How Does God Answer Prayers? (Does He Answer Them All?)

Looking for answers about prayer?

Does God answer all prayers?  Does God answer prayers immediately?  Does God always answer prayers or sometimes not?

These and other similar questions are legitimate and valid questions to ask, even necessary at times. Prayer is such a personal act yet can be touched with some mystery as well.

When we pray, we expect to receive an answer, somehow, in regards to what we are praying about in our life.  Yet we wonder if God hears our prayer, or if he does hear, how will we know he has answered us?

So, how does God answer prayers?

Briefly, God answers prayers in accordance with his will and purposes.  Prayer isn’t about us and our wants, but about God and our relationship to him.  Understanding this, we can approach prayer differently and grow in our prayer life–seeking assurance more than answers.

Still curious?  We invite you to read further and continue seeking a deeper understanding of the nature of prayer and how it facilitates a relationship with God.  We’ll discuss some of the questions posed above.  You may be surprised at the responses and how pondering the motives and purpose of prayer is vital to a journey of faith and fellowship with God.

Does God Answer All Prayers?

This is a different question than does God always answer prayers, which you can see below.  Asking “Does God answer all prayers” is more about whether some prayers are valid or not.  It can also mean whether the person praying is worthy enough to have God answer their prayer

1. Are All Prayers Valid?

Why wouldn’t a prayer be valid?  Does a prayer have to have certain words in order to be valid and okay for God to hear it?  Is a prayer only heard by God if the person praying it is dressed a certain way, or it is prayed on a certain day?

When I was much younger I was told that when you pray you had to bow your head and close your eyes or it didn’t count. That’s foolishness.  Bowing our head and closing our eyes may be respectful but it’s not required for a prayer to be heard by God.

The validity of a prayer rests not upon the words in the prayer, or upon the the person prayer, but upon the God to whom the prayer is directed.

The fact that so many people visit this website looking for prayers to pray about a specific situation is simple evidence that people need help sometimes to pray to God.  If we really believe that only certain prayers “work” and other prayers don’,t then we’re descending into the world of magic and incantations, which isn’t biblical.

In the Gospel of Luke, we see the disciples asking Jesus to teach them to pray.

It’s the only time the disciples asked Jesus to teach them something specific.  They could have asked him about salvation or the end of days or about love or why evil exists or any number of other topics, but they asked him to teach them to pray.

And Jesus didn’t launch into a long winded dissertation on prayer, with lots of citations and historical references to prayer.  Whether it’s the shorter version in Luke or the more popular version we see in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus just simply said, pray in this way.

“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
 your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
 And forgive us our debts,
    as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
    but deliver us from the evil one” (Matthew 6.9-13, NIV)

But he wasn’t prescribing a method, as in, this is the way, and the only way to pray.  Or pray these words and your prayers will be answered how you want.  He wasn’t divulging a secret code that you and I can dial in correctly to have our prayers answered.

He was showing the disciples and therefore us that prayer was about relationship with God, which we discuss a little further in this article.  “Our Father” is how he started, showing us that prayer was about conversing with God in a relational manner.  It wasn’t about method, but our motive.

2. Are All Pray-ers Valid?

A pray-er is a person who prayers, as in a player is a person who plays.  To restate the question:  Does God answer all pray-ers, as in anyone who prays?

What kind of God would God be if he didn’t hear the prayers of every person who prayed?  Wouldn’t that make God subjective and arbitrary and selective and, well, snobbish?  Does that sound like a loving and merciful God?

Since God is God and we are not, then none of us is really “worthy” to pray to God, yet we all do.  Remember, prayer is about God, not us, so our validity as people who pray is not the issue.  Anyone can pray to God and should.  The moment we start thinking that we are better than other people, we enter into pride and arrogance and pride goes before destruction.

There can be the temptation to think, “Well, that person is so bad or evil (or whatever negative attribute we want to apply) that there’s no way God would answer their prayer.”  Since we are all sinners and the Bible is pretty clear that we all have fallen short of the mark,  then that kind of thinking means God shouldn’t answer any of our prayers because we’re sinners.

But we know that’s not true because of God’s love.

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5.8, NIV).

Wouldn’t a God who so loved the world want to hear a sinner’s prayer?

As to whether the prayer is answered, that would be up to God, not us.  Certainly not up to us to decide if God answers all prayers.  God is the one being prayed to, so wouldn’t it be up to God to decide to answer?  And God could decide to answer with a firm no.

So the questions of a valid prayer, or a legitimate pray-er shift to the wayside as we realize that prayer is about God, not us or our words.  We can trust God to make the decision on how he wants to answer every prayer that is lifted to him.

Does God Answer Prayers Immediately?

If we think about the way this question is phrased, it can be helpful to giving us new perspective.  Why do we want our prayers answered right now, in this moment?  Who are we, as finite beings, to demand of God, who is infinite, that he respond to us in our timeline?

Do we understand who we are in relation to God?  We reveal our impatience and self-centered nature when we want God to do things our way and in our time.  God is not bound by any time, certainly not by our clock.

A thousand years in your sight
    are like a day that has just gone by,
    or like a watch in the night” (Psalm 90.4, NIV).

We put artificial timelines on our requests.  This needs to happen by this time because we think that is how it should happen.  When we continue to think that we should still have control of our lives, we then approach prayer with a short-sighted view of the purpose of prayer and how it should unfold. We pray in the morning and expect an answer before the next day.

It’s tempting to believe that we should pray and then God should answer our prayer, in the way we want, and according to the time we want and have set up.  While this belief may appeal to our inward-looking desires, this doesn’t sound like a good equation:  Our Demand + Our Timing = God’s Answer.

The Apostle Paul reminds us that love is patient. Since God is love and God loves us and we seek to love God with everything we are, doesn’t it make sense that our desire for “right now!” answers to prayer may not be in keeping with the Spirit of love?  We can rest in God’s timing, secure in God’s love.

Three Ways That God (Always) Answers Prayers

From scripture and experience and religious tradition, it is clear that God does always answer prayers but not always in the way we desire.  You may have seen people write, or heard people say that God answers prayers in three ways:  Yes, No, and Wait (or not now).  This is a decent and popular framework for us to explore.

1. God Answers Yes

If God answers our prayers with a yes, that typically means he answered the prayer the way we wanted.  For example, if I prayed for my daughter to have a successful surgery and she did, so then I would therefore think God answered my prayer with a “Yes.”

Or, to frame it in a different way, I wanted something to happen, then I prayed for it to happen in the way I wanted, and it did unfold in that manner, so I think, therefore, God answered my prayer with a yes.

This can lead to us thinking that we can make God do things we want which is a dangerous way to think about prayer and can damage our relationship to God.  But we don’t have to think that way.

When we pray we can believe that “In all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8.28, NIV).   “Works for the good” is the key phrase here.  God’s greatest good for us may not be what we think.  Which is why a “Yes” from God may look altogether different than what we imagined when we prayed in the first place.

2. God Answers No

If God answers our prayers with a no, that typically means he answered the prayer in a way that we did not want.  For example, if I prayed for my dog to be found, but my dog was not found, then I would therefore think God answered my prayer with a “No.”  Often when a prayer is prayed and the outcome does not meet our expectation, we take that as God answering us with a no.

That has more to do with our expectations than it does with God’s answers.  Perhaps God answered “No” because what we asked for is ultimately not going to be beneficial to us or those around us.  Maybe God answered “No” because to respond with a “Yes” would not be in accordance with his will and purposes.

Look at it this way:  If God’s answer to your prayer is a clear “No,” then you might want to see it as a chance to grow in love and trust with God, even if it doesn’t make sense to you.

3. God Answers Wait

If God answers our prayer with a wait (or not now), that typically means we think we are not sure whether he answered the prayer or not, but we tend to think of a wait as a no, and not a yes, but not now.  For example, if I prayed for God to find me a job soon, but I did not find a job for 5 months, then I would therefore think God answered the prayer with a wait.

That may be how we think and waiting may not be what we want, but waiting with God (with the proper mindset) can enable us to increase our faith and trust in God.

Scripture points to positive aspects of waiting upon God.  When we wait we can renew our strength. God can be our salvation in times of distress as we wait.  People who daily wait for God may be blessed. We gain hope as we wait.

These are but a few examples to remind us that when we pray and God responds back to us with a “Wait, my child, for now is not the time,” we don’t have to become despondent or to complain.  We can be comforted that we wait with God, for God.

Praying In Relationship to God

The Bible says that Father God is the giver of good gifts.  We can trust that God will take care of us, for he is Jehovah Jireh, our Provider.   God is also Elohim Shomri, our Protector.  

We have relationship with God through Jesus Christ and it is in the spirit of that relationship that we should pray.

When we pray, God is likely to answer us, however he answers, and in whatever time he answers, in regards to either providing for us in some way, or protecting us in some way. 

So, if we pray a prayer and God’s answer appears to be a “No,” then we can think God is withholding something from us that we want.  But we can realize God, who is Wisdom,  may be protecting us from something that is not right for us, or is not in keeping with his will for us.

Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.  For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.
As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55.7-9, NIV).

We can also pray and see that God answered in some fashion with a yes.  We can realize that God is providing for us in that circumstance.  Even if it means providing for us in a way that we didn’t see when we prayed.

For example, when I was a teenager, I needed a car so I could work to make money.  But the only car available to me was my parent’s old Ford LTD.  In baby vomit green.  I prayed for God asking for a car, thinking of a car I wanted.  God provided a car, which was the transportation I needed to get to work to make money.

I went to work and made money and saved the money and was able to buy the car I wanted.  God provided, just not in the way I thought when I prayed, nor according to the timeline I established when I prayed.  God answered yes, so yes, I could say my prayer was answered in that instance.

But the important point is that I grew in my relationship to God as I prayed, and AS I watched HOW God answered the prayer.  Our motives and expectations can influence what we pray for, and how we pray.

 “Where do you think all these appalling wars and quarrels come from? Do you think they just happen? Think again. They come about because you want your own way, and fight for it deep inside yourselves. You lust for what you don’t have and are willing to kill to get it. You want what isn’t yours and will risk violence to get your hands on it.  You wouldn’t think of just asking God for it, would you? And why not? Because you know you’d be asking for what you have no right to. You’re spoiled children, each wanting your own way” (James 4.1-3, The Message).

What are our expectations?  If we treat the Almighty as nothing more than a Heavenly Answerman then we degrade the Divine and lessen his Lordship.  God doesn’t merely exist for us to go to him to get answers for stuff we want, or for circumstances to curve to our desires and timing.

Following Jesus isn’t about us, not really.  It’s about laying aside our self and following after Christ.  The Apostle Paul said “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come:The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5.17, NIV). 

Prayer is a major aspect of this transformation into being like Christ and “growing up into the head”  We pray to be in relationship with God.  We pray to continue to be in relationship with God.  We pray to grow more deeply into our relationship with God.

I can’t tell you how many times as a pastor I’ve had people come up to me and say, “I know you’ve got a direct line with the Man Upstairs, so could you pray a prayer for me tomorrow?”  Or, “You’ve got to have a better connection to God than I do, so I’d appreciate you praying for me.”

Of course I will pray for that person as intercessory prayer is important.  But the thought behind the request is what always gave me pause.  They sincerely believed that because of my job title, I was able to dial into God in a better way than they could.  They truly thought that I was better than them, more valuable to God in some way, and that they were thereby less important to God, simply because I worked in this specific vocation.

I began to tell people that they had as good of a connection to God as I did and that if they would bring their request to God, he would hear them.  I began to turn their attention to their own relationship with God so they could grow in their prayer life.  I did not want them to continue in a stunted understanding of how they could grow in God.

Our desire should be to grow into maturing followers of Christ, not to remain as infants drinking milk.  God hears our prayers when we weep and collects them in a bottle, and when we speak out loud or pray silently.

Final Thoughts

Country music philosophy notwithstanding,  God does answer prayers.  How God answers prayers is up to God, since praying to God is about God, not us.  When we pray we submit ourselves to the Creator of the Universe.  We pray to God, not a Google search engine, looking for answers.

If we can separate ourselves from our admittedly self-serving or self-centered notions, we can behold the beauty of trust in God as we pray.  Whether we pray in desperation for a loved one who is sick, or we pray in hope for a new opportunity to open up in our life, we can do so in the knowledge that God has a will and purpose and plan that is beyond anything we can imagine.

We can begin to see ourselves a part of God’s overall purpose for humanity.  We can begin to trust that God knows what he is doing.  While things may happen that we don’t understand or wish hadn’t happened, God is at work and will work for his redemptive purposes:

“Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.  I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.  ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”   He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”   He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.   Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children” (Revelation 21.1-7, NIV).

If we long for justice to happen and it is delayed, be at rest for one day we will see the promise of, “But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” (Amos 5.24, NIV).

Things that don’t make sense now, will be made clear to us one day, “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (I Corinthians 13.12, NIV).

Does God answer our prayers?

Yes, in the way and manner that suits God, not our finite understanding or desires.  How God answers our prayers is more about molding us into his image than giving us a direct answer.  How God answers our prayers is more about the assurance of our relationship with God than the answers themselves.