I know all of these passages imply or say that God will answer the prayer according to His will and if we are living according to His will and not just because we ask so usually that is how people seem to answer the question why we may not get what we asked but if we rarely know God’s will in any given situation then how can we be so confident as there passages implore us to be? I find I was very confident and specific in prayer at one time but since I rarely got the specific answer I was praying for (in my experience answers to prayer are not usually ”yes”, “no” or “maybe” but almost always “not like that”!) I have become quite confused about what to pray and much less confident that “whatever I ask” will be done. And although I do see very glorious and complex answers to prayers that unfold over long periods of time they are often a VERY roundabout answer (albeit beautiful) to probably my heart’s true desire! Nonetheless this has left me very confused because many scriptures (as the ones I’ve included) say in some form that we have WHAT we asked of him and not something else. Please can you share any insights you have? Many thanks, Kristin Nisr London
This is a very good question. You are not the first to ask this question, to say the least. This is the question of how and whether God answers prayer. By the way, you could have added to your list of passages James 4:3 “When you ask you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.
We need to take the Bible as a whole and not pull out a single passage on any topic (not that I am accusing you of that!). If we look at the sum of these passages, the “doctrine” of prayer we can surmise is that anything we ask of God through Jesus Christ, if we ask it with unselfish motives, and if it is God’s will, then it will be done. But then, as you ask above, how literally ought we to take these statements, or are they merely principles, intended to encourage us, but not to be taken fully at face value? I am not sure I can give a precise, mathematical-like answer to this query, but I do think we can reach some useful conclusions.
A few things ought to be noted. First is the matter of it is God’s will for something to happen. Paul prayed, and even begged God to take away some sort of infirmity (the nature of which scholars debate, but that is not germane to the question). God said no. (2 Corinthians 12:8-10). Here is the question. Was Paul’s request not answered because it was not God’s will, or because we cannot take God fully literally when he tells us that we will have anything we ask for? Paul suggests that it was because the prayer was not according to God’s will. This helps to inform our understanding of the prayer passages.
Also, there is some suggestion in the Bible that if we pray for something that is not necessarily God’s will, it may be given to us, nevertheless. There is the matter of Abraham’s request of God with regard to the destruction of Sodom and the five cities in Genesis 18.
Here is my effort at an answer. These passages are to be taken in their general sense and as principles intended to encourage us to pray, what to pray and how to pray. What God and/or Jesus tells us here is all true, but these are principles and if we try to force them into black-and-white statements which can be used to precisely tell us what prayers will be answered positively and what prayers will not be answered positively, this would be a mistake. It would be equivalent to putting God to the test. Therefore, we need to remember that our motives in asking matter, and, probably even more significantly, whether it is according to God’s general will matters as well, but God is encouraging us to pray boldly and expectantly, but also humbly, and with the understanding that we rarely overturn God’s will through our prayer. Faith involves belief in things that are unseen, and one of the things that are unseen is his will for our lives.
You imply that it is hard to be both confident about specific prayer, and also to know that so many of our prayers seem to go unanswered (or more accurately with the answer “no, not now”) I agree. This requires great faith. However, as far as I know, every biblical passage on prayer is an encouragement to pray and to not give up. By faith, I fully intend to keep up this pattern. The difficult part is when I pray for something that, at least to me, surely seems to be according to God’s will, yet the prayer is not answered by that thing happening. I can fully relate to the emotion and the intellectual quandary you are feeling, but I intend to keep on praying in humility and faith. This is not an easy thing. God is real. Jesus was raised from the dead, the Bible is inspired by God. I know these things, so I pray in faith and I believe what God said about prayer, even when the visible results are confusing to me. I wish I had an easy answer, but that is the best I can do.