures that he quoted – I think I agree.

Let’s see if you are shocked too.

He said, “you’re right, God doesn’t listen to everyone’s prayers – but he listens to mine.”

I don’t know about you, but I’ve always been taught that God always listens to prayers. He may not answer them in the way we want or expect, but he always listens.  If I’m honest, although I’ve been taught that he listens to all prayers, my actual belief was that he listened to everyone else’s, but not to mine. In order to be heard, I had to spend weeks reading my bible (next to impossible) , making sure I didn’t sin too much (who was I trying to kid?) and generally behave myself (almost as difficult as reading my bible). The end result was there was no point in praying myself, because I hadn’t met all the other criteria I believed were in place in order for it not being a waste of time.

Turns out there are some things that God says will render your prayers worthless – they just aren’t the things that I thought they were.

Let’s have a look at some of them.

James 1:5-7. James tells us that we need to ask in faith,  without doubt. God won’t give anything to this sort of double-minded person. Sounds a bit harsh doesn’t it, but when you think about it, it makes sense. The saying goes that “if you don’t ask, you don’t get.”, but I think there is a subtle difference here. Remembering who God is, and how He feels about us is key here. When we remember how good God is, and how much He wants to bless us, we ask hopeful that He will, expecting Him to say Yes – rather than just going through the motions expecting the answer to be no, but feeling you have to ask anyway.

James 4:3. Why are we asking God for things? Will the abundance of Heaven be used simply to promote yourself, or is it for the benefit of others? Do you have compassion for your fellow man, or is your prayer focused purely on what you can get? I’m not suggesting for a second that we shouldn’t pray for ourselves, but what drives us to pray is just as important as what we pray for.

1 Peter 3:7 – Guys, Peter here tells us to honour our wives, to live in understanding with them so our prayers may not be hindered. I’m not brave enough here to tackle the “weaker vessel” part of this verse, but just think about that for a moment. Ever think, I’ve been praying about this for ages, God seems to be on mute. How is your relationship with your spouse?

Amos talks about humbling ourselves and turning from our evil ways, before God will turn and hear our prayers. This might well be a more corporate example, more applicable to a country rather than an individual, but nonetheless describes a situation where God may not answer our prayers.

In the same way that there isn’t a formula to healing, this isn’t supposed to be a tick box exercise to get what we want from God. The very thought that there might be, sort of goes against James 4:3 anyway – what is your motive. I think it is really important though, as we strive to become more like Jesus, to consider the things that get in the way of that relationship. I don’t want to simplify how God deals with our prayers. His ways are not our ways.  Who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct Him?  But He does give us some direction, there are some pointers that help us understand.

Prayer, at its heart after all is simply having a conversation with our Father, Abba, Daddy, Papa. I am really fortunate to have a great relationship with my Dad. I know he loves me, and I can talk to him about pretty much anything. Turns out most of the things I struggle with, he has too, and has a wealth of experience as a result. I don’t do it often enough, but conversations with my Dad are really worthwhile times. Some people don’t have the same experience with their Dads, for a whole host of reasons. I can’t begin to understand what that feels like. What I do know though is Father God is good. Father God loves you. Father God wants good for you. You can talk to Him about anything. He will understand. He will help you through the storm. He will put you back together again afterwards.

I’m sure that over the years I have done things that have strained the relationship with my Dad. I am sure that there are things that have (probably still do) make it difficult to talk to him. There are things that I have had to face up to and change in order to restore the relationship – but once done, lines of communication were open and free.

It’s true – God doesn’t listen to everyone’s prayers – but He listens to mine.

Does He listen to yours?

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