For the reader who stated that: “God has not answered my prayers in 55 years. Yet I said 1000s of prayers, especially now that I am in jail. I am lost” - a few things come to mind.

- Am I asking for something that is not His will? “And this is the boldness which we have towards him, that if we ask him anything according to his will he hears us”, 1 John 5:14. How do I know? The best way is to see if Scripture supports my request. For example, I know from 1 Tim. 2:1-4, that it is God’s will to pray for others, for their soul salvation, and that they may acknowledge the truth of God - “our Saviour God, who desires that all men should be saved and come to [the] knowledge of [the] truth”.
Elijah prayed that it would not rain on Israel, (1 Kings 17:1, James 5:16,17) he knew that God had promised to withhold rain on Israel if they worshipped idols (Deuter. 11:16-17). If I am not aware of a Scripture that bears on my request, then confide in other Christians. They may help to guide. For example, if it I am 70 years of age, God is not likely to restore my hearing. We suffer along with all men.

- What is the motive for my request? Is it just for my ease? God does not exist just to help my self-esteem, my success in this life, or to approve my projects. If I pray for the healing of a younger brother because he has a needed gift of preaching or teaching urgently needed by the church, then the Lord may well answer that prayer. Similarly for a sister who serves in caring for others to the glory of God.

- Be prepared to be part of the solution. If I pray for the salvation of a neighbour or relative, have I spoken to them of Christ? If a man pray that his wife be brought to know Christ as Saviour and Lord, does his life in some measure display Christ.

- Repetition. The Lord is not against repetition, but against vain [empty] repetition. “But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as those who are of the nations: for they think they shall be heard through their much speaking”, Matt. 6:7.

- This leads me to prayer for our own relief. Three times seems to be sufficient when it is for self. The Lord prayed three times in the garden of Gethsemane, that “this cup” – the sufferings and death that he was about to endure – might not be His portion. Paul asked the Lord three times to remove the “thorn for the flesh” – an annoying bodily condition. I do not set this forward as a doctrine, but it has been recorded for our instruction.
It was a greater thing for Paul to continue to serve with the disability – perhaps a speech impediment – than to have had it removed. If it had been removed, that would have been mercy; but “my grace is sufficient for thee” gave him power to overcome.

- “The fervent supplication of the righteous man has much power”, James 5:16. The character of the person is important, rather than the form of words. Daniel was heard - a man “greatly beloved”, Daniel 10:19.

- We may not get our request when we pray, but: “the peace of God, which surpasses every understanding, shall guard our hearts and our thoughts by Christ Jesus”, (Philipians 4:6-7). Unanswered prayer may be needed to change me, rather than the things or circumstances I request. “No”, or “not yet” may be the answer. God only gives things that are good for us in the long term. And sometimes the answer we were looking for may come after we have gone.
In any case, we are to “persevere in prayer, watching in it with thanksgiving”, (Coloss. 2, Eph. 6:18). Avoid presenting God with a shopping list of demands. Let us ask “according to His will”.
MM July 2010