“Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.” James 4:3
“And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us….” 1 John 5:14
While reading through the Bible over the past few years, I have been surprised to come across a substantial number of scriptures, which clearly state that God doesn’t always answer our prayers, and sometimes He doesn’t even hear them. This is the exact opposite of what most churches seem to teach these days. Instead, what I hear…often…is that anything we ask for God WILL provide…if we only just believe. If we don’t receive it? Well, we just don’t have enough faith. In other words – it’s your own fault that you aren’t healed and aren’t receiving abundant financial blessings! The verses that are often quoted to support this theory, usually in isolation, are similar to Mathew 21:22 below:
“And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.”
…And John 11:22
“But I know, that even now, whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give it thee.”
Two well-known verses from Acts come to mind as I consider the meaning of the above scriptures, along with the whole name-it-and-claim-it theological paradigm (for lack of a better, less pretentious word). In reality, the verses from Acts (cited below) should be applied to ANY biblical counsel we receive from man.
In Acts 17:11, Paul commends his Christian brothers and sisters from Berea, not only for receiving the word of God with readiness of mind but also for testing the truth of his words with the scriptures. Paul was one of those rare teachers who was actually blessed when his words were tested in the refining fire of scripture. Furthermore, in Acts 20:17, Paul notes, as he was preparing to leave Ephesus for the last time, that he didn’t cover just a few areas of Christian doctrine while preaching to the church. Instead, he taught “all the counsel of God.” Why did he do this? I believe it was to prevent someone from taking his teaching of out of context and using it for their own personal gain – or using it to create a cult following based on a minor point of doctrine. In other words, Paul knew that if he taught the church the whole counsel of God, then an elder or another believer, who was also present when he was preaching, could correct an errant or deceptive brother after Paul had departed. Doctrinal truth mattered a great deal to him (1 Timothy 4:16).
We too are exhorted by Paul, through Timothy, to study the scriptures intently for ourselves (2 Timothy 2:15), and to refuse to cling to a single verse or passage that appeals to our flesh or just seems right to us, when there are other passages that place that scripture in it’s proper spiritual context. No topic is more needful of intense study than prayer.
It has always troubled me when someone who is not a believer, explains to me that, when they were in some kind of difficulty, they cried out to “God” to help them…and He was silent. Well, there is a reason for that. Below, I will lay out the scriptures that teach us why God doesn’t always answer us or even hear us, and then I will set forth some of the scriptures that tell us when He does both hear and answer us, even if the answer isn’t always what we expect.
WHY GOD DOESN’T ANSWER US:
1. God doesn’t answer us when our prayers revolve around fulfilling our covetous desires:
“Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.” James 4:3
Unfortunately, this profound, but obvious truth (for anyone who studies the scriptures with regularity), is all but ignored by the popular “Christian” authors and teachers of our day. Jesus was poor and had no place to rest His head (Luke 9:58). Paul, too, was poor, had “no certain dwelling place” and walked from town to town across Asia minor, often starving and cold, even after being beaten multiple times with whips and rods (1 Corinthians 4:11-13; 2 Corinthians 11:23-27). He was ultimately decapitated after spending the last two years of his life imprisoned in Rome. It is no wonder that the passage below, is ignored by many popular churches today:
“If any man teach otherwise and consent not to wholesome words…and to the doctrine which is according to godliness;4 He is proud, knowing nothing…5 Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself.6 But godliness with contentment is great gain.7 For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.8 And having food and raiment let us be therewith content.” (*Please note that the highlighted section is ONLY found in the Textus Receptus Greek, and in the KJV in English. Not many pastors today would be in business if we all withdrew from the ones who equated godliness with financial increase, so…they simply use a Bible where it has been efficiently…edited out.)
2. God doesn’t answer us when we delight in or ignore our sin:
“But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear.” Isaiah 59:2
“If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me….” Psalm 66:18
3. God doesn’t answer husbands who aren’t loving their wives:
“Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered.“ 1 Peter 3:7
We are to love our wives as Christ loves the church (Ephesians 5:25), and if we don’t…then our prayers WILL be hindered. God cares very much for the happiness of our wives, and expects us to love them sacrificially, just as He loved those around Him with no concern for Himself.
4. God doesn’t hear our prayers if we have no regard for the poor:
“Whoso stoppeth his ears at the cry of the poor, he also shall cry himself, but shall not be heard.” Proverbs 21:13
I believe that a God-honoring way to truly love the poor, is to care for both their bodies and their souls, even if it is just in a small way. I recommend purchasing sound Bible tracts (meaning that they must mention the love of Jesus, and His death on the cross as the only way to cover our sins), and keep them in your car. Also, have little bags of healthy food along with water bottles in your vehicle, so that when you see a genuinely poor person, you can feed their bodies…and their precious, hurting souls. Simply doing one without the other is, in my humble estimation….completely and totally worthless. If we preach to them without caring for their physical bodies, then we are just another yapping, Bible-beating Christian who doesn’t have a clue about their real, urgent needs. Likewise, if we simply care for the physical needs of the poor and don’t share the gospel of Jesus Christ (What is the Gospel? ), which can save their eternal soul from eternal fire, then really, we are wasting our time.
5. God doesn’t answer our prayers, when what we seek isn’t according to His will.
“And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us…” 1 John 5:14
There are two great examples of prayers offered with a clear and unshakeable understanding of this great and surpassing truth. The first one I will comment on was by Jesus Christ, as he was about to enter into a time of unspeakable physical and emotional agony. Yet His prayer was not that His will would be done, but that God the Father’s will would be done, no matter the cost:
“Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.43 And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him.44 And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground. Luke 22:42 -44
And the second example is…Shadrach, Meshach and Abendego, who, as they were about to be thrown into a fiery furnace for refusing to bow down to any other god but God, responded to the king as follows:
16″ Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, answered and said to the king, O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter.17 If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king.18 But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.” Daniel 3:16-18
I cannot overstate how much the unconditional trust these three great men had for God…wether they were burned alive in the front of the king or not…has meant to me and my understanding of what it means to follow Him with all of my heart. God is God, and I am not. He gives and He takes away. He does according to HIS good will, whether we understand it or not. We must fully surrender to Him, and trust Him, with all of our hearts. He never makes bad decisions or leaves us to suffer needlessly. He always has a plan, and one day that plan will be clear.
6. God doesn’t answer us when we have our heart set on our idols (vanity, sports, vacations, our child’s performance in school, wealth, our reputations, etc.) rather then on him:
“Then came certain of the elders of Israel unto me, and sat before me.2 And the word of the Lord came unto me, saying,3 Son of man, these men have set up their idols in their heart, and put the stumblingblock of their iniquity before their face: should I be enquired of at all by them?4 Therefore speak unto them, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God; Every man of the house of Israel that setteth up his idols in his heart, and putteth the stumblingblock of his iniquity before his face, and cometh to the prophet; I the Lord will answer him that cometh according to the multitude of his idols;5 That I may take the house of Israel in their own heart, because they are all estranged from me through their idols.6 Therefore say unto the house of Israel, Thus saith the Lord God; Repent, and turn yourselves from your idols; and turn away your faces from all your abominations.” Ezekiel 1: 1-6
7. God Doesn’t hear our prayers for forgiveness if we are unforgiving:
14″ For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you:15 But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Matthew 6:14-15
Please note that this verse isn’t meant to imply that one loses their salvation by not forgiving someone. Unforgiveness, in my view, is simply something that we, as believers saved by the blood of the Lamb, will have to deal with at the judgement seat of Christ. Therefore, forgive as you have been forgiven…while there is still time. We don’t have to pretend with God. We simply make the decision to forgive, and ask Him to heal our hearts each time the unforgiveness and pain from the one we seek to forgive, arises. He will honor our decision to forgive. Forgiveness: To the Merciful, God shows Himself Merciful
8. If we are intentionally turning our hearts away from biblical truth or are delighting in evil, then He rejects our prayers:
“He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be abomination.” Proverbs 28:9 (We are not under law today, but the enduring point seems to be that, if we turn away from his clear, biblical truths, then He turns His ear away from us.)
“For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil.” 1 Peter 3:12
WHEN GOD DOES HEAR OUR PRAYERS:
1. God hears our prayers when our hearts are truly set on understanding and obeying Him. The verse below, when the Angel of the Lord spoke to Daniel as he was standing by the Hiddekel River, continues to instruct me regarding what a surrendered/repentant heart towards God, truly means:
12 “Then said he unto me, Fear not, Daniel: for from the first day that thou didst set thine heart to understand, and to chasten thyself before thy God, thy words were heard, and I am come for thy words.” Daniel 10:12
Later in that chapter, Daniel is actually called beloved of God. Wow…a man, in that dark time, who was not just loved by God, but was truly beloved of God. I want to be that man! Yes, I know that I am loved by God, but I want more. I want Him to look down at my life and be pleased with, not only my heart towards Him, but also with my actions. I pray that the Lord will help me to set my heart to understand His ways, in spirit and in truth – and to chasten myself before Him…not as law, but out of love.
2.The Lord hears the prayers of those that fear Him, abide in Him and call upon Him in truth:
” The Lord is nigh unto all them that call upon him, to all that call upon him in truth.19 He will fulfil the desire of them that fear him:he also will hear their cry, and will save them.” Psalm 145: 18-19
“He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.2 I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust.3 Surely he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler, and from the noisome pestilence.4 He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler.5 Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day;6 Nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness; nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday.7 A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee.8 Only with thine eyes shalt thou behold and see the reward of the wicked.9 Because thou hast made the Lord, which is my refuge, even the most High, thy habitation;10 There shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling...14 Because he hath set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him: I will set him on high, because he hath known my name.15 He shall call upon me, and I will answer him: I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him, and honour him…” Psalm 91
4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.5 I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.6 If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.7 If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.8 John 15:4-7
As some of the other verses quoted in this writing have shown us, when our prayers are a reflection of our lusts, or are outside of the will of God, He doesn’t answer them. However, as the passages above teach us, if we are truly abiding in Jesus Christ, then our desires will gradually, by the power of the Holy Spirit, be conformed to His desires, and as those desires change…we will see our prayers being answered in tangible ways.
3. God hears our prayers when our lives are pleasing to Him. This is simply a variation on the theme above, but nevertheless, it is a verse, which clearly states how we are to keep open channels of communication with the One who made us and loves us:
My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.19 And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him.20 For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things.21 Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God.22 And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight. 1 John 3: 18-22
For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous,and his ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil. 1 Peter 3:12
4. God hears our prayers when our requests are in accordance with His will:
“And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us:15 And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him.” 1 John 5:14-15
If we truly trust God as much as we claim to, yet don’t see an answer to our petition, then we can know, with certainty, that either our prayer wasn’t according to His will, or His perfect timing has not yet come. When Paul asked God THREE times that the thorn in his flesh be removed…God said ‘no” all three times ( 2 Corinthians 12:7-10). Why? Because His purpose was bigger than Paul’s, even though Paul didn’t seem to agree…but Paul ended up accepting God’s answer and conforming his will to God’s. He did not name it and he did not claim it. He pleaded…and then he surrendered, trusting the One who made him, saved him, and loved him:
“And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.8 For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.9 And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions,in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:7-10
I believe that the passages I quoted from Luke 22 and Daniel 3 (Jesus in Gethsemane, and Shadrach, et. al. prior to the fire) best describe what I am trying to communicate with this article, and hopefully, it accurately sets forth what God wants to communicate to us about both prayer and faith, through his beautiful and powerful written word. He hears us and answers us…when our hearts are set on His will, and His will only…no matter the cost – and more than that, when we, like Job, bless his glorious name, whether he builds us up, or for His unsearchable purpose, tears us down:
13 “And there was a day when his (Job’s) sons and his daughters were eating and drinking wine in their eldest brother’s house:14 And there came a messenger unto Job, and said, The oxen were plowing, and the asses feeding beside them:15 And the Sabeans fell upon them, and took them away; yea, they have slain the servants with the edge of the sword; and I only am escaped alone to tell thee.16 While he was yet speaking, there came also another, and said, The fire of God is fallen from heaven, and hath burned up the sheep, and the servants, and consumed them; and I only am escaped alone to tell thee.17 While he was yet speaking, there came also another, and said, The Chaldeans made out three bands, and fell upon the camels, and have carried them away, yea, and slain the servants with the edge of the sword; and I only am escaped alone to tell thee.18 While he was yet speaking, there came also another, and said, Thy sons and thy daughters were eating and drinking wine in their eldest brother’s house:19 And, behold, there came a great wind from the wilderness, and smote the four corners of the house, and it fell upon the young men, and they are dead; and I only am escaped alone to tell thee.20 Then Job arose, and rent his mantle, and shaved his head, and fell down upon the ground, and worshipped,21 And said, Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.22 In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly.” Job 1: 13- 22
As the heaven’s are higher than the earth, so are God’s ways higher than my ways, and of that…I am very glad. I know that I will never come close to getting everything right, and I will always wrestle with sin until the day I go up, yet I love Him and will press on to take hold of that for which He has taken hold of me. I will pursue my great Savior, not out of obligation, but because I love Him, and I know exactly what He did for me, naked, cold and in agony on that rough wooden cross. May we all come to trust and honor the one and only God, who loves us and gave Himself for us, with our prayers and with our lives…no matter the cost.
Preachers, Teachers and Mammon: What the Bible Says about Money and Ministry
Prayer: How to Approach God in Prayer