The sovereign God answers prayers made with a humble heart and aimed at glorifying God and benefiting the creation. It is not begging but asking, believing and receiving in faith.
“Our Father in heaven” is the opening words of the model prayer that Lord Jesus provided to His followers. The striking feature of this is the establishment and acceptance of a relationship with God- a Father son bond, that gives a right to the one asking to expect an answer. All along our lives we have asked our parents or our children have asked us for various things which we/ our children think necessary for themselves at that stage of life. The basic ingredient that helps in making a decision about the request has always been the welfare of the one asking; the short term and long term effects as well as the likely change in the dynamics of the entire family. There is always a reason for the demand- “all my friends have it; it will help me in my studies” etc. but there is a stated reason as well a hidden motive. As parents we may or may not be able to perceive the unstated reason since this is never shared by the one asking.
A prayer also has two parts- the demand and the reason; the reason may be deeply hidden behind the façade of the stated purpose. God, however, knows beforehand about the demand, the real and the given purpose. He is also well aware of the impact that will be there on the individual receiving the ‘gift’ of the answered prayer as well as on all others in his sphere of influence. The decision to answer the prayer would always be weighed by God in this scale of ‘demand and intent’ where intent would also include the attitude of the one asking.
Then what about the promise made by Jesus “Whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive” (Matthew 21:22)? God has given us this assurance of answered prayer but before this there are the two commands about loving God and your neighbor. The clarification about the demands being met for every prayer must be weighed in the context of these commands and furtherance of the same. In addition, the Lord placed another exclusive clause to the prayer “that the Father may be glorified in the Son” (John 14:13). The purpose of the prayer- the hidden and stated purpose, must glorify the Father, deepen the love for Him and benefit “the neighbor”- in the sense of the definition of neighbor given in Luke 10:25-37.
The cynic will quote “Your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him” (Matthew 6:8), without acknowledging the previous verse 7, where prohibition is on ‘vain repetitions’ or explanatory statements preceding or succeeding the prayer. God the good and loving Father is well aware of the needs of His children and is definitely more than willing to ‘give the good things’ which will further cement the close relationship. He also gives in to our demands, knowing full well the likely adverse impact. That is the essence of the ‘free will’ given to man but God also has a will of His own. He may concede a request out of joy or just allow the demand to come through.
Should we then not ask for anything in prayer? Apostle James, the brother of our Lord, is known as per legend, ‘a bow legged man’ due to perpetually praying to God, clarifies this “you do not have because you do not ask” (James 4:2). We were asked by a viewer from Bombay, “My parents did not know the Lord, have they gone to hell? What should I do for them now after they have already died?” The answer lies in the above advice from Apostle James, I have a similar dilemma, and I pray regularly for my parents to be in heaven worshipping the Lord. It is my right as a ‘son of God’ to ask and it is the prerogative of the just God to answer as per His will. This does not mean that one can ask for anything and then blame god for not acceding to the requests. In the very next verse the clarification comes through “You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss (with a wrong motive), that you may spend it on your pleasures”. Each prayer request must meet the standard of the two commandments given by the Lord as also to glorify the Father.
Bible lays down four ways that God answers our prayers after weighing the demand in the scales of attitude and purpose-
- He may accept the demand but not the purpose– Thus the prayer may be accepted but the person may not be able to fully or even partially enjoy the fruits thereof. “The Word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than a two edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joint and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Himto whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:12-13). We may try anything to hide the hidden intent or the attitude for the prayer request but God’s Word, our Lord will know it even before we ask.
Bible shows us a case in point, when the Israelites were led by Moses out of Egypt, as an answer to their prayers, and many miracles were performed by God to ensure this. God even ensured that “not one among them was sick or feeble” and the total number was between 2.5 to 3.5 million people of all ages. They were given the heavenly food- ‘Manna’ to survive in the wilderness. Yet they forgot all this and remembered the fish that they ate during their period of slavery and demanded ‘meat’ to eat (Numbers 11:1,4-33).
God accepted their demand and an unimaginable number of quails flew into their camp- up to about 3 feet off the ground to be easily caught. Yet ‘while the meat was still in their teeth, the plague struck the camp’. God had accepted the prayer request but the intent not being right was rejected.
It is important, therefore, to pray with an open heart to God and seek His glory and welfare of His people- believers and others alike, for He loves them all. Lord Jesus prayed “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their work” (John 17:20).
Moses cried out to YHWH God for Israelites “But now, forgive their sin-but if not, then blot me out of the book You have written” (Exodus 32:32). This was his faith in the love of God for His people that he dared to place his own life for eternity at stake. God answers the prayers made with a holy motive to benefit His creation in addition to meeting our needs. Are you ready to open your heart to the ‘discerner of thoughts and intents’ and ‘ask, believing that you will receive?