You don’t have to be a Christian long to recognize you don’t always get what you pray for. Why doesn’t God seem to answer all our prayers? Is it because we aren’t praying properly, or have we simply failed to recognize God’s answer? Our ideas about prayer and God’s ideas about prayer are sometimes very different. Look at Jesus’ model supplication in the Gospel of Luke:
And He said to them, “When you pray, say: ‘Father, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, For we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.'”
Let’s take a deeper look at Jesus’ model for prayer and see if we can learn something about the nature of prayer and the nature of God:
Recognize the Holy Nature of God
Jesus begins by praising God and recognizing His holiness. He wants God’s will to be accomplished first, even before asking for anything for Himself. The Bible tells us that we must put God first if we want our prayers to be heard (Ezekiel 14:3, John 15:7). We’re called to abide in God first and put aside all other idols in our lives before we ask God for something.
Recognize Our Desperate Need Related to Forgiveness
The last part of Jesus’ prayer is centered entirely on the truth about each of us as believers. Jesus recognizes our need for forgiveness and our need to forgive others. More importantly, Jesus recognizes our natural fallen tendency to slip into sin and our need for God’s help in this area. The Bible says we must be honest about our sinful condition if we want our prayers to be heard (Isaiah 59:1-2). Honest confession is often missing from our conversations with God, but Jesus (the only perfect man who ever lived) did not deny our need for forgiveness. If He is modeling this for us, it must be important to God. Our need to examine our fallen nature is important because it helps us see God for who he really is (especially when compared to us).
Recognize the Simplicity of Our Material Need
In the middle of the Lord’s prayer, Jesus submits a simple request: “give us this day our daily bread”. Simple, immediate and humble. The request is focused more on our needs than our wants, and it asks for no more than what is required in the “here and now”. Jesus asks for more than His own need; His prayer is concerned with the needs of others (Proverbs 21:13). The Bible says we must be concerned with others if we want our prayers to be heard.
But even when you do pray the way Jesus taught us to pray, you may sometimes feel like God hasn’t answered your prayer. That’s because most of us think the only acceptable answer to prayer is “yes”. There are some prayers God always grants. If you are a follower of Christ, you can have confidence that God will always say “yes” to the following requests:
Requests for Wisdom
“But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” (James 1:5)
Requests for Forgiveness
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)
Requests for Salvation
“…for ‘whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.’” (Romans 10:13)
While God says “yes” to these kinds of requests, He often says “no” or “not yet” to other kinds of requests. It’s not because He doesn’t love you or isn’t listening. Remember, God sees the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10), and has a complete understanding of what is good for us, even if it doesn’t make sense to us at the time (Isaiah 55:8-9) Given this reality about the knowledge (omniscience) and kindness (omni-benevolence) of God, we are called to pray as Jesus taught, expecting God to answer us (Matthew 7:7-11). We’ve got sufficient evidence of God’s existence and righteous nature; it’s our job to trust God on the basis of this evidence, even when the answer to our prayer isn’t what we were hoping for (Proverbs 3:5-6, Hebrews 10:23)
As a parent, I’ve had the experience of having to say “no” (or remain silent) to requests made by my children, even when I desperately wanted to make them happy in the short-term. But I knew the danger of saying “yes”; I understood the importance of patience in a particular situation or the jeopardy of their request. I’d already been in their shoes, I knew the long term benefits and risks, and I could see the end from the beginning. In those situations, my kids needed to trust my wisdom even if they couldn’t understand my response at the time; I was confident that they would someday understand why I said “no”. In a similar way, we need to patiently accept whatever answer we get from God, knowing we will eventually understand why He responded the way He did.
J. Warner Wallace is a Cold-Case Detective, Christian Case Maker, Senior Fellow at the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, and the author of Cold-Case Christianity, Cold-Case Christianity for Kids, God’s Crime Scene, God’s Crime Scene for Kids, and Forensic Faith.