Whose Prayers are Answered?
As we go through Genesis, we see various people praying and God's response to those prayers. Let us consider, though, exactly what is prayer.
In I Timothy 2:1-3 and Philippians 4:6 we find words which describe prayer. The word supplication refers to a request regarding a personal need. Prayer is an act of worship to God. Intercessions are requests made on behalf of another. Finally, thanksgivings are expressions of gratitude.
Prayer is the time we take to talk to the Lord God. We discuss our needs with God. We express our thankfulness to Him for the aid he has given to us in the past. We also tell God about our weaknesses and failings, asking Him for the forgiveness of our shortcomings. Yet, in all of this, we understand that God already knows about our requests. Isaiah 65:24 tells us that God will answer even before we ask. Nor are God's answers to our prayers dependent on how we express our needs. God helps us even when our prayers are inadequate (Romans 8:26).
If God knows everything and makes up for our shortcomings, then why should we bother to pray? Prayer is not for God's benefit, but for our own benefit. How can a person face his weaknesses and work on improving himself if he cannot admit his weaknesses exist? If we do not recognize our dependency on God, then we would soon believe that everything which happens to us is by our own abilities (Daniel 4:30-32). We would not recognize God's aid, even when we are faced with it.
Unfortunately, far too many people act as if God is some kind of cosmic vending machine. Pop in a few humble words and out plops a divine favor. God, of course, does not respond in this fashion. He has placed conditions on those who would come to Him for aid.
First, we must be willing to ask God for help (Jeremiah 33:3). Some people are too proud of their own abilities to think to go to someone else for help. When we pray, we must truly believe that God will answer. In fact, God expects us to look for the answer to our prayer (Luke 11:9-10). To look for God's answers shows we are truly needing God's aid and not just repeating some ritualistic phrases.
If we do not believe that God will answer our prayers, then why ask. It would be like the teenage boy who says to the girl of his dreams, "Well, I know you will say no, but will you go out with me?" Why should the girl bother? In Mark 11:24, we read that we must believe that we will receive an answer from God. James says we must ask of God without doubting (James 1:5-8).
Another condition is that we must be followers of God. Why should God give aid to those who oppose His will? David tells us we must love God (Psalms 91:14-15). The followers of God, who have been tried by fire, will be given an answer (Zechariah 13:9). It is the prayers of the righteous that avails much (James 5:16). But to be a follower of God, we must be obedient to His will (I John 3:21-22, John 15:7). When we ask God for help, we must be willing to give aid to others who need our help (Isaiah 58:3-11). How selfish can a person be to expect aid for himself and not help others in turn?
Whatever we ask from God, it has to be according to His will. Balaam once learned this the hard way. He tried to ask God to curse the Israelites, but God would not allow him to even say the words (Numbers 22-23). If we ask in accordance with God's will, we know we will be answered (I John 5:14).
God also expects us to ask with the proper intentions (James 4:3). A man may ask, "Hey, Lord, give me a million dollars!" However, he is only interested in selfish gain. In my prayers, I must keep in mind that God is always first, everyone else is second, and I am a distant last.