There seems to be a lot of confusion over the question of prayer, and if God answers all prayers. Many Christians sit in pews and listen to pastors who teach that God answers all prayers. The pastors say that sometimes God will say “yes”. They will admit that sometimes God says “no”, or even “maybe”, or “wait”. These are all valid answers. I have seen examples of such answers that I have given to my own children in seeking to be a good parent. Children sometimes ask for things that are not good for them. Or for things that are inappropriate for them. However, there were times to when they were asking things with the wrong attitude, or the while they were being punished, or things that they just knew that I would not allow, but they asked anyway.
On those occasions, I simply ignored the pleading. I had all the right to as a parent. Just because I was asked, it did not mean that I must answer or even that I had to listen. You may have been in a similar situation with your children. Lucky for us we serve a God who is the essence of what is good. He loves us from his goodness, and his goodness gives us love. Therefore, He always seeks our best interest, within his will. We are his children, and we are treated as such. But, what about those who are not his children? Does God have to pander to their requests? Does he have the right to disregard their prayers?
The Holy Bible starts out with a simple assumption, that God exists. “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1) If God exists, and he created the heaven and the earth then God is sovereign. We either must believe that or not. Now if we believe that God is sovereign then we must believe that he is not under our jurisdiction. He is free to determine what he must and must not do. God gets to choose his own actions. God’s actions are governed by his own character.
This character is what has been the demonstration of what is true in love, charity, longsuffering, righteousness, and all things that are good. Our since of justice comes from the character of God. God as creator does not have to answer for himself to his creation. We simply must accept that he can choose to answer any prayer that he so chooses to answer. In accepting that as truth we must also accept as truth; God can choose to not answer, and even ignore some prayers. We do not dictate the terms to God. It is God who dictates terms to his creation.
To ignore the sovereignty of God would put us in the same place as Satan. “For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High.” (Ezekiel 14:12-14) You would think that we would see and understand that to stand in the presence of God and make demands of him is to put ourselves in the position of God. This is what happened in the Garden of God in Eden. There Satan tempted Eve to sin, by telling her that she would be like God. (Genesis 3:5) We must listen to what the Word says and not what we desire. So, are there times that God chooses to ignore prayers? What does the Word say about unanswered and ignored prayers?
Well James the half-brother of Jesus wrote, “Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.” (James 4:3) The epistle of James is believed to have been written around 49-50 AD, that would make it the earliest written letter written, after the Ascension of Christ, in the New Testament. Here James is answering the same question that we are still asking today. Why doesn’t God answer all prayers? In this short sentence James tells us that if we ask to consume it in our lusts, that is to say, to satisfy fleshly desires, or in self-serving desire, then you are asking in vain because God will not honor that prayer. So, the motivation of our prayer has to be sincerely unselfish. So, is it wrong to ask for the things we need? No, Jesus himself told us that we should ask that our joy may be full. Jesus also says that we should seek the kingdom of God first, because the Father knows everything we need, and he will supply our need. So, James does not contradict Jesus. Both Jesus and James, tell us that we should ask with the proper motivation.
We also see that the Lord will not hear those who think immorality in their heart. “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me:” (Psalms 66:18) What an eye opener this verse is. To put it in context, the writer is actually praising God for hearing his prayers, and NOT those of the wicked. He draws a contrast and comparison between himself as a righteous man before God who seeks to do the will of God and those who do not seek the will of God. These who enjoy and keep sin in their hearts will have their prayers unanswered because they are separated from God and God will not hear them. Pay close attention to what Isaiah says, “But your iniquities have separated you from your God; And your sins have hidden His face from you, So that He will not hear.” (Isaiah 59:2) Iniquities are knowledgeable sins. These are sins we know are wrong and choose to continue in them. These separate us from God, and then he will not hear us. This is what leads the Apostle John to write, “Now we know that God heareth not sinners: but if any man be a worshipper of God, and doeth his will, him he heareth.” (John 9:31) There seems to be a theme developing here. The theme that wrongly motivated prayers and a desire to continue in sin are some things that motivates God to NOT answer prayers. Heck it even seems that he ignores those who do such things.
In fact, God tells the prophet Jeremiah, because Israel has violated these two principles and rejected God, he will not hear them when they pray, and he forbids prayer for them. Did you hear that? Don’t believe me? Listen to Jeremiah 14:10-12, “Thus saith the Lord unto this people, Thus have they loved to wander, they have not refrained their feet, therefore the Lord doth not accept them; he will now remember their iniquity, and visit their sins. Then said the Lord unto me, Pray not for this people for their good. When they fast, I will not hear their cry; and when they offer burnt offering and an oblation, I will not accept them: but I will consume them by the sword, and by the famine, and by the pestilence.” Wow he will not hear their prayers, not anyone else’s prayers for them. He will not listen even if they fast, no matter how often nor how long they pray, because they have rejected him. I think that it is fair enough to say that the doors of heaven can be closed to those who leave God, should he so choose.
Ok so far we see that God can choose to ignore prayer from those who have improper motives rooted in selfishness. God will not hear those who choose to live in sin, or who have forsaken God for another god. Now we move on to those who have actually rejected God. Scripture tells us that Jesus is the Word of God and the Word of God was with God in the beginning and created all things. The Word also tells us, “The Lord by wisdom hath founded the earth; by understanding hath he established the heavens. By his knowledge the depths are broken up, and the clouds drop down the dew. My son, let not them depart from thine eyes: keep sound wisdom and discretion: So shall they be life unto thy soul, and grace to thy neck.” (Proverbs 3:19-22) and then scripture also tells us that this wisdom of God that Created, this Word of God that Created, this Jesus that Created, if you reject him. Then you will cry out and the Father will not hear you.
• Proverbs 1:24-28 – Because I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded; But ye have set at nought all my counsel, and would none of my reproof: I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh; When your fear cometh as desolation, and your destruction cometh as a whirlwind; when distress and anguish cometh upon you. Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer; they shall seek me early, but they shall not find me:
• Matthew 10:33 – But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.
• John 14:6 – Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.
There we clearly that the rejection of Jesus Christ means that the Father does not know you. That would mean that he is not your Father. You would not then be his child. He would be under no obligation to hear those who have rejected Jesus.
God does have a real heart for those who listen to him, those who abbey his will, and those who care for others. So much so that Zachariah tell us that God proclaims that those with hard hearts, who refuse to listen to the Lord and his commandments he will not hear. (Zechariah 7:11-13). Proverbs 28:9 tells us that those who turn there ears away the hearing of the Law of God, God considers their prayers an abomination. That means that God thinks that those who do not even bother to listen to his law and then want to pray to him, that their prayers are an outrage. There is another form of ignoring that God does not particularly care for and will cause prayers to be unheard. Those who ignore the plight of the poor, when they ask of God, their prayers will be, likewise, ignored. (Proverbs 21:13)
God will not hear the prayers of those who mistreat his people either. These are those who hate good, love evil, who seek to hurt and kill the Saints of God.
• Psalm 18:40-41 – Thou hast also given me the necks of mine enemies; that I might destroy them that hate me. They cried, but there was none to save them: even unto the Lord, but he answered them not.
• Micah 3:2-4 – Who hate the good, and love the evil; who pluck off their skin from off them, and their flesh from off their bones; Who also eat the flesh of my people, and flay their skin from off them; and they break their bones, and chop them in pieces, as for the pot, and as flesh within the caldron. Then shall they cry unto the Lord, but he will not hear them: he will even hide his face from them at that time, as they have behaved themselves ill in their doings.
These have cried in the past and the Lord choose to ignore their pleas. There are other examples of prayers that do not get answered. Prayers from those who worship idols (Jeremiah 11:11-14; Ezekiel 8:15-18. Those who do not believe will not receive anything from the Lord. (James 1:6-7).
So then if we are all unrighteous, who does God hear?
Those who seek and call upon him in belief that he is, and that he is a rewarder of those who earnestly seek him to know who he is.
• James 1:5 – But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.
• Jeremiah 29:12 – Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you.
• Job 33:26 – Then he will pray to God, and He will accept him, That he may see His face with joy, And He may restore His righteousness to man.
• Psalm 91:15 – “He will call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him.
• Psalm 145:18 – The Lord is near to all who call upon Him, To all who call upon Him in truth.
• Psalm 65:2 – O You who hear prayer, To You all men come.
• Jeremiah 36:7 – Perhaps their supplication will come before the Lord, and everyone will turn from his evil way, for great is the anger and the wrath that the Lord has pronounced against this people.”
• Matthew 7:11 – If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!
• John 14:13 – Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.
• John 14:14 – If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.
• John 16:23 – In that day you will not question Me about anything. Truly, truly, I say to you, if you ask the Father for anything in My name, He will give it to you.
• John 15:7 – If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.
• 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.
• Matthew 21:22 – And all things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.”
• 1 John 5:14 – This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.
• 1 John 5:15 – And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him.
• Romans 10:12 – For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him;
Scripture is clear. God is sovereign and he chooses to ignore those who do not recognize or who ignore his sovereignty. But to those who sincerely seek him, and desire to know him. He will reveal himself to them. Those who are repentant and who confess that Jesus is the Son of God who died, was buried, and rose again from the grave, and desire to perform his will, God will hear, and answer. He will fulfill the desires of that person’s heart. God hears those who hear him. If you first ask to hear God, he will let you hear him, that your joy may be full. You want to hear something really neat? God prays for us. (Romans 8:27; John 17:15; 1 Timothy 2:15; Hebrews 9:15) In addition, for those who accept Jesus as Christ, those have been made righteous (2 Corinthians 5:21) This means the unrighteous man that John said God would not hear… we are no longer that unrighteous man. Therefore, God hears us, because of Jesus Christ, in order that the Son of God may be glorified of the Father. What wonderful news!