This is a question that mostly filled our minds when it comes to prayers. I remember discussing this same question with the young people in our Church. We were taught that God answers prayer with either a “Yes”, a “No” or a “Wait”. But when I read this devotional by A. W. Tozer (thanks to James for the influence), my whole perspective about God’s answer to my prayers changed. Read it below and tell me what you think about it.
Does God always Answer Prayer?
by A.W. Tozer
CONTRARY TO POPULAR OPINION, the cultivation of a psychology of uncritical belief is not an unqualified good, and if carried too far it may be a positive evil. The whole world has been booby-trapped by the devil, and the deadliest trap of all is the religious one. Error never looks so innocent as when it is found in the sanctuary.
One field where harmless-looking but deadly traps appear in great profusion is the field of prayer. There are more sweet notions about prayer than could be contained in a large book, all of them wrong and all highly injurious to the souls of men.
I think of one such false notion that is found often in pleasant places consorting smilingly with other notions of unquestionable orthodoxy. It is that God always answers prayer.
This error appears among the saints as a kind of all-purpose philosophic therapy to prevent any disappointed Christian from suffering too great a shock when it becomes evident to him that his prayer expectations are not being fulfilled. It is explained that God always answers prayer, either by saying Yes or by saying No, or by substituting something else for the desired favor.
Now, it would be hard to invent a neater trick than this to save face for the petitioner whose requests have been rejected for non-obedience. Thus when a prayer is not answered he has but to smile brightly and explain, “God said No.” It is all so very comfortable. His wobbly faith is saved from confusion and his conscience is permitted to lie undisturbed. But I wonder if it is honest.
To receive an answer to prayer as the Bible uses the term and as Christians have understood it historically, two elements must be. present: (1) A clear-cut request made to God for a specific favor. (2) A clear-cut granting of that favor by God in answer to the request. There must be no semantic twisting, no changing of labels, no altering of the map during the journey to help the embarrassed tourist to find himself.
When we go to God with a request that He modify the existing situation for us, that is, that He answer prayer, there are two conditions that we must meet: (1) We must pray in the will of God and (2) we must be on what old-fashioned Christians often call “praying ground”; that is, we must be living lives pleasing to God.
It is futile to beg God to act contrary to His revealed purposes. To pray with confidence the petitioner must be certain that his request falls within the broad will of God for His people.
The second condition is also vitally important. God has not placed Himself under obligation to honor the requests of worldly, carnal or disobedient Christians. He hears and answers the prayers only of those who walk in His way. “Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God. And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight . . . . If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you” (I John 3:21, 22; John 15:7).
God wants us to pray and He wants to answer our prayers, but He makes our use of prayer as a privilege to commingle with His use of prayer as a discipline. To receive answers to prayer we must meet God’s terms. If we neglect His commandments our petitions will not be honored. He will alter situations only at the request of obedient and humble souls.
The God-always-answers-prayer sophistry leaves the praying man without discipline. By the exercise of this bit of smooth casuistry he ignores the necessity to live soberly, righteously and godly in this present world, and actually takes God’s flat refusal to answer his prayer as the very answer itself. Of course such a man will not grow in holiness; he will never learn how to wrestle and wait; he will never know correction; he will not hear the voice of God calling him forward; he will never arrive at the place where he is morally and spiritually fit to have his prayers answered. His wrong philosophy has ruined him.
That is why I turn aside to expose the bit of bad theology upon which his bad philosophy is founded. The man who accepts it never knows where he stands; he never knows whether or not he has true faith, for if his request is not granted he avoids the implication by the simple dodge of declaring that God switched the whole thing around and gave him something else. He will not allow himself to shoot at a target, so he cannot tell how good or how bad a marksman he is.
Of certain persons James says plainly: “Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.” From that brief sentence we may learn that God refuses some requests because they who make them are not morally worthy to receive the answer. But this means nothing to the one who has been seduced into the belief that God always answers prayer. When such a man asks and receives not he passes his hand over the hat and comes up with the answer in some other form. One thing he clings to with great tenacity: God never turns anyone away, but invariably grants every request.
The truth is that God always answers the prayer that accords with His will as revealed in the Scriptures, provided the one who prays is obedient and trustful. Further than this we dare not go.
This was taken from his book “Man: The Dwelling Place of God“. For more devotionals from this book click here.
14 thoughts on “Does God Always Answer Our Prayers?”
While this devotional is lovely, it is full of unsupported assumptions and pontifications. His first assumtion (we must pray in the will of God) is a truism. The second, (we must be living a righteous life) is neither possible nor logical. Clearly, if a prayer request does conform to the will of God, it might be granted, regardles of how the petioner is living his life.
“He hears and answers the prayers only of those who walk in His way”this statement is a bit wrong, GOd hears eqch one of us, He lovs us all and he hears us when we talk to HIM,GOd is not for good people only , HE is for bad people also , He loves us all so HE hears each one of us when we cry to Him.
William/Gertrude: Thank you for your replies. These made me reconsider the truth behind this devotional. Fortunately, we discussed this in church last week and I was reminded of this devotional and think about your replies as well. The question that came to my mind is, if what you are saying is correct, that God grants the requests that conform to His will even if the petitioner is not living according to God’s teaching, isn’t it direct contradiction to what God said in verses 1 to 3 of Isaiah 59? I am not really sure what the answer is so I really hope you will stumble to this post again and reply to this thread. 🙂 God bless!
This is a really interesting question, I’d love to read more people’s responses to this. The passages in Isaiah 59 you refer to – some might argue that this was “pre-Jesus”, and that as Jesus washes away all of our sins on repentance, God sees any true believer as holy enough to answer his prayers.
However, clearly this is not the full story; there are various references in the NT to the link between spiritual uprightness and God’s response to your prayers. But then, aren’t we all sinners? Even those who appear upright are sinners – you have to presume that what the writers of the NT are NOT doing is setting up yet another generation of pharisees… “those guys were holy on the outside, but full of sin on the inside. We’re the true holy ones…”
There is obviously a worry that by talking about this issue, people would be put off communciating with God because they don’t feel worthy. Jesus bridged the distance between us and God – no one should feel like they cannot pray because they’re not holy enough. But still, we all know there are differences between the way some Christians live their lives and others, and it’s not hard to see that those who devote their lives more fully to God will see greater answer to prayer.
I wonder if it is a matter of *what* you pray. If you feel like you are in sin and far from God, perhaps it is not the time for you to be asking for this, that and the other. Perhaps it is a time for you to be crying out to God, grasping hold of his sacrifice with both hands and being thankful. When you are living in the strength of God and secure in his promises, perhaps then is the time to widen your prayer to request his direct intervention.
Regardless of some of the issues raised here, I think some parts of this devotional are very timely and very wise: God listens to every prayer, but no-where in the Bible does it suggest he answers every one. As Christians, we love to give ourselves get-out clauses sometimes; nothing happens and we comfort ourselves that God is saying “wait and see”, or “no”. We don’t like to think that God is simply not answering our prayers, but it is entirely possible, and we should not set ourselves up for disappointment with false pretences!
I definitely think that God does answers prayers. He is our Father. The best Father that has ever existed and we couldn’t imagine the spectacular unconditional love He has for every single soul! Do you realize the magnitude of His love and promises? In each story Jesus approaches the unloved, sick, sinful and answers their prayers and gives them miracles. We are so blind sometimes. We have miracles happen all the time and to think that we are missing it so much throughout the day is sad. We take things for granted too much. Just think!!! He created science, pictures, processes that are foreign and familiar to us, the gifts we’re natural at, the set up of Earth. We could be too close to the sun or too far, but it’s established perfectly so we could survive, made just for US! HE LOVES YOU! Even in the midst of tragedy, depression, misunderstanding, loss of faith, hate, bitterness, revenge… all these man-made sinful acts, free-will choices. He still wants us to be close to Him if we’d only allow ourselves to TRUST and take a small step of faith each day in His path, not ours. To be wiser, make as many correct choices we can with intentions of loving and not hurting others in the process. We will always fail, but with His help and surrender, you will see great things happen, a sense of relief that you’re not on your own and you are always loved!
I had an experience where my prayers were being answered daily. All my life I have wanted to do two things career wise which overlap and intertwine. The thing is, I know God gave me every single gift necessary for this duo profession except one thing- personal strength! However, my primary career, that I embarked upon really since childhood, I feel myself to be gifted and blessed in every way. However, the more I climb the ladder, the more I struggle and fail. And it’s not just a “career”, it is a soul-journey-one of the arts. For the past week I had prayed to do well, but when it came to the final crunch, I prayed and I failed. I know even when I have a so-called success, I am only giving and performing at half measure. It is so painful to know what I am capable of doing and be too afraid to do it all the way. I prayed so hard for the final test to go well, and I failed. I was mediocre. I know I should get over it- there are people who are being abused, who are starving, who have so much misery, but I feel like at the end of my journey, God was not there. I did react negatively to someone, but I made amends and gave love to that person right before our final endeavor. But something is wounded in my heart. Why didn’t God help me? Where was He? I know I ultimately was the person who failed, but why was I given the gifts, the inclination, the desire for this art only to feel less than other people whom I know are not as well endowed as I. But they have more faith in themselves, more courage. I have tried to have that courage, I have tried to believe in myself and believe in God, but in my soul there is just a hollow and dead feeling. It’s so stupid, because in many ways I am blessed, a good family and relative health. But this job is more than a job, it’s a way of life, it’s a spiritual quest. What I do is take ideas about love and humanity and make them live for people. I don’t always have the right motivation or the most spiritual whatever, but I feel like God is a perfectionis ready to punish me for any slight transgression. Most of the time I am seeking spirit and seeking God. Must I be perfect to receive God’s blessing?I think so. I know people- they are good people, they are kind, they care about others-these other people soared when I could only flail. People have worse problems, I have had worse problems, but I just wanted this oe thing to go well. I am tired of failing, of living beneath the talents that God gave me. I know he gave me this talent, this inclination. It’s like mental illness. Some people see things, they can’t help it. They can pray for those visions to go away and they won’t. I have a mental block in my head that won’t let me soar. I have tried to remove it, prayed for its removal, but it ocmes back again and again. I feel empty inside. Dead. Tired. Drained. Defeated.
Brother, I feel your sincere pain. You have been brutally honest in your post and I want you to know that many people end up feeling defeated and usually this is a sign of operating in your own strength. (My desire is not to be critical but helpful). I believe that your struggle will help you find what He has for you. Maybe it is the same thing you have in mind and maybe it is something quite different. If His plan differs from your,is that OK? Remember that your victory in this life is found in Hid plan. I pray the He will direct your steps.
Going through a season of prayers and fasting now!, and i am seeking a new personal revival experience of God within me, and also asking God in prayers for certain concrete material blessings to happen in my life now. Found myself on this site in my search to understand more about prayers and to draw from peoples experiences as i learn more or unlearn some stuffs about prayers. One thing is sure i have gotten some useful informations to pounder on, and i will be back on this site to share my story concerning my praying season in due time.
I have read through all the comments above and find most who have disagreements with A W Tozer to be more contextual than fact. Our problem far too often is that we have a “one size” fits all mentallity to our spiritual walk. We can be at different stages in our relationship with God. One may be experiencing God’s discipline and another may be underGod’s judgment. The Isaiah 59:2 scripture indicates that one might have reached a point where God refuses to answer until major repentance takes place. As to the “pre-Jesus” folk, the New Testament compliments the Old Testament and as scripture clealry states God is the same always. My heart goes out to jm. I think his post is an honest portayal experienced by many Christians who have been fed half truths such as the one being dispelled by Tozer. Many of the posts focused on specific requests made to God rather than on the desire to find God himself. Only upon complete surrender of all our desires and all of our appetites can we expect to see the power of God’s resolve inour lives. It’s a sweet exchange that is well worth making.
Ok, so this topic had me curious so i looked up all the verses i could think of on this topic. It seems that God hearing and answering prayer is directly associated with us being his children. I might butcher this so bear with me. There are verses that indicate that God was so angry with humans that he turned away from them like the one from Isaiah 59. I read it and him being angry and turning away was because of wickedness. It seems though that in those times people were not actually seeking him. I have the list of scripture i found here http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=matthew%207:7-12;luke%2018:1-14;dt%2031:17;%20micah%207:7,18-19;micah%202:7-3:12&version=NIV . In the case of the tax collecter he obviously wasn’t living a righteous life before that, and you cant change before you come to God. You have to cry out to him to change you. But there’s also this difference between asking God for somthing (a car, deliverence from a situation, a job) etc etc. (that can all be in his will because it can all be good and God wants us to ask), and asking to be reconciled and forgiven. If we ask to be reconciled and forgiven the answer is always yes. Just like the tax collecter. Even in the extremely wicked times, God still spoke to the prophets and righteous (through faith). In Micah when it talks about God turning away/not hearing, it’s in refference to the leaders who preyed on his true children. God is willing that none should perish but he has a firey protectiveness and vengence when people harm his children (matt 21:33-40). Who knows in any given situation why God will not give us specifically what we ask for. In Job, God took everything away and Job was righteous. It never even says God told Job why he went through losing everything. It might be because we are living wickedly, it might be that if we recieve what we ask that we would die the next day. We cannot understand the mind of God but we can try to grasp understanding of his heart. If you go to God like a wayward son to a father, he is more than happy to bring his child back to him. He invites us to do so. =]
So i am a sinner, it means God will not answer me? He only gives favor to good people and answer prayers
I really like this video. In it the speaker talks about how the prayer was seemingly answered wrong but in fact lead to the right thing. Give it a watch. http://www.mormonchannel.org/video/mormon-messages?v=2714780496001