“And I will do whatever you ask in My name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.” (John 14:13-14 BSB)
Like most Christians, I have been privileged to receive answers to prayers, and some answers were almost miraculous. Yet, I have wondered why certain prayers, often on subjects closest to my heart, never seem to cross the threshold of heaven. I realise, of course, that God is not deaf to our entreaties, nor does He willingly afflict us; and, that in His inscrutable wisdom, He sometimes chooses to withhold the desired result at least for a time. The delays, and the rare denial – have seemed unfair and most inconvenient, and occasionally caused much sadness. Does God not realise how important these things are to me? If He really loved me, would He not answer my prayers more quickly?
In retrospect, I realise that the seeming delays have always strengthened my faith, and the denials have invariably worked out for my advantage. Despite these experiences, every new trial raises the same questions in my mind – “Why does God who loves us, and who has given us this promise – ‘Truly, truly, I tell you, whatever you ask the Father in My name, He will give you’ (John 16:23) – wait endlessly to answer some prayers? Is there anything wrong with me, and is there something I ought to do differently, before God will answer. Having prayed and pondered over these questions for some years, I am convinced that there is indeed a relationship between a Christian’s maturity and God’s response. Let us look at the subject of answered prayer in more depth.
Jesus said, “Whatever you ask in My name”, the Father will give. What does ‘in My name’ actually mean? We are Christians, not pagans, and ought to understand that this phrase is not a mantra to open a magic door. It implies a relationship as well as an alignment of interests. A father would do for his child what he would do for no other; equally, a good son would do nothing to disgrace his father’s name. A wise father would not readily hand over his estate to an immature or untrustworthy child, for he realises that the actions of such a child could ruin his future prospects. Withholding a request can be an act of great kindness, and God knowing that we would use a particular ‘blessing’ foolishly, might delay in bestowing it.
The first key to an answered prayer is, therefore, a righteous life – meaning a life of consecration and obedience. “The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results” (James 5:16 NLT). As Christians, our ‘positional’ righteousness – or the righteousness which God imputes to us because we trust in Christ’s perfect work on the cross – gives us access to the Father’s throne. After we have been adopted into God’s family, we must continue to walk in obedience. The choice to deny the flesh, and walk in the Spirit stimulates spiritual growth – as the innate selfishness common to us all, steadily diminishes and we learn to put the Kingdom first. When we obey Christ, it proves that we love Him (John 14:23). Just as we prove our love for Christ by our obedience, we prove our obedience to Christ by the love we show our neighbours. This obedience constitutes what has been described as the believer’s ‘personal righteousness’. The apostle John mentioned that one who does not love, walks in darkness and does not know God.
Obedience produces a clear conscience, and a special confidence as we come to the heavenly throne. “Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God, and we will receive from Him whatever we ask, because we keep His commandments and do what is pleasing in His sight” (1 John 3:21-22 BSB). The assurance that grows in our hearts as we choose to walk in the light and love of God has the profound effect of releasing faith. This brings us to the topic of faith.
The second key is faith –“Therefore I tell you, all the things you pray and ask for, believe that you have received them, and you will have them” (Mark 11:24 HCSB). Jesus, during His earthly ministry had full confidence that God always heard His prayers – ‘Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. I knew that You always hear Me, but I say this for the benefit of the people standing here, so they may believe that You sent Me”‘ (John 11:42 BSB). Certainly, Christ’s obedience meant that He had God’s ear; still, His unshakeable confidence in the Father’s eagerness to hear Him also rested on His knowledge of God’s character. As Jesus pointed out to the disciples, God is surely better than any earthly father; so why should anyone doubt His willingness to bless us? A deep trust in God’s love and wisdom unlocks the storehouses of heaven; and when we truly begin to know God, our hearts are filled with hope in the midst of our troubles.
Let us consider the example of the Canaanite woman (Matthew 15:21-24), who refused to give up in the face of the Lord’s apparent rebuffs. First, Jesus ignored her pleas for her demon-possessed daughter; then He said He had come for the ‘lost sheep of Israel’ and not for Gentiles like her; and finally that He would not take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs. She retorted, “Yes, Lord; but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus said to her, “O woman, your faith is great; it shall be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed at once. Her trust did not rise from an extensive knowledge of the scriptures, but from an instinctive understanding of God’s nature.
Sadly, the children of Eve too readily listen to the Serpent’s voice – “Did God really say? Indeed He did not mean it…” Our hearts and minds are constantly tossed to and fro by the uncertainty of human experience, and we attribute to God the same lack of fidelity we see in ourselves and our neighbours. The experience of walking close to God gives us a greater insight into the workings of His mind, and quells such fears. As we begin to understand God’s mercy, generosity and faithfulness; the anxiety gives way to trust, our hearts are strengthened and then, we boldly put forth our hands to receive.
The third key is perseverance. Jesus said, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7). We have the duty to ask, and those who do not ask will not receive. Some prayers are answered as soon as we ask, but for others we must wait longer in prayer. As we seek God earnestly to know His will in every matter that we have placed before Him, His Spirit will guide us to align our requests more closely to His purposes for us, or point out areas of our lives that need changing. And finally, some prayers require an even higher level of tenacity, likened to the urgent knocking on a firmly shut door, simply because the enemy is intensely opposed to these requests being fulfilled. We are, literally, pursuing a case in court where the devil has set up obstacles and deceptions to thwart the purposes of God from being fulfilled in our lives.
The Lord told His disciples the story of a persistent widow to “show them that they should always pray and not give up” (Luke 18:1-8 NIV). The widow went before an unjust judge pleading, “Grant me justice against my adversary”; for a long time, this judge ‘who neither feared God nor cared for what people thought’ ignored her pleas; but she finally broke through his iron resistance. He ‘feared’ that she would eventually ‘wear him out’ by her persistence. Jesus said, “And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly” .
There is a reason why God sometimes makes us wait; our patience gives Him a special reason to bless us even beyond our original request; moreover, it is His will to bless many others through the answer to our prayers. Consider Hannah’s sorrow and her prayers, the result of which was Samuel, a man of integrity and wisdom who led Israel at a crucial time in its history. “It is good to wait on the Lord” and “the Lord is good to those who wait on Him”. A believer must, in some cases, go through a more arduous refining process than usual, when God’s Spirit of engages closely with our spirits, and His fire burns away the impurities in our lives, before we receive the answer to our prayer. As God prepares the answer to the believer’s prayer, so He prepares the believer to receive the answers. The blessing is received in the ‘fullness of time’, when its impact is more profound than it would be otherwise.
As Paul pointed out, perseverance produces character; and character, hope, that is so closely linked to faith, for it springs from the expectation that our prayers are being heard. This hope, we are told, “does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3-4 NIV). So, we see how closely the 3 keys operate to unlock the answer to our prayer.