One of Jesus’ most frequent promises in the Gospels is that God will answer prayers. Unfortunately, many Christians have lost faith in that promise and approach prayer as a means to inner peace, but not as something that will change anything. Prayer becomes a religious exercise in “a-wishin’ and a-hopin’.” Sometimes the texts on prayer have become too familiar to us or we didn’t receive what we prayed for, so we can overlook or discount this promise. Jesus taught some principles about prayer that are worth revisiting.
The Importance of Asking James 4:2 says, “You do not have because you do not ask.” Not asking is a fairly sure way of not getting an answer.
Matthew 7:7-8 says, "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.”
He is saying the exact same thing twice, so he must really mean it.
The Manner in Which to Ask Ask confidently. We can have confidence because God is our Father, He loves us, and He wants to give us good things. In John 16:27 Jesus explains WHY God loves us: “the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.” We have favor with God because we have accepted His Son, so He is glad to move on our behalf because that, in turn, glorifies Jesus. (Even evil people return favors.)
Be Persistent. Jesus tells the story in Luke 11:5-8 of the man who asked his friend at midnight for some bread and kept knocking until his friend got rid of him by giving him some bread. In Luke 18:1-8 Jesus tells about the widow who persisted with the unjust judge until she got what she wanted. (Those of us who have had small children know that their persistence often gets them what they want, so we can understand the dynamic here!)
Is Jesus saying we should pester God, until we wear him out? No. The sleeping friend/unjust judge are not symbols of God but of obstacles to getting our answers. We need to persist because there can be spiritual blocks involved—in us, in others, or even in the heavenlies (see Daniel 10:12-13)—and persistent prayer allows God to deal with those blocks. Do we need to understand the blocks? Nope. Jesus says nothing about “discovering and analyzing blocks” to get our prayers answered—he just says that OUR part is to be persistent. (If God wants us to know about any blocks, he will tell us.)
The Importance of Faith for Prayer Jesus corrected the disciples about their faith more than anything else. Correcting them for unbelief indicates that faith is something we can choose to exercise. It is not just a feeling but a choice to believe God and his word, despite contrary data and pressures. We need to persist not only in asking but also in believing, repeating, and confessing his promise.
Jesus said to his disciples in Mark 11:22-24, "Have faith in God. Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, `Be taken up and cast into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” Again, Jesus makes his point twice.
We should ask God, then thank Him, then choose to believe for as long as it takes to get our answer. (If we stop, then we are exercising a belief that nothing will happen.)
Two Main Reasons Prayer Is Not Answered “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly” (James 4:3). If we follow Jesus’ guideline about persistent prayer but there is something wrong in what we are asking for, God will move in and adjust our prayer to make it a correct prayer. When we are in a state of “persisting,” God can grab a hold of us because praying gives Him access to us. Therefore, asking somewhat wrongly at the outset does not have to become a block to getting our prayers answered.
“Do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward” (Hebrews 10:35). This is, I think, how most Christians fail to get their answers. After a week, a few months, a few years, we all get tired, so it’s easy to throw in the towel and then sputter something about not understanding God’s mysterious ways and promises. Please note that in the promises listed above, God never says WHEN He will answer the prayer—He just promises that He WILL. Remember Monica who prayed for the conversion of her son Augustine for twenty years? We all know how that ended.
Conclusion According to what Jesus says about prayer and our role in it, Christians should expect ALL their prayers (or adjusted prayers) to be answered sooner or later—and I don’t mean that namby-pamby cop-out “Yeah, God answered and said no.” George Muller, who ran an orphanage in England, kept a column in a journal of what he prayed and another column for answers. His “answered” columns are proof the promise is true.
He did pray, however, for the salvation of two friends for over twenty years but died without seeing that happen--you know, “unanswered prayer.” At Muller’s funeral, one of the men gave his life to the Lord, and the other did so on his deathbed. Muller got his prayers answered AFTER he died. How cool is that? Remember, God didn’t say WHEN He would answer—just that He WOULD answer. Try a journal with two columns for a few weeks and see what happens.