Young People Ask . . .
Does God Answer My Prayers?
“I NEED to know if Jehovah is answering my prayers,” says 11-year-old Sandra, “because I’m not sure if he is. I know many other youths who have the same problem.” Fifteen-year-old Alyssa once had a similar problem with prayer. “I often felt that I was talking to myself,” she admits.
According to a 1988 Gallup survey, 87 percent of teenagers in the United States have prayed at some time or other, but less than half do so regularly. Apparently some feel that their prayers just aren’t being answered. At times, you may likewise get the feeling that no one is listening to your prayers. The Bible assures us, though, that when one offers up a sincere prayer of faith, the “Hearer of prayer” is listening! (Psalm 65:2) But how do you know that he is not simply a passive listener—politely hearing but doing little or nothing in response?
After calling God the Hearer of prayer, the psalmist said: “With fear-inspiring things in righteousness you will answer us, O God of our salvation.” (Psalm 65:5; compare Psalm 66:19, 20) Why, then, do some feel that their prayers go unanswered?
Roadblocks to Prayer
The reason may be the lack of a real relationship with God. Some youths doubt his very existence. Others believe but view him as a distant, abstract figure. Prayer becomes like pushing the stop button on an elevator—a last resort in dire emergencies. “I believe in God,” claims one Catholic youth. “When I’m in a bind, when I need help, I always ask for His help.” Another youth put it bluntly: “Sometimes I only pray when I really want something.”
However, prayer should be an expression of faith, reverence, devotion, and trust—not merely of desperation or selfish desire. And it is not enough to pray because you think God might exist. “He that approaches God,” says the Bible, “must believe that he is and that he becomes the rewarder of those earnestly seeking him.” (Hebrews 11:6) Doubters do not get their prayers answered. (James 1:6-8) Jehovah listens to those who have come to know and love him; they do not reserve prayer for emergencies. As 1 Thessalonians 5:17 exhorts, they “pray incessantly,” or as An American Translation puts it, they “never give up praying.”
Sad to say, some Christian youths have come to know of Jehovah but have not really developed a friendship with him. (Psalm 25:14) Their prayers tend to be few and far between, impersonal, and ultimately unanswered. Might this be true of your prayers? If so, “draw close to God” by getting to know him. (James 4:8) Young Alyssa, mentioned earlier, had her doubts about Jehovah. But a personal study of the Bible gradually erased her doubts and helped her to develop a relationship with God.
One’s attitude and conduct can also be major roadblocks to prayer. The psalmist said: “If I have regarded anything hurtful in my heart, Jehovah will not hear me.” (Psalm 66:18; Proverbs 15:29) Would it be reasonable to expect God to answer your prayers if you were doing things that offended him—if you used drugs, smoked, listened to degrading music, or engaged in sexual immorality? Hardly. Jehovah therefore rejects the prayers of those who lead a double life, hypocritically ‘hiding what they are.’ (Psalm 26:4) He listens only to one who is “walking faultlessly and practicing righteousness and speaking the truth in his heart.” (Psalm 15:1, 2) So if you get the feeling that you are talking to yourself when you pray, take stock of your life. Maybe you need to make some changes.
Abuses of Prayer
What sort of things may you ask of God? Jesus assured us: “If you ask the Father for anything he will give it to you in my name.” (John 16:23) That tantalizing word—anything! Is God really at your beck and call like some sort of genie? Will he fulfill your every request, even frivolous ones? Jesus spoke his words just hours before his agonizing death. Surely he did not have in mind foolish concerns! James 4:3 therefore warns against abusing prayer. It says: “You do ask, and yet you do not receive, because you are asking for a wrong purpose, that you may expend it upon your cravings for sensual pleasure.”
Many today abuse the privilege of prayer. One school basketball team would kneel at mid court and recite a prayer after each game. But do you really think that God is a basketball fan or that he would stoop to tamper with a competitive game? (Compare Galatians 5:26.) Or how about the woman who reportedly prays for shoes? “Sometimes a shoe store might be down to just one or two pair left in my size,” she says, “and if I don’t have the money right then, I’ll ask God to make sure they’re there when I get back to them.” Now, it is one thing to pray out of need—and quite another to expect God to do your shopping.
Along similar lines, it would be inappropriate—and futile—to pray to God to spare you due punishment or discipline. (Hebrews 12:7, 8, 11) Nor are you going to have much success asking God to give you a good grade on a test for which you have done little or nothing by way of preparation.—Compare Galatians 6:7.
Prayers “According to His Will”
The apostle John explains an important point about prayer: “This is the confidence that we have toward him, that, no matter what it is that we ask according to his will, he hears us.” (1 John 5:14) Jesus’ model prayer (Lord’s Prayer) illustrates some of the things such a prayer might include. He prayed for (1) God’s name to be sanctified, (2) God’s Kingdom to come, (3) God’s will to be accomplished, (4) the supplying of physical and spiritual needs, and (5) help in avoiding Satan’s traps.—Matthew 6:9-13.
Within this framework there are many proper subjects for prayer. Indeed, 1 Peter 5:7 urges Christians to ‘throw all their anxiety upon God, because he cares for them.’ That means it is appropriate to pray about virtually every facet of our lives. Do you have to make a decision, such as choosing your school courses? Pray for divine wisdom. (James 1:5) Have you made some foolish mistake? Then ask for God’s forgiveness.—Isaiah 55:7; 1 John 1:9.
But you must act in harmony with your prayer. Consider young Clint. He became a full-time evangelizer after graduating from high (secondary) school. For months he did not find anyone interested in studying the Bible. So he made it a matter of prayer. He did not wait for a Bible student to drop out of the sky, however. He diligently continued knocking on doors, and in time he found a number of people who were willing to study the Bible.
How God Answers
Sometimes the act of prayer itself is helpful. Young Sandy was struggling with the problem of masturbation. She says: “Praying and calling on Jehovah helps me because I know that after I ask him to help me not to masturbate, I’d better not do it.”
At times, though, it seems that God maneuvers events to answer prayers. Young Ken once needed to get to the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses in order to deliver a short Bible lecture he had been assigned. Unfortunately, no one was in a position to give him a ride. He prayed about the matter fervently. A few minutes later his sister, who seldom visited, arrived. Although not interested in his religion, she gave him a ride. A direct answer to his prayer? Perhaps. In any case, it is always appropriate to thank God when things work out to our advantage. Paul exhorts: “In connection with everything give thanks.”—1 Thessalonians 5:18.
Don’t expect God to answer your prayers in some dramatic way, though. Nor should you interpret every little thing that happens to you as a manifestation of the divine will. Our prayers are usually answered in subtle ways: You read something in the Bible or Bible literature; a parent or a fellow Christian provides you with sound advice. Admittedly, it may take discernment to determine just what God’s will for you is. Things usually clear up in time.
Yes, time! Do not expect God to provide an answer when you feel he should. “Good it is that one should wait, even silently, for the salvation of Jehovah,” wrote Jeremiah. (Lamentations 3:26) Furthermore, you are not guaranteed to receive the answer you prefer. The apostle Paul asked God three times to remove the problem he called “a thorn in the flesh.” God’s answer was no. (2 Corinthians 12:7-9) Paul did not, however, lose his appreciation for the gift of prayer but kept right on going in Jehovah’s service. It was he who wrote: “Be persevering in prayer.” (Colossians 4:2) So “keep on asking, . . . keep on seeking, and . . . keep on knocking.” (Matthew 7:7) You will draw closer to God by doing so, and you may very well receive answers to your prayers.
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Prayer should not consist of frivolous requests for material wants