The question was asked as to whether God always answers prayer. My immediate response was yes: either with yes, no, or not yet. But the ensuing discussion caused me to take a look at what scripture says about whether God always answers prayer.
AW Tozer (http://francisrosos.wordpress.com/2006/08/30/does-god-always-answer-our-prayers/), referencing I John 3:21-22; John 15:7, wrote, “The truth is that God always answers the prayer that accords with His will as revealed in the Scriptures, provided the one who prays is obedient and trustful. Further than this we dare not go.” I agree that if we expect an answer to be affirmative, then he is correct. But it seems answering prayer is always in the affirmative to Tozer. This does not deal with answering in the negative or in silence.
We can see that God sometimes does not answer. This seems to me to be an answer of silence, which is either ‘I am not answering’, ‘no’, or ’not yet’ answer (which would depend on whether it is answered later).
In the case of 1 Samuel 14:24-43, because it was followed by a specific answer later, I would call this an answer of ‘I am not going to answer right now’. But scripture calls it neither a ‘no’ or a ‘not yet’. It says, “He did not answer him on that day.“
In this case, the lack of answer was later followed by a specific answer of “who”. The back story is that Saul had made made an oath for the people, not allowing them to eat during the day of battle. Jonathan had not heard of the oath, so ate honey when wearied. Worse, the people responded to being so hungered by battle that they slew animal spoils of war and ate them with blood still in their bodies. Interestingly, Saul also made an altar and had people slaughter animals sacrifice there. In trying to ascertain why God had not answered Saul’s prayer (there were so many reasons why He would not in this situation), it became obvious that Jonathan was the reason.
1 Samuel 14:24-43
24 Now the men of Israel were hard-pressed on that day, for Saul had put the people under oath, saying, “Cursed be the man who eats food before evening, and until I have avenged myself on my enemies.” So none of the people tasted food. 25 All the people of the land entered the forest, and there was honey on the ground. 26 When the people entered the forest, behold, there was a flow of honey; but no man put his hand to his mouth, for the people feared the oath. 27 But Jonathan had not heard when his father put the people under oath; therefore, he put out the end of the staff that was in his hand and dipped it in the honeycomb, and put his hand to his mouth, and his eyes brightened. 28 Then one of the people said, “Your father strictly put the people under oath, saying, ‘Cursed be the man who eats food today.’” And the people were weary. 29 Then Jonathan said, “My father has troubled the land. See now, how my eyes have brightened because I tasted a little of this honey. 30 How much more, if only the people had eaten freely today of the spoil of their enemies which they found! For now the slaughter among the Philistines has not been great.”
31 They struck among the Philistines that day from Michmash to Aijalon. And the people were very weary. 32 The people rushed greedily upon the spoil, and took sheep and oxen and calves, and slew them on the ground; and the people ate them with the blood. 33 Then they told Saul, saying, “Behold, the people are sinning against the Lord by eating with the blood.” And he said, “You have acted treacherously; roll a great stone to me today.” 34 Saul said, “Disperse yourselves among the people and say to them, ‘Each one of you bring me his ox or his sheep, and slaughter it here and eat; and do not sin against the Lord by eating with the blood.’” So all the people that night brought each one his ox with him and slaughtered it there. 35 And Saul built an altar to the Lord; it was the first altar that he built to the Lord.
36 Then Saul said, “Let us go down after the Philistines by night and take spoil among them until the morning light, and let us not leave a man of them.” And they said, “Do whatever seems good to you.” So the priest said, “Let us draw near to God here.” 37 Saul inquired of God, “Shall I go down after the Philistines? Will You give them into the hand of Israel?” But He did not answer him on that day. 38 Saul said, “Draw near here, all you chiefs of the people, and investigate and see how this sin has happened today. 39 For as the Lord lives, who delivers Israel, though it is in Jonathan my son, he shall surely die.” But not one of all the people answered him. 40 Then he said to all Israel, “You shall be on one side and I and Jonathan my son will be on the other side.” And the people said to Saul, “Do what seems good to you.” 41 Therefore, Saul said to the Lord, the God of Israel, “Give a perfect lot.” And Jonathan and Saul were taken, but the people escaped. 42 Saul said, “Cast lots between me and Jonathan my son.” And Jonathan was taken.
43 Then Saul said to Jonathan, “Tell me what you have done.” So Jonathan told him and said, “I indeed tasted a little honey with the end of the staff that was in my hand. Here I am, I must die!”
We have already seen God answers with “who” in the previous passage mentioned above. Now let us see an example of God answering “yes” in 2 Samuel 5:19, and of God answering ‘no, I have a better plan’ in verse 23-24:
2 Samuel 5:17-25
17 When the Philistines heard that they had anointed David king over Israel, all the Philistines went up to seek out David; and when David heard of it, he went down to the stronghold. 18 Now the Philistines came and spread themselves out in the valley of Rephaim. 19 Then David inquired of the Lord, saying, “Shall I go up against the Philistines? Will You give them into my hand?” And the Lord said to David, “Go up, for I will certainly give the Philistines into your hand.”20 So David came to Baal-perazim and defeated them there; and he said, “The Lord has broken through my enemies before me like the breakthrough of waters.” Therefore he named that place Baal-perazim. 21 They abandoned their idols there, so David and his men carried them away.
22 Now the Philistines came up once again and spread themselves out in the valley of Rephaim. 23 When David inquired of the Lord, He said, “You shall not go directly up; circle around behind them and come at them in front of the balsam trees. 24 It shall be, when you hear the sound of marching in the tops of the balsam trees, then you shall act promptly, for then the Lord will have gone out before you to strike the army of the Philistines.” 25 Then David did so, just as the Lord had commanded him, and struck down the Philistines from Geba as far as Gezer
In 1 Kings 18, we see that God answered Elijah’s prayer for fire with fire which consumed wood that had been soaked in water. I would call this a ‘yes’.
1 Kings 18:33-38
33 Then he arranged the wood and cut the ox in pieces and laid it on the wood. 34 And he said, “Fill four pitchers with water and pour it on the burnt offering and on the wood.” And he said, “Do it a second time,” and they did it a second time. And he said, “Do it a third time,” and they did it a third time. 35 The water flowed around the altar and he also filled the trench with water.
36 At the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, Elijah the prophet came near and said, “O Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, today let it be known that You are God in Israel and that I am Your servant and I have done all these things at Your word.37 Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that You, O Lord, are God, and that You have turned their heart back again.” 38 Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench.
Sometimes God does not answer prayer. This seems to me to be a ‘no’, but God’s word says God did not answer:
40 You have also made my enemies turn their backs to me, And I destroyed those who hated me.
41 They cried for help, but there was none to save, Even to the Lord, but He did not answer them.
42 Then I beat them fine as the dust before the wind; I emptied them out as the mire of the streets.
Its clear that, at least some times, God does not answer because He does not hear the prayers of people who have sin in their hearts.
18 If I regard wickedness in my heart, the Lord will not hear;
1 Behold, the Lord’s hand is not so short that it cannot save;
Nor is His ear so dull That it cannot hear.
2 But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God,
And your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear.
This was certainly the case with King Saul, when he was not answered by God because he had sinned and not repented.
1 Samuel 28:6-7, 11, 16-18
But here is a case where even Elijah’s prayer did not receive an affirmative – he asked God to kill him. It was a selfish prayer and not in God’s will (remember that God never took Elijah’s life, but Elijah walked with God in 2 Kings 2). There was no direct ‘no’, but instead an angel came and gave him sustenance. Is this considered an unheard prayer or a ‘no’? I think it likely that God heard and gave him what was needed instead of what he wanted. I’d call this a ‘no’.
1 Kings 19:4-8
4 But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper tree; and he requested for himself that he might die, and said, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take my life, for I am not better than my fathers.” 5 He lay down and slept under a juniper tree; and behold, there was an angel touching him, and he said to him, “Arise, eat.” 6 Then he looked and behold, there was at his head a bread cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. So he ate and drank and lay down again.7 The angel of the Lord came again a second time and touched him and said, “Arise, eat, because the journey is too great for you.” 8 So he arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mountain of God.
Sometimes God answers ‘no’ – not with the word, but with action, or lack of action (as the case may be). We see this where David had his sin forgiven, but asked a prayer not in God’s will (because the child born to David and Bathsheba was to die), and so was answered ‘no’:
2 Samuel 12:13-23
13 Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” And Nathan said to David, “The Lord also has taken away your sin; you shall not die. 14 However, because by this deed you have given occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme, the child also that is born to you shall surely die.” 15 So Nathan went to his house.
Then the Lord struck the child that Uriah’s widow bore to David, so that he was very sick. 16 David therefore inquired of God for the child; and David fasted and went and lay all night on the ground.17 The elders of his household stood beside him in order to raise him up from the ground, but he was unwilling and would not eat food with them. 18 Then it happened on the seventh day that the child died. And the servants of David were afraid to tell him that the child was dead, for they said, “Behold, while the child was still alive, we spoke to him and he did not listen to our voice. How then can we tell him that the child is dead, since he might do himself harm!” 19 But when David saw that his servants were whispering together, David perceived that the child was dead; so David said to his servants, “Is the child dead?” And they said, “He is dead.” 20 So David arose from the ground, washed, anointed himself, and changed his clothes; and he came into the house of the Lord and worshiped. Then he came to his own house, and when he requested, they set food before him and he ate.
21 Then his servants said to him, “What is this thing that you have done? While the child was alive, you fasted and wept; but when the child died, you arose and ate food.” 22 He said, “While the child wasstill alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, ‘Who knows, the Lord may be gracious to me, that the child may live.’ 23 But now he has died; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, buthe will not return to me.”
Sometimes the answers to our prayers are delayed because demons try to prevent angels from responding to our prayers. This is not a ‘no’, or even a ‘not-yet’, but a delayed ‘yes’.
12 Then he said to me, “Do not be afraid, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart on understanding this and on humbling yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to your words. 13 But the prince of the kingdom of Persia was withstanding me for twenty-one days; then behold, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I had been left there with the kings of Persia.
Sometimes God is working in the background while we think He has not heard, and we must wait to see it come to pass. This is a ‘yes’ that looks like a ‘not yet’:
2 How long, O Lord, will I call for help,
And You will not hear?
I cry out to You, “Violence!”
Yet You do not save.
3 Why do You make me see iniquity,
And cause me to look on wickedness?
Yes, destruction and violence are before me;
Strife exists and contention arises.
4 Therefore the law is ignored
And justice is never upheld.
For the wicked surround the righteous;
Therefore justice comes out perverted.
5 “Look among the nations! Observe!
Be astonished! Wonder!
Because I am doing something in your days—
You would not believe if you were told.
6 “For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans,
That fierce and impetuous people
Who march throughout the earth
To seize dwelling places which are not theirs.
Sometimes one’s prayers are hindered because one does not live with his wife in an understanding way and does not honor his wife. Are hindered prayers a ‘no’? I think so.
1 Peter 3:7
7 You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered.
Sometimes we do not get what we ask because we ask with wrong motives – we are selfish. Is that an answer to prayer? I think so – I think it is a ‘no’.
3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.
We must have belief for our prayers to be answered (in the affirmative). So if we do not believe, then the answer will be ‘no’.
22 And all things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.”
22 And Jesus *answered saying to them, “Have faith in God. 23 Truly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says is going to happen, it will be granted him. 24 Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you.
We must abide in Christ and ask in His name. This is not a magical litany. This is much more than simply reciting a phrase at the end of a prayer. This is asking for something that Jesus would ask for – when we ask in Christ’s name, we are asking for something He would have asked for. When I was a child, my dad had credit at the corner store and I could go in and get a loaf of bread and ask them to put it on his tab. I was buying something my dad would have me buy. But if I tried to get candy, they would not put it on his tab, because they knew my dad would never have bought such a thing. So, asking in the name of God the Son means you are walking close enough to Him to know what HE would have asked for and asking for THAT – not necessarily what you would want.
7 If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.
16 You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you.
If we have had sin in our hearts, we must humble ourselves, pray, and seek God and then He will hear our prayers and forgive us.
2 Chronicles 7:14
14 if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.
God has affirmatively answered prayers of Gentiles who believed in God, but were people not of God’s chosen people:
1 Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying,2 “Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and proclaim to it the proclamation which I am going to tell you.” 3 So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, a three days’ walk. 4 Then Jonah began to go through the city one day’s walk; and he cried out and said, “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown.”
5 Then the people of Nineveh believed in God; and they called a fast and put on sackcloth from the greatest to the least of them. 6 When the word reached the king of Nineveh, he arose from his throne, laid aside his robe from him, covered himself with sackcloth and sat on the ashes. 7 He issued a proclamation and it said, “In Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let man, beast, herd, or flock taste a thing. Do not let them eat or drink water. 8 But both man and beast must be covered with sackcloth; and let men call on God earnestly that each may turn from his wicked way and from the violence which is in his hands. 9 Who knows, God may turn and relent and withdraw His burning anger so that we will not perish.”
10 When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them. And He did not do it.
24 Jesus got up and went away from there to the region of Tyre. And when He had entered a house, He wanted no one to know of it; yet He could not escape notice. 25 But after hearing of Him, a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately came and fell at His feet. 26 Now the woman was a Gentile, of the Syrophoenician race. And she kept asking Him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27 And He was saying to her, “Let the children be satisfied first, for it is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” 28 But she answered and *said to Him, “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs under the table feed on the children’s crumbs.” 29 And He said to her, “Because of this answer go; the demon has gone out of your daughter.” 30 And going back to her home, she found the child lying on the bed, the demon having left.
8 I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will get up and give him as much as he needs.
9 “So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks, receives; and he who seeks, finds; and to him who knocks, it will be opened. 11 Now suppose one of you fathers is asked by his son for afish; he will not give him a snake instead of a fish, will he? 12 Or ifhe is asked for an egg, he will not give him a scorpion, will he? 13 If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?”
Jesus taught people to persist in prayer, and that God will bring about justice for those who are His elect and cry out to Him:
1 Now He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart, 2 saying, “In a certain city there was a judge who did not fear God and did not respect man. 3 There was a widow in that city, and she kept coming to him, saying, ‘Give me legal protection from my opponent.’ 4 For a while he was unwilling; but afterward he said to himself, ‘Even though I do not fear God nor respect man, 5 yet because this widow bothers me, I will give her legal protection, otherwise by continually coming she will wear me out.’” 6 And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge *said; 7 now, will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them? 8 I tell you that He will bring about justice for them quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?”
The answer to prayer will be yes if we have a spirit of obedience and do what pleases God when we pray:1 John 3:21-22
21Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God 22and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him.
So no, God does not answer all prayers. Some prayers are not heard, which results in them being unanswered. An unanswered prayer is not necessarily a ‘no’, or even a ‘not yet’, but a ‘I am not going to tell you’ – which is a very different thing. This is an answer which was very different than I had expected to find when I began this research. We must always let Scripture be our guide in learning about God and life.
Looking at where scripture mentions God answering prayer – it is not always yes, no, or not yet. Sometimes God answers in depth in the affirmative. Sometimes God answers with something that is better than you had asked for. Sometimes God answers no explicitly, sometimes God answers no implicitly. Sometimes, God does not answer prayer – this is sometimes followed by an answerer to prayer, and sometimes not. Sometimes God answers but we are unaware of it – because the answer is delayed or because it takes longer than we are aware of. Sometimes our prayers are hindered because of our relationship with God or others. God’s Word says He does not hear prayers of people who hold sin in their hearts, yet it also says who ever asks will receive what they ask – but they must believe, not have sin in their hearts, be repentant from sin towards God, be in a good relationship with God through faith in Christ, obey God, and be in a harmonious relationships with others.