It isn’t uncommon to question whether our prayers get answered by God. A biblically grounded understanding is necessary to avoid abandoning prayer when we feel we don’t get what we want. This week, I want to speak more about proper versus improper prayer.

In a different post, I discuss what prayer actually is, why it is important, and perhaps how to embark on a healthy prayer life.

As always, please feel free to like, not like, comment, or question any of my posts. Your opinions are welcome.

I’ve heard different answers given to this question:

  • Your prayers are always answered, but sometimes the answer is ‘no.’
  • If your prayers don’t get answered, it’s because you lack faith.
  • Your prayers are only answered if you pray for the right things.
  • Your prayers will be answered in God’s time.
The problem with the above examples, like much in Christianity, is that when they are given by people and not by God, we don’t have context. There can be some truth found in all four of these answers, though.

So, what does the Bible say about prayer?

Where doubters get tangled up is when they incorrectly cite Jesus:

And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. (Luke 11:9)

The problem with quoting this verse for unlimited wishes from a god-genie is that it deals specifically with asking for God (the Father) to give you the Holy Spirit, “and it will be given to you” (Luke 11:13).

Citing that verse and then concluding that a lack of faith leads to a ‘no’ answer is bad theology.

Here, Jesus seems to be saying the same thing, but with a condition that can’t be overlooked:

If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. (John 15:7)

If we are abiding in Jesus and His words are abiding in us, ask whatever we wish… That part is often missed. If those two factors are in place, then our very hearts are changed, and what we wish for is affected.
Based on the aforementioned verse, God expects us to be totally in tune with His Word and His Son. If both of those things are in place, we will only come to seek from God what is best for us, especially when it is God’s will.

Through prayer, God wishes to be worshipped (John 4:23), praised (Psalm 99:2-3), glorified (Revelation 4:9-11), loved (Deuteronomy 6:5), and thanked (Hebrews 12:28).

If we only get on our knees when we want God to give us what we want, without ever giving God what He wants, then it is a one-sided relationship.

What would you do in that sort of relationship? You would suggest that you start seeing other people.

In my post on Forgiveness, we heard what Jesus had to teach us about how we should pray. What do we learn when we see Jesus Himself praying?

What else can Jesus teach us about prayer?

Later in the evening before His death, after what we know as the “Last Supper,” Jesus fell on His face to pray to His Father. Luke described the intensity of Jesus’ pleas to His Father as conjuring sweat “like great drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 22:44).

He had already sent Judas to do what he had to do (betray Jesus), and Judas was about to return with the authorities to take Jesus away.

Though Jesus knew this was “the plan,” and He knew that the hour was “now at hand,” His heart was overflowing with anguish, and His soul was still “very sorrowful” (Matthew 26:38).

Talk about the weight of the world resting on one’s shoulders. Jesus was embarking on the salvation of mankind. He is God, and we would come to know this as His greatest act. But He was also human and had to face His humanity in that moment. He gave us the greatest example of prayer in the Bible.

“Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. (Luke 22:42-43)

We get insight into His struggle when He pauses between petitions to scold His disciples for falling asleep while He prayed, “…The spirit is indeed willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41).
In that moment, we get a glimpse into both Jesus’ spirit and His flesh. He reconciled the two with prayer.

Within this one prayer, we may have everything we need to know about what and how to ask God for in prayer.

We learn that it is okay to let God know of our desires. Jesus’ desire was to be spared His impending torture and death, but only if it were the Father’s will.

At bottom, Jesus prayed that if His will and the Father’s wills were different, as awful as that could wind up, He wanted the Father’s will to be done. Our prayers should be similar.

What else can we infer from Jesus’ prayer?

Though it was the Father’s will that Jesus not be spared, that was not His desire.

How awful of a decision must that have been? The only thing greater than the horror and audacity of God’s creation murdering His own Son is His love for His creation and volunteering His Son’s life for all of us who believe (John 3:16).

The Father couldn’t have enjoyed watching His Son be murdered, but He knew it had to be done. Jesus trusted the wisdom of the Father and sorrowfully went forward with the Father’s will, knowing it was best.

When we come to the Father in prayer, it is okay to express our desire to Him, but that desire must always remain subordinate to a desire to remain in His will. How do we know His will? What we cannot learn from the Bible, we must seek to learn through prayer.

When Jesus prayed to be spared in the verse above, God did not grant that wish, but He sent an angel to strengthen Jesus.

What answers can we expect from prayer?

We can always take comfort in knowing that if God does not give us what we ask of Him, He will always give us the tools necessary to do what He asks of us.

Knowing this, we should orient our prayers from always asking God for a smoother path, to asking instead for better shoes.

Don’t fool yourself into thinking that your happiness depends on a specific answer to a specific prayer. Bear in mind that, as God is working on you, the lesson He may see fit to teach you is contentment outside of your desires.

God may be teaching you that if you are not happy with the way your life is now, you will not be happy if He grants you that wish. Contentment is not a result of achievements or accomplishments, it’s an attitude.

Before you pray to God for more things–better jobs, relationships, provisions, etc., pray for the peace that surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7).

God has plans that we will never understand. He will always have His reasons. Sometimes we will not like His reasons or how we wind up in His plan. But that is not always a factor in His decision.

In any case, what we should always pray for is to remain in God’s will. The answer to that prayer will always be yes.

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Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.