Even the most humanistic, atheistic believe in prayer, at least in empowerment through appeal to the highest power to which they have any confidence — themselves. Probably just me, but in this 21st century, post-Christian America, I rarely hear the world around me curse in the name of God, like I used to hear. Jesus’ name, to them, is more an exclamation. More likely, the f-word escapes from the lips, when appeal is made to accomplish the innermost desires. But, prayer is essentially an appeal for something to be done by someone who is in a position to do something about it. Any wonder the professed godly don’t much pray? No confidence anything will happen. Make the prayer vague to ensure the lack of answer will not confound any profession of religion. Make the petition quick to affirm to others the duty to pray was performed.
Most religions pray. Image worshippers pray. If everyone is appealing for something to be done, whose prayer does God hear? Hear the clear testimony of a man born blind, whom Jesus had restored his sight, “We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly person who does His will” (John 9:31 NIV). We follow the example of Christ because the Father left us the pattern of His Son “that you should follow in His steps” (1Peter 2:21 NIV). And, we discover the motivations of God through both His commands and desires, since He would not command without practicing it Himself or desire for Himself what He would not wish for others. God answers prayer, but why? John further testifies, we “receive from Him anything we ask, because we keep His commands and do what pleases Him” (1John 3:22 NIV). If we live to please God in every way, should it be thought strange that it “pleases” God to answer prayer? I’d like to address the topic of Why God Answers Prayer for your consideration.
It Pleases God to Answer Prayer
Unsurprisingly, we start with the foundation of “God is.” Skeptics and doubters instruct us prayer only changes us, not God. But, change is good for us, if we grow. Not admitting the existence of God is more acceptable now days; however, God’s testimony about His own existence doesn’t leave room for debate. “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities — His eternal power and divine nature — have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse” (Romans 1:20 NIV). Arguing against God’s existence reminds me of turning down a glass of water in a sun scorched desert. God is more interested in finding a way to please Himself through rewarding diligent seekers than simply winning a dispute. “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6 NIV).
Pleasing God runs from beginning to end in the Bible. It doesn’t take any deep or complicated reasoning to understand God being pleasured by our trusting Him. It is not shocking to find Saints before the Throne worshipping God, “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for Thou hast created all things, and for Thy pleasure they are and were created” (Revelation 4:11 KJV). If we “live a life worthy of the Lord and please Him in every way” (Colossians 1:10 NIV), then pleasing God in everything would be the only way to live a worthy life. God should be able to say about us as He did His Son, “I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22 NIV) with you. The defining principle for our existence would be “we make it our goal to please Him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it” (2Corinthians 5:9 NIV). Self-pleasing conduct like self-seeking prayer must be given up, instead we should follow Christ’s example. “I seek not to please Myself but Him who sent Me” (John 5:30 NIV). If we are called upon to please God in all things, then certainly God pleases Himself in all things, including why He answers prayer. And, if we understood better God’s willingness to please Himself by rewarding our confidence in Him, we would take greater delight in seeking His face in prayer.
It Glorifies God to Answer Prayer
Science is knowledge gained through observation and experimentation. In this way, knowledge is concealed and is acquired through systematic research. Scripture teaches us, “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings” (Proverbs 25:2 NIV). Solomon was both a wise king and an observant naturalist. “Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise” (6:6 NIV). God is glorified in His creation, since the “heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands” (Psalm 19:1 NIV). If God gets glory from His universe, shouldn’t He get glory from us? Just so, we are called upon, “Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1Corinthians 10:31 NIV). Glorifying God is our universal necessity, and whatever God justly requires of us, He faithfully enables us to do, because “His commands are not burdensome” (1John 5:3 NIV). If we are to do all to God’s glory, then God also does all to His glory, including why He answers prayer.
When we do good and others see it, then God is glorified. “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16 NIV). If our only intention is to gain the approbation of man, then man may be fooled, but not God. “Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward” (6:2 KJV).
Glorifying God has been the goal of the godly under both the Old and New Covenants. Consider the Psalmist’s understanding of answered prayer’s capability of attracting people to God — “You who answer prayer, to You all people will come” (Psalm 65:2 NIV) — in conjunction with the declaration of His glory to all nations. This is food for thought for NT outreach. “Declare His glory among the nations, His marvelous deeds among all peoples. For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; He is to be feared above all gods. Ascribe to the Lord, all you families of nations, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. Ascribe to the Lord the glory due His name; bring an offering and come into His courts” (96:3-4, 7-8 NIV). Now, if our prayer to God qualifies alongside declaring His glory among the nations, as that which glorifies God, then should it be thought strange, if it glorifies God to answer our prayer?
It Demonstrates God’s Faithfulness to Answer Prayer
Scripture clearly states that “God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear” (1Corinthians 10:13 NIV). From the smallest iota of Scripture, God is referenced as the “Faithful Creator” (1Peter 4:19 NIV). What can we establish concerning His characteristic faithfulness in regards to why He answers prayer? If we can link His promises about answering prayer with the actual answers to prayer, then we verify that the “one who calls you is faithful, and He will do it” (1Thessalonians 5:24 NIV). It is one thing to read in a book the declaration “God is faithful,” but it is entirely another thing to witness God answering prayer. Skepticism cannot withstand answered prayer. Doubters will object, but they can only ignore God to their own destruction. Remember the Pharisees acknowledged that Jesus evidently raised Lazarus from the dead, but they chose to ignore Jesus as Messiah, and only complained and conspired against Him. “Here is this man performing many signs. If we let Him go on like this, everyone will believe in Him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation. So from that day on they plotted to take His life” (John 11:47-48, 53 NIV).
Whenever God answers prayer, it is testimony that God is faithful and not arbitrary in His answering. This word “arbitrary” is crucial to our understanding of God’s faithfulness in answering prayer. Arbitrary means based on whim or personal preference, without reason or pattern, random. Arbitrary is the direct opposite of God’s faithfulness in answering prayer. This is especially true, where parents become uncomfortable about teaching young children concerning prayer. Reconciling apparently plain declarations from God’s Word, such as, “I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread” (Psalm 37:25 NIV), with their apparently destitute situation at hand. Of course, their nervousness generally extends to paying all the other bills, while still eating. I still remember my little children comforting me during a difficult financial time, when, bless their hearts, they reminded me that there were still plenty of blank checks in the physical checkbook from which they had seen me pay bills. Of course, my adult mind “knew better”!
Yet, C.H. Spurgeon, the famous Baptist preacher from 19th century London, composed a classic devotional — Faith’s Checkbook— of 365 Bible promises to be cashed like checks through prayer. I offer the following four paragraphs from the Preface to Spurgeon’s worthy book.
“A PROMISE from God may very instructively be compared to a check payable to order. It is given to the believer with the view of bestowing upon him some good thing. It is not meant that he should read it over comfortably, and then have done with it. No, he is to treat the promise as a reality, as a man treats a check. He is to take the promise, and endorse it with his own name by personally receiving it as true. He is by faith to accept it as his own. He sets to his seal that God is true, and true as to this particular word of promise. He goes further, and believes that he has the blessing in having the sure promise of it and therefore he puts his name to it to testify to the receipt of the blessing.
“This done, he must believingly present the promise to the Lord, as a man presents a check at the counter of the Bank. He must plead it by prayer, expecting to have it fulfilled. If he has come to Heaven’s bank at the right date, he will receive the promised amount at once. If the date should happen to be further on, he must patiently wait till its arrival; but meanwhile he may count the promise as money, for the Bank is sure to pay when the due time arrives.
“Some fail to place the endorsement of faith upon the check, and so they get nothing; and others are slack in presenting it, and these also receive nothing. This is not the fault of the promise, but of those who do not act with it in a common-sense, business-like manner.
“God has given no pledge which He will not redeem, and encouraged no hope which He will not fulfill. To help my brethren to believe this, I have prepared this little volume. The sight of the promises themselves is good for the eyes of faith: the more we study the words of grace, the more grace shall we derive from the words. To the cheering Scriptures I have added testimonies of my own, the fruit of trial and experience. I believe all the promises of God, but many of them I have personally tried and proved. I have seen that they are true, for they have been fulfilled to me. This, I trust, may be cheering to the young; and not without solace to the older sort. One man’s experience may be of the utmost use to another; and this is why the man of God of old wrote, ‘I sought the Lord, and he heard me’ [Psalm 34:4 KJV]; and again, ‘This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him’ [34:6 KJV].”
Because God is faithful, He answers prayer. “God is not human, that He should lie, not a human being, that He should change His mind. Does He speak and then not act? Does He promise and not fulfill?” (Numbers 23:19 NIV). It is distinctly because He is not simply the whim of a human being like you or I that He answers prayer. But, mind you, no one forces Him to answer prayer. He does it because He chooses to be faithful to His Word, as you and I should choose to keep our word. That’s a powerful example. God has covenanted by His unique holiness to faithfully abide by His Word. “Once for all, I have sworn by My holiness — and I will not lie to David” (Psalm 89:35 NIV). The faithfulness, which God uses to answer prayer, is also the same certainty He will fulfill prophecy. “For the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay” (Habakkuk 2:3 NIV). Our continued existence without being annihilated by a holy God because of our often perfidy — faithlessness or breach of trust — is testament to the same faithfulness, which God uses to answer prayer. “I the Lord do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed” (Malachi 3:6 NIV). The same reproducible certainty a scientist searches for in the laboratory is God’s trademark faithfulness in answering prayer. “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17 NIV).
Elijah is the classic example of a man, who prayed to a prayer hearing, faithful God. Elijah’s prayer request was a protest against the evil practices of King Ahab’s government. “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops” (James 5:16-18 NIV). And, speaking of kings, a famous prayer request was made by a man in 16th century England, the Protestant scholar, William Tyndale (1494-1536), who translated the Bible illegally into English, for it was the death penalty for even possessing a Bible, which even an English plowboy could understand. Such was the climate of fear of the papacy enforced by the English crown that caused the execution of Tyndale for heresy. Henry VIII, of course, gained his revenge for Tyndale’s objection to his annulment from Catharine of Aragon in favor of his marriage to Ann Boleyn. It was reminiscent of John the Baptist objecting to King Herod about his marriage to his living brother’s wife, “It is not lawful for thee to have her” (Matthew 14:4 KJV). Herod beheaded John, and Henry burned Tyndale. Before Tyndale was strangled, then burned at the stake (1536), he is reported to have loudly prayed, “Lord, open the King of England’s eyes!” Within four years, four translations of the Bible were published in England with the permission of the crown, and all based on Tyndale’s work. Glory to God, He does answer prayer because He is faithful!
It Demonstrates His Love When He Answers Prayer
“God is love” (1John 4:16). Perhaps you would have said in the first place, “God answers prayer because of love,” and you would be right! We can be sure by His own declaration, “God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16 NIV). If He would give His Only Son to a world of sinners, it would be highly conceivable He would answer their prayer, when they repented. “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13 NIV). As the blind man healed by Jesus noted, God does not hear a sinner’s prayer, in the sense that He will not grant their request, unless His doing so will achieve His purpose. For instance, Moses allowed wicked Pharaoh the glory of determining the words of his prayer request. “Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said, Pray to the Lord to take the frogs away from me and my people, and I will let your people go to offer sacrifices to the Lord. Moses said to Pharaoh, I leave to you the honor of setting the time for me to pray for you and your officials and your people that you and your houses may be rid of the frogs, except for those that remain in the Nile. Tomorrow, Pharaoh said. Moses replied, It will be as you say, so that you may know there is no one like the Lord our God” (Exodus 8:8-10 NIV). By God’s rules of engagement, He makes no promise of hearing the prayer of the unrighteous. In fact, the testimony of David tells us, “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened” (Psalm 66:18 NIV). For this reason, many conclude their prayer request is blocked by a naturally occurring sinfulness, but if this were so, no prayer request would ever be heard from any son or daughter of Adam. Such reactions are more a conclusion of the emotions, but what saith the Scripture? “Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart” (2Timothy 2:22 NIV). God loves to answer the prayers of those who cry out to Him from a pure heart.
Love dictates God’s rule of engaging humanity. He loves the world regardless of our moral destitution. From the least offensive to the most repulsive, God loves all equally. He does not discriminate. “But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 NIV). In our most defiant, revolting, obnoxious, and nauseating condition, God loved us. You can count on that. A new life and new direction, enough to proceed to eternity, can be built upon that. But, one important distinction should be made, the Unconditional Love of John 3:16 and Romans 5:8 must not be confused with the Conditional Love of Answered Prayer and John 14:21. “Whoever has My commands and keeps them is the one who loves Me. The one who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I too will love them and show Myself to them” (John 14:21 NIV). Remember John’s revelation to his Little Children, we “receive from Him anything we ask, because we keep His commands and do what pleases Him” (1John 3:22 NIV)? John received that understanding from Christ, who divulged to His inner circle shortly before His betrayal the true meaning of love. “If you love Me, keep My commands” (John 14:15 NIV). The world needs only to be familiar with Unconditional Love to be saved, but the Conditional Love of Obedience answers prayer, pleases God, sanctifies His Church, and takes us Home to Glory. And, lest we further mistake this Conditional Love with a super class of disciple or Christian, we need only to be reminded, “It is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill His good purpose” (Philippians 2:13 NIV). So, we should not think it strange that God’s love causes Him to answer our prayers.
Prayer is only one aspect of our relationship to God. We would not think ourselves involved in a natural relationship of love and trust, if we were only to hear the thunder of instruction incessantly blaring to indoctrinate us with new truth. This would be more reminiscent of an authoritarian regime forcing re-education upon us than sitting at the feet of Jesus. Instead, prayer is a natural expression of appealing to Someone who has the ability to do something about anything on our heart. Only the humble will bow to Him in prayer. “This poor man called, and the Lord heard him; He saved him out of all his troubles” (Psalm 34:6 NIV).
May God be merciful to His unworthy servants. May He encourage us to pray more with greater confidence, because we understand better why He answers prayer. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen and amen.