God will answer prayer always, IF…

A thoughtful look at a beautiful and mysterious part of our faith.

By Robert D. Wood
Department of Home Ministries, OMS International
Elder, Kansas West Annual Conference
Good News Board of Directors

It is God’s intention to answer prayer-always. And I do not mean what most persons seem to mean when they make such an assertion. We often hear people say that God intends to answer with a “yes.” “All the promises of God are ‘yes’ and ‘it shall be so,”‘ writes the Apostle Paul (11 Corinthians 1:19). It seems to me, in the light of clear statements from the Scriptures, that to say that God sometimes says, “no,” is to misunderstand the Scriptures or is a cop-out on our part – or both.

God intends always to say, ‘yes,’ though I will concede that experience and the Scriptures seem to lead to the conclusion that ‘yes’ sometimes follows on ‘not yet.’ But ‘no’ never appears in what God intends to happen when the Christian prays. Let us look at the evidence. The place ·to begin is with the Bible promises we have regarding prayer.

“Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it, that the Father may be glorified in the Son; if you ask anything in my name, I will do it” (John 14:13-14).

“If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you will, and it shall be done for you” (John 15:7).

“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide; so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you” (John 15:16).

“Truly, truly, I say to you, if you ask anything of the Father, he will give it to you in my name. Hitherto you have asked nothing in my name; ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full” (John 16:23).

“Ask, and it will be given you; seek and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8 and parallel passage in Luke 11:9-13).

”… if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my father in heaven” (Matthew 18:19).

“… Whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith” (Matthew 21 : 22).

“… We receive from [God] whatever we ask, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him” (I John 3:22).

“… this is the confidence which we have in [God], that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have obtained the requests made of him” (I John 5:14).

Here is enough material to keep us busy for a long time! Notice how many of these come from the lips of Jesus himself. Notice also (and this is extremely important), the inclusiveness of these statements on prayer. We find the words “whatever” and “anything” repeated time after time. “Ask whatever you will”; “whatever you ask”; “ask anything“; “agree … about anything.” Any sincere Christian, any believer wanting to follow the Lord and grow up into Christ, is going to have to deal with such blanket assertions as these. While we add, to cover up our failures, our “buts” and “howevers” and “we must be sensible and reasonable” and “it can’t mean,” etc., the voice of Jesus is still speaking: “ask whatever you will, and it shall be done.”

I have suggested above that we throw the dust of disbelief into the air for self-defense. It allows us to hide in a cloud of verbiage and so-called rationalism our utter fruitlessness in prayer. If what I am saying is true, then we stand under a frightening indictment. We cannot stand that kind of guilt and failure so we begin to say, “Let’s be reasonable people; Jesus surely didn’t mean ‘ask anything’; let’s not get carried away.”

I protest but He said, “ask anything.”

However, experience gets to its feet and makes a very damning confession: “I have prayed and prayed and nothing has happened.” A woman once said to me, ” I don’t believe in Jesus anymore.” I asked why. “Because,” she explained, “I asked Him to help me once, and He wouldn’t do it.”

The disciples could not help the young man who had seizures and whose father took him to them for healing. He later explained to Jesus, “I asked your disciples to cast it out, but they failed” (Matthew 8:18, NEB). Phillips makes it even more pointed: “I did speak to your disciples to get them to drive it out, but they hadn’t got the power to do it.”


Here, then, is the reason why we may not lie back on our “flow’ry beds of ease,” and say that it really is not such an important failure after all when we are ineffective in our praying. It is important! And serious Christians must discover the keys to the problem of “whatever” and the “anything” of Jesus’ promises.

These promises are given in the context of the Will of God. That is key number one. Key number two is that they are given in the context of ministry. That is to say that the only restrictions or constrictions which we may attach to these singular promises are: a) that one must pray in the will of God and that b) the promises often are related to fruit-bearing.

“Aha!” you say; “there’s the rub.” Yes, there’s the rub. Praying effectively is dependent upon ascertaining the will of God before we pray. And that is not always easy, though it would seem to be always possible (John 7:17; Romans 12:2).

The second thing to keep in mind is that effective prayer is directly related to discipleship. Jesus was not speaking to the clergy (rather to the laity) when he called them, chose them, and ordained them, and gave them the challenge and promise of John 15:16. Every one of us who names the Name of Christ is under divine appointment. This means discipleship. My authority for this is John 15:16 to which I have already referred. Notice here, however, something more than that Jesus says, ” … whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.” That very phrasing suggests that there is more to it; Jesus relates it to fruit-bearing, to ministry. If it were only “ask whatever you will” without the condition, it would make God a Super Santa. It was this notion that the crowd of 5,000 had in mind when they tried to make Jesus King Santa (John 6:15). Jesus proceeded to disabuse them of this idea with a mindboggling explication of the meaning of discipleship (John 6:53). Such an explication of prayer as ministry ought to disabuse us of the tendency to make prayer self-serving. Prayer is the Christian’s secret weapon for carrying on God’s warfare in the world of men and evil forces.

To put the two keys together, the all-encompassing prayer promises are related to working out the will of God in the warfare of Christian discipleship. Jesus calls the latter “bearing fruit.”

A demonstration of this occurred during the last supper; in fact, it followed hard upon the first service of Holy Communion. This was a great spiritual experience, a mountain top. Love among Jesus and the Eleven was at a high point.

Judging by what follows, one wonders whether perhaps Jesus unexpectedly shivered as if a frigid northern blast of wind suddenly shook Him at the disciple’s partial understanding. For the Last Supper was much more than a “mountain top” experience; in fact it was a battlefield and the war cry had been sounded.

When lightning strikes the earth, the ground acts as a conductor. If one is outdoors and his body begins to tingle and his hair stand on it, it may mean that lightning is about to strike. At the Last Supper Jesus sensed that Satan was about to strike, and his target would be Simon Peter. Jesus had been speaking about their faithfulness to Himself during His trials. He spoke of their appointed place in the Kingdom; it would be a position of honor, yes, but of great responsibility. Then Jesus sent a shock wave through the gathering: “Simon, Simon, behold Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren” (Luke 22:31-32).

Several lessons can be learned from this, but at least two are pertinent to our theme. Jesus’ ministry was to call out a people for God, bearing fruit unto the Father. Peter was a part of that; so are we. We have entered into Jesus’ labors, and it is ours now to bear fruit, to reproduce believers. That is the first lesson. The second is related to Jesus’ estimate of the power of prayer. This estimate gave rise to the promises He has given us to answer all our prayers with a yes. He expected His prayer for Peter to be answered. He said, “I have prayed for you.” Then He says, “when you have turned again.” Our Lord meant “Peter, Satan wants you, but I have prayed for you. You will fall, but you will return. When you do return, strengthen the others.”

Jesus has prayed. He knows His prayer will be answered because He believes that whatever He asks the Father, He will receive. The prayer will be answered because God sent Him to bear fruit. Peter is part of that fruit. Therefore, it was the will of God to answer that prayer. God would respond to that prayer and cooperate in the accomplishment of it.

Remember Wesley’s belief that God does nothing but in answer to prayer? This is a matter of divine-human cooperation.

But what about discerning the will of God? God will say, “yes,” to all our requests which are within His will – the promises say as much. The reason we say that God sometimes says, “no,” is because we have prayed for something that is outside His will. In such instances, He does not say, “no”; he ignores it.

In the midst of this writing, I took a break and went off to hear a well-known speaker who said, “Despite what we hear a great deal these days, all of our prayers are NOT answered.” I pricked up my ears. He continued, “We can be praying for the healing of 10 people in a row; nine of them will be healed, and then suddenly the tenth one isn’t.

I will concede that. But does this mean “No,” or is it because we did not pray first for guidance on how to pray in that particular instance?

The most important thing to remember in seeking God’s will is that surrender is the secret, a complete selling out to the will of God. “I come to do thy will, 0 God” (Hebrews 10:7) was spoken of Jesus. It must be the mind-set of the disciple as well. When your will and God’s will are at cross purposes, how can you expect to receive answers to your prayers? Therefore, be very sure that you want only His will.

One of my favorite hymns expresses the idea of surrender to the will of God. Jane Borthwick translated the words of Benjamin Schmolck:

My Jesus, as Thou wilt!
0 may Thy will be mine!
Into Thy hand of love
I would my all resign.
Through sorrow or through joy,
Conduct me as Thine own,
And help me still to say,
“My Lord, Thy will be done.”
My Jesus, as Thou wilt!
All shall be well for me;
Each changing future scene
I gladly trust with Thee.

A number of years ago I was struck by the significance of the bond-servant idea in the Scripture. In the lsraelitesh economy, every 50th year was to be a year of jubilee during which all lands that had been sold or forfeited were returned to their original owners. All slaves were set free (Leviticus 25:13,14; 27:16-24; 25:39-54). If a slave chose to remain with the family to which he had been indentured, he was taken to a doorpost where an awl was used to pierce his earlobe. The resulting wound showed to all the world that here was a man or a woman who was a slave by choice, a love slave.

This concept appears frequently in the New Testament letters of Paul, where he refers to himself as a bond-servant of Jesus Christ (Romans 1:1; Philippians 1:1; Titus 1:1). James 1:1 and Peter 1:1 also make use of the concept of voluntary servanthood to the Savior.

What right have I to say where should serve?

I may not choose my Galilee.

To clutch the Cross is my sole right.

Am I not Thine to send and Thine to nerve?

Thou art my Shield ‘mid Lystra’s flying rocks;

Thou art my Freedom in Philippi’s stocks.

I am Thy Levite; Thou art my Portion

‘Tis Prize enough. What matters else,

If I am Thine and Thou art mine? “Hands off” is my foremost obligation.

Here, Lord, is the lobe; quickly fetch Thine awl.

The disciple’s badge is the chain and ball.

The point of all this is that surrender to the will of God as an attitude, as an on-going stance, as a way of Iife, is the very first and fundamental requirement for effective praying. We have been promised the mind of Christ (Matthew 11:29; John 13:15; Ephesians 4:20; Philippians 2:5; I Peter 2:21; I John 2:6,20,27). Yet we know from experience, and from common sense, that Christ’s thoughts cannot come into our minds when we have already decided any given matter for ourselves … when we have concluded what truth is and what is right and good.

Suppose Jesus, like the Ford Motor Co., “has a better idea.” Openness to the mind of Christ (another term for the will of God), precedes effective praying. Paul says, ” … we do not know how we ought to pray …” (Romans 8:26, Good News for Modern Man). Yet he says to the Corinthians that while “the natural [or unspiritual] man receiveth not the things of the Spirit,” “we have the mind of Christ” I Corinthians 2: 14, 16). Paul is not contradicting himself. Rather, he is saying that the Holy Spirit takes over where human understanding, even enlightened (inSpirited, if you please) human understanding, falls short. On the other hand, he says, “we have the mind of Christ,” which Moffatt translates as “our thoughts are Christ’s thoughts.”

In order to have “Christ’s thoughts,” we need to be certain that we have no thoughts of our own. This is not a plea for empty-headedness; heaven knows there are enough kooks running around in the name of Jesus Christ! It is a plea, however, for such absolute sold-outness to the will of God that we are open to the quiet suggestions of the Holy Spirit, remembering that God seldom comes to us as a clap of thunder, as Elijah found out. As intercessors before our Father on behalf of a sinning world or needy brothers and sisters in the faith, we often have our own notions of what God needs to do. We tend not only to diagnose but also to prescribe. That is not our function. It is ours to listen carefully to the voice of the Spirit, and to join our wills with His on behalf of others. These are the kind of prayers to which Jesus does not expect God to say, “no.” It is to this kind of praying that Jesus calls us. It is to this which He hopes to challenge us when He says, “ask anything you will, and it shall be done.”

The fact is, of course, that God does have a means by which He accomplishes His purposes. It is directly related to our ascertaining the will of God. The Holy Spirit, who is controlling the surrendered Christian, has an entrance into the thinking processes of that person. When Paul writes to the Galatians, ” … let the Spirit direct your lives, and you will not satisfy the desires of the human nature” (5:16, TEV), he is implying that following the Holy Spirit means that we are satisfying the “desires” of our higher nature, so to speak, and that “higher nature” is harmonious with the desires that God desires for us. For example, what do you think God had in mind for Solomon when He spoke to him in a dream at Gibeon and said, “Ask what I shall give thee” (I Kings 3:5)? He would have deplored the king’s asking for long life or riches or vengeance upon his enemies (vs. 12), but he was pleased that Solomon asked for “an understanding heart” (vs. 9).

Why was God pleased? Because it was exactly what God wanted Solomon to want. The text does not say so, but the context bears it out. Besides, Solomon who loved God (vs. 3), had by that love and obedience become what Peter was later to call a sharer in the divine nature (II Peter 1 :4). This made him privy to the mind of God. There is nothing particularly mysterious about the way God leads us. Nor wondrously dramatic most of the time. I suspect the two most common ways that God reveals His will to us is by the circum- stances and by our own sanctified desires. Check it out in the lives of Jesus and Paul. Certainly Elijah learned pretty effectively that God did not come to him so much in the dramatic as in the natural events (I Kings 19:11). Anyone except the hopelessly obtuse would be able to discern God in a burning bush that spoke as in Moses’ experience (though he might question his sanity after such a singular I not to say bizarre, experience). But it takes effort and will and time to discover and comprehend “the still small voice.”

I have suggested that God Himself moved Soloman to desire and therefore to ask for “an understanding heart.” Psalm 37:4 conveys the idea that God gives us His implanted desires of our hearts. Psalm 145: 19 declares, “He will fulfill the desire of them that fear him.” Join that with the astounding promise to those who ask, seek, and knock (Matthew 7:7; Luke 11 :9f), and we have then come back full circle.

Thus I will say again that God intends to say, “yes,” to our prayers; that “no” is not an answer but rather a non-answer to a non-prayer. In Him, everything is yes. ” … Jesus is God’s ‘yes'” (II Corinthians 1:19, TEV). We are truly praying, as God regards prayer, only when He can say “yes” to it. If you get what appears to be a “no,” something is wrong with your prayer, not with God.

“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves,” Shakespeare has one say in another context.

The seriousness of praying outside the will of God is far more profound than simply a failure to receive what we want from God. We may be even at cross-purposes with what God wants to do.

The Jerusalem of Jeremiah’s day was a city sated with wickedness and rebellion against God who had determined to punish its people by its destruction and their slavery in exile. Would you not suppose that a good spiritual man like Jeremiah, famed for his tears of lamentation, would be beside himself with anguish and storm the gates of heaven on behalf of his countrymen? Abraham had done as much for Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18:23). But Jeremiah discerned the wilI of God: “therefore pray not thou for this people, neither lift up cry nor prayer for them, neither make intercession to me; for I will not hear thee” (Jeremiah 7:16). Suppose he had prayed for their protection …

Paul intended that his converts would arrive at the place in their spiritual development where they would be filled “with the knowledge of his will, with all the wisdom and understanding that his Spirit gives” (Colossians 1:9, TEV, italics mine). Could it be clearer? Could God’s intention for us be put in plainer language? The apostle’s admonition to the Ephesian Christians, while a call to sober behavior, could as well speak to their prayer habits when he writes, ” … try to find out what the Lord wants you to do” (5:17, TEV), or, in this instance, how the Lord wants you to pray. Thus, Paul, understanding that God’s ultimate purpose for the Jews is their salvation, as contrasted with God’s immediate purpose for a particular generation of Jews in Jeremiah’s day, prays for their salvation (Romans 10:1).

But it was not always so with him. There can be no doubt that Paul, before his conversion, probably demanded in his prayers that God destroy the Christians. He understood later that this was to pray outside the will of God and thus unanswerable. For his pains, he had a nonanswer. Later he was to explain to the Christians at Rome that ascertaining the will of God in all of life, which surely included prayer, is possible only to those whose lives have been transformed inwardly “by a complete change of mind” (might he have had his own conversion experience in mind?), a change so profound and so far-reaching in its effect that one could therefore “be able to know the will of God …. ” (12:2, TEV, italics mine).

But how can you know? It is simple yet difficult. The secret, as I have been saying, is surrender. You know whether you want to do God’s will. You know whether there are unrelinquished areas in your life. That does not mean that as you continue walking in obedience, God will not indicate to you unsurrendered areas which you will then quickly surrender. A daily and hourly surrender is consequent upon, and complementary to, an act of surrender which you have already made as a Iifetime intention. Such surrender opens the mind to the gentle persuasions of the Holy Spirit. Ask Him to show you His will. Ask Him to shut out all other voices, the suggestions of the Evil One as well as “the murmur of self-will ,” as Whittier has it. This can be discerned by testing the suggestions with the Word of God, which is never self-contradictory. God is consistent.

Then there is the inner witness. This is subjective and therefore potentially open to error, but it is nonetheless one of the checks. I find that when I am asked, for example, to pray for one’s healing that I must first check it out with the Holy Spirit. I ask Him whether I should pray for healing in this instance.

I believe that healing is God’s will, that He always desires good health and wholeness for us. But under certain circumstances, His hands are tied and it cannot be done. It may be that the person does not really desire to be well; Jesus asked the man at the pool of Bethesda, “do you want to get well?” (John 5:6, TEV). Everyone does not want to be well, you know. Sickness can be a sure means of getting attention and one’s own way. Or perhaps the community of faith is a community of little faith, such as were the disciples to whom a distraught father took his son (Mark 9:18). Again, it may be that believers are not yet up to the task; Agnes Sanford somewhere suggests that it is useless to pray for world-wide peace when we cannot even pray with effect for the common cold!

Be that as it may, I discover as best I can what God desires to do. I have learned that here comes a sense of joy, of lightness of spirit, when I am to pray. Conversely, I sense a spirit of heaviness when I am not to pray. There is then no joy in praying. Let me give an example. I learned from Agnes Sanford the principle of envisioning, of seeing with the eye of my spirit what I am asking God to do. That is, I create a picture in my mind of the sick one well, and my prayers, being creative forces that cooperate with God who is Himself the Creator (do not forget), move God to give me the desire of my heart (Psalm 37:4).

Once I had a friend with cancer. He had only two months to live when he suddenly desired to go on a trip to see some people who were very important to him. By th is time we had known for about six months that he had cancer, yet I could never really pray for his healing. Whenever I would attempt to do so, I felt a heaviness of spirit. Perhaps it was too much for me to take on; I do not know. However, I do know that I could never, not one time, make a picture of him in my mind. But when he decided that he wanted to go off on an arduous journey to say goodbye to some dear friends, suddenly a picture came with ease to me. It was ridiculous in its way; I saw him with pink cheeks on a tractor. He suddenly improved enough to make the trip. But as soon as he was home, my picture left me, he worsened, and died within six weeks.

What, then, are we to conclude? We have the promise that God desires to answer our prayers. We have evidence that God’s will can be known by us. We have the responsibility of ascertaining the latter in order to use the leverage of the former. It is then that we are never to let go till God has blessed us with the answer. This is the sense of Jesus’ stories of the friend at midnight and the vexatious widow (Luke 11:5; 18:1). God will, Jesus believed, “give you everything you need because you are not ashamed to keep on asking” (11:8, TEV). Persistence is important, not to overcome God’s reluctance, but to purify our desires. Besides, the power of the Enemy is profound beyond telling. But greater is He who inspires our prayers than he who attempts to scramble the signals. So “pray on every occasion, as the Spirit leads” (Ephesians 6:18.TEV).

If there is one characteristic that is demanded of those who would discover God’s will, it is patience. He does not move with the speed of light, even though we would like to have Him do so. Once I knew a man who never hurried, regardless of the gravity of the situation. I soon discovered that he had no need to hurry because he always left on time. It is so with God. Knowing the end from the beginning, He has no cause for rush. But “He never comes too late,” and He will reveal His will to you in time enough for you to do what you must. It becomes a matter of your setting your watch by His and not the reverse. How else can he train you in the life of faith? He wants you to learn that He is utterly reliable and that He intends and hopes to say, “yes,” to all your requests.


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