Thursday, April 28, 2011

Why Does God Answer Some Prayers and Not Others?

In the latest student Apologetics post Rahel Ward asks why God answers certain prayers and not others. While recognising that there is a mystery to prayer she argues that the best way to understand prayer is to walk closely with God.

"The question I am about to present, was put to me by my non-Christian friend Evelyne, who was visiting from Switzerland a few weeks ago. After having “dragged” her to three services on Sunday, we started talking about God and Christianity around a coffee on Monday. Amongst many other questions, this one stood out and even intrigued me. She asked "Why does God answer certain prayers but not others?" One of the pastors she heard speaking was telling his story of how, many years ago, after just having come over to Australia from New Zealand, he and his wife did not have any money left for food or petrol. After praying for three days, a car pulled up and gave them a whole boot full of groceries and two weeks' worth of petrol money. This story obviously got her thinking. Why would God answer this prayer but not, for example answer the prayer of a starving child in Africa for food?

Previous conversations I have had with her and the question itself show that the following points are givens and therefore not subject to debate. However, the way I will enter into dialogue with her about this specific question is by re-establishing the following basics.

Firstly, Evelyne believes there is a God – the way Christians portray him. This rules out having to argue for the existence of God. Secondly, Evelyne considers the Bible to be a valid text, even though she has not necessarily read it. It can therefore be used as support for arguments. Thirdly, she believes that this God answers prayers. This implies a theistic belief system, which according to Richard Dawkins' definition is belief "in a supernatural intelligence who, in addition to his main work of creating the universe in the first place, is still around to oversee and influence the subsequent fate of his initial creation...the deity is intimately involved in human affairs. He answers prayers; forgives and punishes sins; intervenes in the world by performing miracles; frets about good and bad deeds, and knows when we do them (or even are thinking of doing them).” Prayer as Stanley Grenz puts it, is “the cry to God for the kingdom – the in-breaking of the reign of God to meet the needs of the present.” Having set the scene, this is how I would continue the dialogue with the emphasis on the question presented.

Scripture clearly reveals a God who is more than interested and willing to answer one’s prayer. Countless times the reader is encouraged to bring his or her petition to God for it to be answered. Here are some examples: “Call to Me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know.” (Jeremiah 33:3)
“Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness. Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord, trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass.” (Psalm 37:3-5). “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 he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened." (Matthew 7:7-8). “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” (Mark 11:24)

As one can see, these scriptures leave little doubt that God would want to answer prayers. However, there seem to be certain ways one ought to pray. For example one is to pray:

According to His will - “Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.”(1 John 5:14)

With a pure attitude - “Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart”. (Psalm 37:4)

Without ceasing - “...pray without ceasing...” (1 Thess. 5:17) and “...praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit...” (Ephesians 6:18)

These verses show that there is a certain way one ought to pray. However, God is not limited to respond only to prayers prayed in a certain way; quite the contrary is true. In agreement with Rosalind Rinker, I suggest that God does answer every prayer. The issue does not lay with God but rather with the person praying the prayer and having a preconceived perception or expectation of how God should answer his or her prayer. Rinker puts it this way “God is greater by far than any idea or concept man could possibly conceive in his little mortal mind."

Besides what I’ve just stated, here are a few reasons why God might not seem to answer certain prayers. They might be hindered by some obstacle. Maybe a Christian on the other side of the world is not obeying God to sponsor a child in Africa and therefore, this child’s prayer for a meal can not be answered, due to the disobedience of others. Prayers might be delayed. This is simply because God will answer our prayers in his way and time and not ours. We might not yet be ready for what we are asking and have to learn a lesson first. God’s way of answering may be different to what we would imagine it to be. If asking for patience, God might just send an annoying person your way to teach you patience.

I suggest that the key to understanding how God answers prayers is to follow him and grow closer to his heart which then leads to greater understanding of his will for one's life. However, there will always remain mystery concerning God’s ways – simply because “God is God" and we are ‘just' his creation. While this is generally a satisfactory conclusion for a Christian it does not always hold the same weight for a non-Christian who is looking for physical evidence. Isaiah 55:9 concludes well for us: “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.”


Matt said...

I liked it - the part I stuggled with ( and have always struggled with) is that God would not supply a meal for a child because someone else isn't listening. It's hard to explain to a skeptic that if a child dies the prayer is answered -it seems like a cop-out.

When I say "the prayer is answered" I mean everything heaven means.

Her friend already had a basis of faith. It's by faith we believe that God will answer some prayers with Eternity. For many it begins with an instinct that something is amiss & there must be more. But for many others this isn't good enough, & we must simply suffer that humiliation as Christ suffered humiliation when mocked for not showing His claimed power when hanging on the Cross.

There is also the difficulty of what to say to someome living through loss, or experiencing it yourself despite your prayers & knowledge that God is good. Then the only answer is presence not explanation or defence of God & His ways. The presence of love - ours & God's! This is our best 'apologetic' in the end, though so vulnerable.

JD Curtis said...

One reason why God doesnt answer certain prayers is because we are (at times) praying for the wrong things.

We might think we want something but then that door is never opened for us.

However an even bettter door that we hadnt previously imagined might then open and it becomes clear why a certain prayer wasnt answered.

Ross said...

Good to see you on here, JD. One of the things I've struggled with in my Christian life is seeing God answer other people's prayers, but not my own.

Anonymous said...

Why is it the rich always get richer and the poor who work their butt off are always left with nothing? I have prayed and fasted for something from God and he has relentlessly refussed to do it. It really get furstrating sometimes.

Glen O'Brien said...

Yes it can be very frustrating. I think there's wisdom in the teaching often given to children. God always answers our prayers. Sometimes he says "Yes," sometimes he says "No" and sometimes he says "Wait." It's the waiting that's the hardest part.


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