I was wondering about this scripture in Mark 11:23-24: “Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown 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.” I have been digging into this scripture so that I can have more and more confidence in my prayer life for the ministry to be fruitful and my life as well, making disciples and growing in my character, even praying to date a special sister in Christ! There are many scripture reaffirming us that if we ask, in Jesus’ name and in accordance with his will, we will receive. But when prayers don’t get answered, even when praying prayers that are in alignment with God’s will, like people becoming disciples and for people to get over different kinds of sins, how should I respond? Honestly, I feel like i can be afraid to pray specific prayer because I feel that they don’t get answered. I think a perspective change is what I need, but I don’t know what the perspective it should be changed to. I have been trying to wrap my head and heart around this for some time now. What are your thoughts?
To get an accurate picture of the biblical doctrine of answered prayer, requires us to use a number of scripture and to think carefully and rationally. It also requires that we think through the lens of faith. There are times when logic and faith can appear to be at odds with one another, which is why we simply cannot have a definite, absolute, fixed idea of what prayers will be answered by God with a “yes.”
Jesus said, “Whatever you ask for in my name, you will have it” (John 14:13). He also said (James 4:3) that if we ask with selfish motives, the answer to our request will be “No” (obviously, I am paraphrasing very loosely here!). Add to that, he also said that if we ask for something in faith, and if that request is within God’s will, we will receive it (1 John 5:14-15). He also told us to keep praying and to not give up, implying that sometimes we need to continue asking before God will answer(Luke 18:7). If we summarize these passages, we begin to approach a biblical doctrine of answered prayer. If we ask God, in faith, if we ask with unselfish motives, if we continue faithfully in prayer and if we ask for things that are God’s will, then the answer to our prayer will be “Yes.”
I wish it was this simple. In a sense it IS this simple, but in real life, this simple description, though true, can be misleading if we do not understand the nature of God’s will sufficiently. Let me explain. We could use this argument to “prove” that any time we ask God to bring an individual to salvation, he will always grant our request, as long as we keep asking long enough. Obviously, it is God’s will for all to be saved (1 Tim 2:4, although Calvinists do not agree with this!). It seems fairly obvious that such a request is not selfish. So, we can “prove” that this method will work 100% of the time. I wish this were the case. If so, then I could guarantee that all my children will be saved, because all of these criteria apply to my relationship with my children. Unfortunately, although it is God’s will for all to be saved, God does not force anyone to be saved. It is God’s will for all to be saved, but it is also God’s will that we all have freedom of will. God will not force someone to become a Christian.
There are some things which are God’s will in some situations, but not in others. It is God’s will that we be blessed, financially, relationally and in all other ways. Yet, praying for these things may not “work” because God is disciplining us and, although it is his will for these things to happen, he loves us enough to not give us everything we want. If God’s will was always done, then Jesus would not have told us to pray that God’s will be done in “the Lord’s prayer.”
Here is the bottom line. There is no simple formula, and seeking such a formula will inevitably fail. Doing A + B + C and assuming it equals D, which is prayer answered “yes” is not a reasonable expectation.
Some Christians who seek black and white answers to problems will not be satisfied with this answer, but I believe it is a correct answer. It is true that God will answer faithful, unselfish prayers that are according to his will, but sometimes his will is not as clear cut as we would like. It is God’s will for my children to be saved, and my faithful, unremitting, unselfish prayer will increase the chances that they will be saved. God gives us all these assurances because he wants us to pray and because he wants to answer those prayers in the affirmative. However, any guarantee that God will say “Yes” to a particular prayer is difficult to sustain in light of the scriptures and in light of what we know about God. I wish this was an easy question, but it is not . If you want complete “clarity” (depending on what you mean by clarity) I cannot give it to you.
In the end, being a Christian requires faith. The act of prayer requires faith, as we know from Hebrews 11:6. We must believe that he rewards those who put their faith in him, even though, at times, no matter how faithful, unselfish and unremitting we are, God’s answer to our prayer may not necessarily be “Yes.”
It may sound as if I am saying that the passages quoted above are not true (1 John 5, James 4, Jn 15). This is not what I am saying. What I am saying is that we must accept the truth of these statements in the New Testament in a nuanced way which takes all we know about God into account. You need to continue to pray those faithful prayers, even though there is not an absolute 100.000% assurance that you will get the answer “Yes.”