The question came up again last night – does God always answer prayer?
But this is generally not what the person asking that question has in mind. What they’re really asking is often something more along the lines of, “Does God always do what we ask Him in prayer?” In answer to that question, No, of course He doesn’t.
There’s a relevant passage in the Gospel of Luke, in which Jesus is explaining the virtue of persistence in prayer:
Then he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and he goes to him at midnight and says, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, because a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have nothing to set before him.’
“Then the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children are with me in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, though he will not get up and give him the bread because he is his friend, yet because of the man’s boldness he will get up and give him as much as he needs.
“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.
“Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:5-13, NIV)
The important thing to note here is what the petitioner was asking for. He was hungry, and he was seeking bread. This is a good and worthy request. It is in the best interests of the hungry person to have food. And we see in Jesus’ explanation at the end of the passage that God knows what we need and desires to give us good things.
But what if the son asks for a snake? Or a scorpion? Would a loving father give it to his son, simply because it was asked of him? Of course not.
Let’s try another version. What if the person who comes knocking in the middle of the night is an alcoholic, and he’s desperately asking you for a bottle of vodka? If you love him and want the best for him, no matter how much he pleads you won’t give it to him.
God knows your heart and your needs, and knows what is best for you. He knows you better than you know yourself, and He loves you even when you would seek to destroy yourself.
God always answers prayers. But sometimes the answer is “No”.