If you’ve ever tried to call a friend on a home phone and left a message on the machine or with their sibling, you’ve probably wondered, “will my message actually get through to them? Will I ever hear back?” If I asked you if you think that God hears your prayers, that’s probably a no-brainer response - yes, of course He does. Nothing get past the Creator of the Heavens and the Earth and all things... But have you ever wondered if your prayers are getting through to Him? What I mean by that is, does He hear your prayers with the intention of answering them? Have you considered there are prayers we can pray that God will hear but have no intention of answering? Let’s discuss what types of prayers will be heard and answered, and which prayers God has no intention responding to.
First, for the types of prayer that are unacceptable to God. Isaiah is regarded as one of, if not the best prophet in the Old Testament. In Isaiah’s book of the Bible, you read a message of future hope, comfort, restoration - many prophecies of Jesus. But before the message of comfort, the first half of the book is a message of judgement. God’s nation Israel had rebelled, turned away from God, and had been living in sin for so long, Isaiah’s purpose was to call them to turn back to God. Call them to repent, to turn to righteousness. In regards to Israel’s sinful status, here was God’s message to them in Isaiah 1:15:
When you spread out your hands in prayer, I hide my eyes from you; even when you offer many prayers, I am not listening. You hands are full of blood.
Isaiah’s purpose was to get Israel to repent because they hadn’t done so to this point. Israel hadn’t turned to God, chose a path of sin, and stayed on that path. So how does this apply to our prayers? God won’t answer prayer when we hold onto sin, rather than repent. When we choose sin and willingly choose to continue in sin, our prayers will fall on deaf ears. It’s like procrastinating on a school project until the night before, so in desperation you resort to cheating to finish in time. And after you complete your cheated work, you resort to desperation prayer - “God, help me get a good grade on that!” Proverbs 28:9 says that if we turn from God’s instruction, even our “prayers are detestable” to Him. If we intend to dive right back into sin, God won’t intend to listen to our prayer. And it’s not the depth of our sin (it doesn’t matter how “bad” it is), it’s if we have intentions to stay in sin that will ultimately turn God away.
Another type of prayer that God will turn from is found in the writings of James, who wrote a letter to expose hypocritical Christians and on proper Christian living. In James 4, he exposes a hypocritical type of prayer that Christians should not be praying. James 4:1-3 says,
What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.
He starts with talking about the desires we have for stuff, for things, worldly possessions. Longing, wishing, coveting. Verse three hits the nail on the head - you don’t get what you ask for because you ask with the wrong motives. Not focused on what God wants, but focused on what you want. So how does this apply to our prayer life? God won’t answer prayer when we pray out of selfish desire. Let’s say you love to surf and have a perfectly fine surf board, but your friend gets a brand spanking new one that rips. You have a burning passion to have that board, and from the selfish desires of your heart you pray, “God, please get me that new surf board…” When our motives are fixed on selfish wants, God wants no part in answering. This is asking with wrong motives…
Important distinction, though: there is a very real difference between wanting a new surf board and wanting your grandmother to get healthy. There’s a difference between wanting an iPhone X and wanting your friend to become a Christian. Certain desires are purely selfish, others line up with God’s desires - very different.
The key to God hearing and answering prayer is found in 1 John 5:14-15:
This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of Him.
If we pray according to God’s will, we can have total confidence that He not only hears us, but is eager to answer us. In John 15, Jesus says that He is the vine, we are the branches, if we remain in Him - we can ask whatever we wish and it will be done! Wow! So, if we read the Bible all the time, go to church, and pray a lot - then we can ask for that new surf board? Well, not exactly. If we are so connected to Jesus, our prayers will reflect His heart. We will no longer be so worried and concerned about selfish desires, or deeply entrenched in sin, and our prayers will be for God’s will to be done - not our own. How do we pray for God to hear and answer? God answers prayers when we’re focused on Him.
God wants us to pray, He is eager to listen to us and answer our prayer. He created it for us to communicate with Him, to ask for and receive forgiveness, to ask Him to provide our needs, bring our struggles to Him, to give us direction and understanding… When we understand the depth of God’s love for us, found in the sacrifice of Jesus, our lives become His (it’s the very least we could do!). Our sole purpose should be to love God, live for Him, and love others. Prayer is an important tool we have to accomplish this best. The key to answered prayer is staying connected to Him, so that our prayers naturally become prayers to follow Him and do His will for our lives.