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How God answers prayers

Practice / Praying
God hears every single prayer, even our unspoken ones. He faithfully answers each time we seek Him with humble hearts, with responses that are always affirming, instructive and comforting. Seldom are His answers just “yes” or “no”. That would make our relationship with Him much too boring. Our Heavenly Father loves to reveal His love and will to us in different ways as our relationship with Him deepens. We just need to learn how to recognise the different ways He answers our prayers.

(See Chinese versions: 简体中文神如何应允祷告 繁體中文 > 神如何應允禱告)

 

Matthew 6:8 ESV  your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

Isaiah 59:1 ESV  Behold, the LORD’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear;

The different ways God answers our prayers

Often, our Heavenly Father answers our prayers by giving us an instinctive sense of peace, knowledge, and discernment. He may open and close doors, thereby paving the way forward so we know which path to take. When we take the wrong path, the Holy Spirit will warn us through a sense of unease.

He can also reveal His answers through visions, dreams and prophecies through God-fearing people. Also, see How to test for the Holy Spirit and Understanding the gift of prophecy.

There are times when He provides such clear instructions that we simply have to obey. Other times, He gives us some hints so that we get to discover His will after taking the first step in faith.

The Bible is another way that our Heavenly Father uses to communicate His will to us. It comprises teachings, reproof, correction and training in God’s righteousness. When we seek to hear His answers, we may receive correction and discipline so we do not stray into destructive ways. God disciplines those He loves.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

Hebrews 12:6 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.”

Examples of specific answers to prayer

Here are some examples of how God has spoken directly to various people.

1. “Yes, of course.”

Jesus promises to answer any prayer that seeks to glorify God. Prayers that honour God will give Him all the glory, reference what He says about Himself, are free from sinful intentions and grateful for His blessings.

John 14:13-14 ESV  Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.

In this example, Moses’ prayer ticks all the boxes. Also, see Prayers that honour God.

Exodus 33:15-17 ESV  And he said to him, “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?” And the Lord said to Moses, “This very thing that you have spoken I will do, for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.”

2. “Yes, but it won’t be in the way you imagined.”

There may be times when we are tempted to take things into our hands, instead of waiting on our Heavenly Father for each step of the way.

In this example, Sarah asked her husband, Abraham, to sleep with her slave girl in order to have a son. This was her own way of fulfilling God’s promise of making many nations from Abraham’s descendants. This one action created generations of animosity between the descendants of Abraham’s first son by the slave girl, Ishmael, and the true son Sarah eventually gave birth to, Isaac. May we not make the same mistake by jumping ahead of God and presuming to know how things should work out. Only He knows best.

Genesis 17:18-21 ESV  And Abraham said to God, “Oh that Ishmael might live before you!” God said, “No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him. As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I have blessed him and will make him fruitful and multiply him greatly. He shall father twelve princes, and I will make him into a great nation. But I will establish my covenant with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this time next year.”

3. “Yes, the timing is not the best, but I will answer your prayer.”

God answers prayers based on His divine plan and timing. In some circumstances, God may respond to our prayers sooner than expected.

In this case, Jesus honoured His mother’s request for a miracle and made more wine for a wedding feast, even though it was not time for Him to start His public ministry. Mary asked in full confidence that He would come to the rescue, but in respecting Jesus’ reply, she only privately involved the servants.

John 2:3-5, 9-10 ESV  When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come. ” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” … When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.”

4. “Yes but wait. It’s not time yet.”

If you ask any financial investor, they will tell you that timing is everything.  Similarly, we have to trust that our Heavenly Father knows the perfect timing for all our decisions.

In this example, Jesus told His disciples that they would fulfill God’s plan and become witnesses for Him, but first, they would have to wait.

Luke 24:45-49 ESV  Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

5. “Yes but wait. You need to receive training first.”

Sometimes, what appears to be a period of waiting is actually God’s way to prepare us to receive what we ask.

In this example, the mother of James and John asked Jesus to show her sons favour when He sat on His throne in heaven. Jesus didn’t rebuke her for this selfish request but replied that they would have to “drink His cup”, and learn that whoever wants to be foremost in His kingdom has to learn how to serve others first.

Matthew 20:21-22, 26-27 ESV  And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” He said to them, “You will drink my cup … But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave,

6. “No, this is not for you.”

God’s answer in the negative is not because He doesn’t love us but because He has another plan. We should be humble enough to know that our finite plans cannot usurp His. We can celebrate that Father God knows best, even when we may not understand everything for the time being.

King David dearly wanted to build a temple for His people to worship God, but had to accept that God had chosen his son, Solomon, for the job instead.

1 Chronicles 28:2-3 ESV  Then King David rose to his feet and said: “Hear me, my brothers and my people. I had it in my heart to build a house of rest for the ark of the covenant of the Lord and for the footstool of our God, and I made preparations for building. But God said to me, ‘You may not build a house for my name, for you are a man of war and have shed blood.’

7. “No, I know what’s better for you.”

God loves us too much that He will have to deny us at times because we don’t always know what’s best for us. How can we, when we are not the creator of the past, present, and future?

The apostle Paul felt very persecuted by some people around him. He described them as a thorn in his flesh. In Numbers 33:55, God told Israel to drive out their enemies from the lands they took over. Otherwise, those people would become a thorn in their sides. With this knowledge, Paul asked God three times to drive his persecutors away. Instead, God denied Paul his request and told the apostle that his persecutors played a role in God’s higher purpose in his life.

2 Corinthians 12:7-9 ESV  So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

8. “Listen, I have a part for you in my kingdom work.”

God loves to speak with children who share His passions. The more we desire to follow His lead, the more He will favourably reveal more of His ways.

In this example, God showed Moses what he had to do and promised that He would be with Moses all the way. Throughout the books of Exodus and Numbers, we see that God went on to show Moses more and more of His will and plans.

Exodus 3:10-12 ESV  Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.” But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” He said, “But I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.”

9. “Listen, do not be afraid for I am with you.”

There are times our Heavenly Father speaks to us in reassuring ways when we are in despair or fear, as any loving, caring father would. He knows and cares about all the details of our lives.

In the Bible, Moses is described as being “very meek, more than all people who were on the face of the earth”. He naturally hesitated when God called him to lead over one million Israelites out of slavery. God reassured him that He would be with him and help him along the way.

Exodus 4:10-12 ESV  But Moses said to the Lord, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue.” Then the Lord said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak.”

10. “Listen, I have a revelation for you.”

Our Heavenly Father may sometimes reveal new insights and the future to us. We must however, leave it to Him to reveal them as He wishes, and not to seek to know the future for ourselves.

In this example, God told the apostle Peter in a vision that the Jews should not exclude the Gentiles from receiving the good news of Jesus. The Gentiles were now “made clean” and acceptable before God.

Acts 11:8-9 ESV  But I said, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing common or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ But the voice answered a second time from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, do not call common.’

11. “Listen, you need correcting.”

There are times when our Heavenly Father speaks to us to correct, guide and teach us, as any loving father would.

In this example, Job, a man who was favoured and noticed by God, endured severe sickness and the loss of his family, wealth and friends. Finally, when he was at his wit’s end, Job lamented at length about how righteous and God-honouring of a man he had been – without realising that it was Satan who had been afflicting him and not God. God admonished him for his attitude by reminding him who He is. God eventually restored all that Job had lost and more.

Job 40:1-5 ESV  And the Lord said to Job: “Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty? He who argues with God, let him answer it.” Then Job answered the Lord and said: “Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth. I have spoken once, and I will not answer; twice, but I will proceed no further.”                        

12. “I will not answer you.You have prayed with the wrong motives.”

Sometimes, we can miss what is in our Heavenly Father’s heart and pray from our own limited self-view. In such circumstances, we can unwittingly make ourselves lord over God.

In this example, Jonah is upset after God made him go to Nineveh to help save his enemies from destruction. Jonah believed that God was too kind and that his enemies did not get what they deserved. He became so angry that he thought he would die. God did not answer his wishes either way, whether to destroy his enemies or to let him die.

Jonah 4:9-11 ESV  But God said to Jonah, “Do you do well to be angry for the plant?” And he said, “Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.” And the Lord said, “You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?”

13. “I will not answer you. You have willfully dishonoured Me.”

We have to be careful not to turn to our Heavenly Father only when we can take advantage of Him. If we were in God’s shoes, how would we answer such prayers? Also, see What stops answered prayers.

In this example, King Saul, who had initially been chosen by God to serve His people, willfully disobeyed God several times. By the time he willingly sought God for help, God had stopped talking to him.

1 Samuel 28:5-6 ESV  When Saul saw the army of the Philistines, he was afraid, and his heart trembled greatly. And when Saul inquired of the Lord, the Lord did not answer him, either by dreams, or by Urim, or by prophets.

May we never become discouraged or impatient in waiting on God’s answers. He will certainly do so at the right time. Even at this moment, as we study how God answers our prayers, His Holy Spirit is right here with us interceding for us. God is faithful. He is our perfect hope and salvation.

Romans 8:24-26 ESV  For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.

 

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