In the gospels Jesus gives incredible promises about prayer. One of these promises is, “If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it.” (John 14:14) Yet, many people pray and do not have their prayers answered? Why is this? Since Jesus gave broad, sweeping promises about prayer, should not every one who prays get what they ask for? Why are many prayers not answered?
First, the promise of answered prayers is only given to believers. The Bible never promises the unsaved that God will give them what they ask. God may graciously answer some of the prayers of the unsaved, but He does not promise to do so.
Second, every one of Jesus’ promise of answered prayers is conditioned upon the properness of the prayers. The gospel of John contains the most remarkable of Jesus’ promises. The promises in John are all dependent based upon the one praying being in a right relationship with Jesus. This propriety in prayer is described in one place as,“asking in Jesus name.” Asking in Jesus name is more than ending a prayer with “in Jesus name, amen.” Asking in Jesus’ name is asking under the authority of Jesus and in agreement with His character. Sinful prayers or prayers for things opposed to the increase of the kingdom of God will not be answered. The promises of answered prayers are not unlimited promises from God that He will give whatever the person asks for, no matter what. The promises are dependent upon the requests being in submissive obedience to will of Jesus.
James 4 gives another reason prayers are not answered. Requests are not answered if they are never asked.“Ye have not because ye ask not.” A desire for something is not the same as praying for something. To have your prayers answered you must speak to God and ask Him to grant your desires.
Sin in the life of the believer will cause prayer to go unanswered. Sin hinders the Christian’s relationship with God, and if a Christian willfully continues to disobey God he cannot not expect God to grant his requests. God is gracious. He often answers prayers despite our sin and He does not withhold answers because of inadvertent or unnoticed sins. The Christian need not fear that some forgotten sin is keeping God from answering his prayer. Rather, it is when the child of God “Regards iniquity in his heart” (Psalm 66:18) that the Lord does not hear.
One final reason God may not answer your prayer is if your requests are selfish. “Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your own lusts.” (James 4:3) This is related to the promise of answered prayer in 1 John, “If we ask anything according to His will He heareth us.” God does not promise to give you whatever you want whenever you ask. He is not in the business of spoiling His children. When the Christian asks for something merely to gratify his own desires, he must not expect God to give it. When the Christian asks for good things, for the glory of God and the increase of the kingdom of God, God promises to give His child the desires of their heart. God answers prayers that are selfless and seeking the furtherance of His kingdom.
Biblical faith is believing God’s Word and trusting Him to do all He has promised. Faith relies on God. A strong faith gives peace in difficult times and comfort in afflictions because it trusts God to do what is best for His children. Faith is most evident when circumstances are unpleasant or when we do not understand why things happen like they do. If a Christian is trusting God in a difficult situation does that mean he will not have to keep praying about it? Will the peace that comes from trusting Him forego the need of continuing to pester God about the problem?
Luke 18 records Jesus’ parable about a widow who had been wronged. She went to a judge to seek judgment against the one who wronged her. The judge was not interested in justice, but the widow persisted in bothering him demanding for justice until he finally issued judgment on her behalf. Jesus told this parable to teach, “that men ought always to pray and not to faint.” (Luke 18:1) If an unjust judge will do right because of someone’s persistent pleadings how much more will the Christian’s heavenly Father answer the prayers of His children?
Jesus Himself prayed and prayed earnestly. Did He lack faith? Jesus prayed earnestly because He trusted His Father. In the garden of Gethsemane Jesus prayed intensely and repeatedly because He was relying on His Father to strengthen Him for the brutal task ahead. Jesus prayed when He already knew His prayer was answered. (John 11:41-42; 12:27-28) Jesus prayed at all times because He trusted His Father.
The consistent pattern in the Bible is that God delights in those who pray with fervency, intensity and tenacity. He is never annoyed by persistence in prayers. One danger to avoid is willfulness is prayers. God is not pleased with those who insist on praying for something they should not have. Those who make improper demands of God may find themselves like the Israelites in the wilderness. They were given quail to fill their bellies but it came at a great spiritual cost. “He gave them their request, but sent leanness into their soul.” (Psalm 106:15) The Christian who asks rightly for right things can ask with boldness and persistence, knowing God is pleased when we trust Him enough to never quit asking Him to supply our need.
Absence of prayer is an absence of faith. The one who relies on God for all things is one who will pray continually. Faith filled prayers trust God to work. Those who trust God are quick to lay their requests before God. The absence of prayer is not a sign of spiritual strength but of spiritual immaturity. A lack of prayer indicates the person either does not care enough to pray or is trusting something else to supply the need. E.M. Bounds said, “Our praying needs to be pressed and pursued with an energy that never tires, a persistency which will not be denied, and a courage which never fails.” Those who truly trust God “pray without ceasing.”
“If ye shall ask anything in my name, I will do it.” John 14:14 seems like a very straightforward promise. Anything you ask for, Jesus will do. Did Jesus give a blanket promise to do everything that people pray for? Any one who has done much praying knows we do not always get what we ask God to give. Does God not keep His promises or is there something else in John 14:14 that shapes the nature of the promise?
The overlooked phrase is one of the most important of the verse. Jesus said if you pray “In my name.” That is much more than ending prayer with, “In Jesus name we pray. Amen.” Doing anything in the name of someone means acting as an official representative of that person. John MacArthur says that praying in Jesus name is asking for things that are consistent with who He is and asking for what Jesus would want. In other words, praying in Jesus’ name is praying selflessly for the will of God. Jesus will not answer the adulterer’s prayer for another partner. The person praying selfishly for a brand new sports car is not promised to have his prayers answered.
The book of 1 John spends a lot of time discussing certain key aspects from the Upper Room discourse, including John 14. 1 John 5:14-15 says, “And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us: And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him.” The book of 1 John says the condition of answered prayer is asking according to the will of Jesus. Praying in Jesus’ name is asking in earnest desire for His will to be accomplished. It is not saying, “God I really want this, but if it’s not your will I really wish you would make it your will.” Asking in Jesus name genuinely desires the accomplishment of His will. It is saying, “God I would like this, but what I really want is your will to be done, your kingdom to be increased and your glory to be revealed.” When we pray this way, we know He will give us what we ask for. The remarkable testimony of those who have learned to pray this way is that when we learn to ask for what God wants then we find God is incredibly generous to His people.
This does not mean we cannot pray for things that we do not know if they are His will. We can ask or healing, a job, a spouse and many other things that we cannot know for certain if we are praying according to the will of God. In those situations where we do not know the will of God, we pray making our desires known and also knowingly submitting our desires to the will of God. We bow before God to ask His favor. We specify what we would like to receive of Him while confessing that we trust Him to do what is right and best. We confess we trust God if it is something different than what we requested. The promise of God is we will have what is good for us and what is in accord with the character and plan of God.
This principle of praying in Jesus’ name finds its Old Testament parallel in Psalm 37:4, Delight thyself also in the LORD; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.”
A regular part of family gatherings used to include the family sitting around the table to enjoy a meal together. Once everyone was seated, the family would pause to pray before the meal began. Many Christian families still make this a habit at every meal. Why do people pray before eating?
Whether you call it “blessing the food” or “giving of thanks,” the prayer before a meal is a reminder that every good thing comes from God. James 1:17 says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father.” Christians pray before meals to remind themselves every good thing we have comes from God.
“Saying the blessing” is an act of giving thanks to God for giving us our daily bread. In the Lord’s prayer Jesus taught us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” If you have been praying for God to meet your daily needs, then the meal you are about to enjoy is a specific answer of God to that specific prayer request. The wise Christian seated before a plate of Divine provision will stop to give God thanks for answering his prayer.
Some may not realize the Bible specifically teaches about giving thanks to God for food. In 1 Timothy 4:5 Paul warned about false teachers. Their wrong teachings included forbidding marriage and forbidding the eating of meat. Paul rebuked these errors and said, “Every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused.” The restrictions of the Old Testament law have been done away with by Jesus. Now, the Christian may eat any animal he desires. This means the Christian can eat snails, raw fish, lutefisk, livermush or any other unpalatable dish he desires. Give thanks for the freedom to eat that we have in Christ.
In 1 Corinthians the apostle Paul had to correct problems the church in Corinth was having with food. Christians were divided over whether they could eat things that had been offered to idols. Paul taught the church to not eat with selfishness, but to eat with concern for how their dining affected the spiritual well-being of others. Paul’s instructions are summed up with these words. “Whether therefore ye eat or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31) Prayer before meals reminds the Christian that even when eating we are to bring glory to God.
The sanctifying act of prayer sets the food and the person apart as offerings to the Lord. Praying before a meal confesses that the food is not to be consumed merely as fuel for the achievement of the individuals personal desires. Prayer recognizes the meal is a gift given by God enabling the believer to live for the Him.
Christians recognize prayer as a wonderful privilege. Through prayer the individual can speak directly to the God of creation and Ruler of the universe. An invitation to the White House or a visit with the Queen of England is trivial in comparison with the opportunity afforded those who pray. Yet many find prayer to be difficult. Distractions, uncertainty of what to say and difficulty making time for prayer make a serious habit of talking with God a challenge for many Christians. Since prayer is such a glorious privilege, why is it so difficult?
Prayer is conversing with our Heavenly Father, but prayer is also warfare. When the Christian prays he is opposed by an array of enemies who actively seek to interfere. Daniel 10 gives a glimpse into the spiritual realities of prayer. Daniel prayed and God immediately sent out an angelic messenger to answer his prayer. However, an evil spirit opposed the messenger of God and delayed the answer to Daniel’s prayer by three weeks.
Other indications of this spiritual warfare are found in the New Testament. Paul told the Thessalonians that he would have returned to them, “but Satan hindered us.” (1 Timothy 2:18) The apostle Peter describes Satan as, “your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.” (1 Peter 5:8) The believer’s prayers are actively opposed by the enemies of Christ. Prayer is less like a pleasant conversation between two family members and more like a lieutenant on the battle field radioing his father and commanding officer during a firefight while the enemy attempts to jam the radio signals.
The spiritual enemies of the Christian are aided and abetted by the many physical distractions of this world. The abundance of entertainment and the constant demands of instant communication make it very difficult to silence the noise outside us and practice a silent discipline like prayer. But, one simple habit can help overcome some of the distractions. Praying out loud can help keep your mind on track as you converse with God.
Sin in the person’s life will be a significant hindrance to prayer. When the believer is holding onto sin, he is not going to want to pray. Those clinging to sin are not going to desire a serious relationship with God through prayer because as the Christian draws closer to God his own sin becomes more evident. The conviction of the Holy Spirit and the realization of the need to be growing in holiness discourages some from developing a strong prayer life. Unconfessed sin makes prayer more difficult, but those who love God deeply will be willing to forsake sin so they may have unhindered converse with Him.
Prayer is an essential part of a relationship with God. Through prayer the Christian talks with his loving Father and King. A life of prayer that is serious, disciplined and faithful willnot be easy. But the privilege of prayer is worth any difficulty endured to speak directly with the God of the universe.
Jesus prayed often. The four gospels record dozens of times when Jesus prayed. Prayer was an important part of His life. Yet, Jesus was- and is- God. As God, Jesus had perfect fellowship with God the Father and God the Spirit. Why did He need to pray?
When God the Son became human He willingly set aside His power and glory as God. Jesus remained God but He emptied Himself of the glory of God., so that Jesus was fully human while remaining fully God. As a man, Jesus relied upon God the Father. The mighty miracles that Jesus did, He did by the power of God (Acts 2:22). Jesus prayed because He had willingly made Himself depended on the Father. He acknowledged and confessed that reliance through prayer.
Jesus prayed for the same reason that every Christian ought to pray. He prayed to converse with His Heavenly Father. In the eternity that existed before God created the universe, God the Father, Son and Spirit were in perfect fellowship and unity together. The Trinity shares a level of intimacy unlike anything humanity has experienced. The Bible tells us little about the fellowship between the three persons of the Trinity or how that relationship was affected by God the Son becoming man. But the incarnation changed that relationship. Jesus prayed because in prayer He had fellowship with God. Jesus prayed because He delighted in conversing with His Father. Jesus’ prayer was no mere duty or religious ritual. It was the expression of a loving relationship between Son and Father.
Jesus prayed for the benefit of His disciples, for others who heard Him pray and for ourselves. He prayed that we might believe He is the Savior. This is especially evident in John 12 when Jesus said, “I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me.” Jesus’ prayers show a concern for the bystanders response to His prayer. He prayed that others may profit from hearing Him pray.
Jesus’ active prayer life is an example to us to pray. Christians are to become more like Christ , to be growing in imitation of Him. Christ’s life of prayer shows us how to pray. He specifically taught how to pray. He commanded perseverance in prayer. But He did not just teach, He modeled prayer for us. He showed Christians how to pray in deep distress, in success and in disappointment. He prayed early in the morning, late at night, at meals and before major decisions. Jesus prayed often and in doing so showed us how to pray.
Prayer was a vital part of Jesus’ life and ministry. He prayed in times of anguish. He prayed for rest and refreshment. He prayed before major events and miracles. He prayed for His disciples, for future believers and for unbelievers. He prayed for God’s glory and for God’s will. He prayed without ceasing. If God the Son prayed always, why don’t we?
Who do you address when you pray? Do you address God? The Father? Jesus? The Holy Spirit? All three at the same time? Some religious groups teach that Christians should not pray to Jesus. Jesus taught His disciples to pray, “Our Father which art in heaven.” Most of the prayers in the Bible are addressed to God the Father. Because of the Lord’s prayer and the many Biblical examples of prayer to God the Father, some churches have taught that prayer must always be addressed to the Father. The Bible clearly teaches the Christian to pray to the Father in the name of Jesus, but what about praying directly to Jesus?
This may seem like splitting hairs, but evaluating prayer habits is profitable. If the Bible teaches anything the proper way to pray, then Christians should desire to know and follow the instruction of Scripture.
Because God is a Trinity, there is a sense in which all prayer is addressed to the Father, the Son and the Spirit. However, because God is a Trinity there is a significant sense in which prayer is addressed specifically to one member of the Godhead. Christians cannot say that because of Trinity it does not matter which Divine person we address in prayer. The Christian must approach God in the way He prescribes. God never allowed people to approach Him any way they desired. From the very beginning God defined the way in which man must come to Him. Entering into the presence of God must always be in accord with the specific instructions laid out by God.
Does the New Testament teach the Christian to pray to Jesus? Yes, it does. In the New Testament the majority of uses of the title “Lord” are in reference to Jesus. Acts 2:36 says, “God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.” In those places where a prayer is addressed to “the Lord” it is likely that prayer is addressed specifically to Jesus, God the Son. The New Testament contains several specific examples of prayer to Jesus. When Paul prayed to the Lord to remove his thorn in the flesh, the context of 2 Corinthians 12 makes clear that Paul was praying to Jesus. When Stephen was being stoned to death he prayed, “Lord Jesus receive my spirit.” (Acts 7:59) In 1 Corinthians 1:2 Paul speaks of Christians as those who, “call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.” The Bible ends with a prayer to Jesus. “Even so come, Lord Jesus.” (Revelation 22:20) Prayer to Jesus is modeled in the Bible. Prayer to Jesus is right and proper.
However, a disclaimer is necessary. The majority of prayers in the Bible are to the Father. Some are to Jesus. None are to the Spirit. Thus, the old formula, “Praying to the Father, through the Son, by the Spirit” should be the pattern of Christian prayer. If the believers prayer is shaped by the Bible, then the Bible’s emphasis in prayer will also be the Christian’s emphasis in prayer.
The calls for increased gun control were repeated in the days following the mass murder at First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas. Various individuals on Twitter drew the ire of Christians by asserting that more was needed than prayer. Things were said like, “If prayers were the answer 2 gun violence wouldn’t people at a church service be safe? Please make gun laws.” “They were praying when it happened. They don’t need our prayers. They need us to address gun violence”
Aside from the failure to realize that one can pray and address the causes and solutions to mass shootings these kinds of statements reveal a deeper misunderstanding of prayer. Wil Wheaton, known to Star Trek fans as Wesley Crusher, drew much hostility when he tweeted, “The murdered victims were in a church. If prayers did anything, they’d still be alive.” Does the failure of prayer to protect a church from a murderous maniac prove that prayer does not work?
The failure of prayer to stop tragedy from occurring shows that what is commonly understood as prayer does not work. In America prayer is viewed as a means of getting protection, healing, provision, security or guidance. God is seen as the celestial Santa Clause who gives the devout what they want when they ask Him. The God of most Americans answers prayers like the Jesus in the country song, “Jesus take the wheel.” When the car starts to slide off the road just ask Jesus to take control and He’ll keep you from harm.
The God of the Bible promises to answer prayer but He never promises to keep Christians from harm, suffering, difficulty or tragedy. God promises to answer prayer if it meets certain criteria. The prayers God answers are those that are in accord with the character and purpose of Jesus and are prayed by a child of God through the mediation of Jesus. God does not promise to answer the prayers of the unsaved nor will he hear prayers offered to saints, relatives, spirits or dead people. (John 14:13; 15:16; 16:23). God only answers prayers prayed in Jesus name and prayers that are according to His will. God will answer those prayers that are seeking His will and that are in keeping with the eternal purposes of God. (1 John 5:14-15)
God never promised to protect His children from every bad thing that could happen. God promised the opposite. “No man should be moved these afflictions, for yourselves know that we are appointed thereunto.” (1 Thesalonians 2:3) God is not working to protect His people from all bad situations. God is working through bad circumstances to perfect Christians. Biblical prayer claims the promises of God. God promises to make His children like Jesus and He uses every trouble to fulfill that promise in those who love Him.
Prayer is not a magic formula to make life better. Prayer does not protect from all bad circumstances. Prayer is a bowing of the person’s will before the perfect will of God. Prayer asks for Divine favor and trust God’s goodness in all things. God works through prayer to perfect His people.