Whose Prayers Are Answered?
“MORE things are wrought by prayer than the world dreams of.” So said the 19th-century English poet Alfred Tennyson. But many have prayed in vain for health, happiness, peace, and prosperity. In fact, some feel that God does not really listen to prayers. Yet, the Bible calls him the “Hearer of prayer.”—Psalm 65:2.
This may well cause you to ask: ‘Who is this “Hearer of prayer”? Must we meet special requirements for our prayers to be heard? How should we pray? And whose prayers are answered?’
Their Prayers Were Heard
Prayer is as old as humankind. Consider Abel, a son of our first parents, Adam and Eve. When he offered God an acceptable sacrifice, doubtless it was accompanied by words of supplication and praise.—Genesis 4:1-5.
In the ninth century before our Common Era, God’s prophet Jonah “prayed to Jehovah his God from the inward parts of the fish” that had been appointed to swallow him. Was that prayer effective? Yes, for “in time Jehovah commanded the fish, so that it vomited out Jonah onto the dry land.” Jonah then proceeded to fulfill his God-given assignment to go to Nineveh.—Jonah 1:17; 2:1, 10; 3:1-5.
When David of ancient Israel was hemmed in by his foes, he cried out: “O Jehovah, hear my prayer; do give ear to my entreaty. In your faithfulness answer me in your righteousness.” (Psalm 143:1) David’s prayers for deliverance were answered, as his enemies never did succeed in doing away with him. Therefore, he could say: “Jehovah is near to all those calling upon him, to all those who call upon him in trueness.”—Psalm 145:18.
Meeting Chief Requirements
Clearly, then, God’s servants of ancient times had their prayers answered. Of course, they did not pray as a mere formality to a nameless God. They prayed in faith to Jehovah, “the Most High over all the earth.” (Psalm 83:18) For our prayers to be effective, then, what chief requirements must we meet?
Pray only to Jehovah. It is useless—in fact, unscriptural—to pray to false gods, whose lifeless idols have speechless mouths, deaf ears, unfeeling hands, motionless feet, and voiceless throats. (Psalm 115:5-7; 1 John 5:21) Unlike such worthless gods, Jehovah takes action in behalf of those who love and serve him. For instance, centuries ago prophets of the false god Baal entreated him to bring fire down from heaven. Although they prayed from morning until evening, Baal could not answer. Then Elijah petitioned Jehovah, who answered by sending down fire that completely consumed the offering placed on an altar.—1 Kings, chapter 18.
Approach God through Jesus Christ alone. Jehovah God sent his only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, to the earth to serve as a ransom to redeem mankind from sin and death. (John 3:16, 36; Romans 5:12; 6:23) Hence, for those availing themselves of this provision, God opened up a new approach to himself in prayer. Such earlier servants of God as the psalmist David prayed directly to Jehovah. (Psalm 4:1; 17:1; 55:1; 102:1) But the new approach was through Jesus, who said: “No one comes to the Father except through me. If you ask anything in my name, I will do it.” (John 14:6, 14) Nowhere do the Scriptures suggest that prayers should be directed to God through anyone else.
So, then, once we have learned that we should pray to God in Jesus’ name, our prayers would not be answered unless we prayed only to Jehovah through his Son. But there are also other reasons why Jehovah does not answer most prayers.
Why God Does Not Answer
God will not answer our prayers just because we assume a special posture while praying. The Scriptures do not require that we pray only in one particular bodily position. Of course, kneeling may show humility before God. But it is acceptable to pray while standing, sitting at a table, resting in bed, or going about daily activities. (Daniel 6:10, 11; Mark 11:25) Why, Jehovah even answers inaudible prayers! Before telling Persia’s king that he desired to rebuild Jerusalem’s devastated walls, Nehemiah silently “prayed to the God of the heavens,” and Jehovah answered that prayer. (Nehemiah 2:1-6) So if posture is not the important thing, why do so many prayers go unanswered by God?
Jehovah takes no pleasure in the prayers of the wicked. Yes, “he that is turning his ear away from hearing the law—even his prayer is something detestable.” (Proverbs 28:9) Through the prophet Isaiah, God told His wayward people: “When you spread out your palms, I hide my eyes from you. Even though you make many prayers, I am not listening; with bloodshed your very hands have become filled.” (Isaiah 1:15) Naturally, the prayers of the wicked are not answered even if they are addressed to God through Christ.
God does not answer hypocritical prayers. “When you pray,” said Jesus Christ, “you must not be as the hypocrites; because they like to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the broad ways to be visible to men. Truly I say to you, They are having their reward in full.” Jesus added: “You, however, when you pray, go into your private room and, after shutting your door, pray to your Father who is in secret; then your Father who looks on in secret will repay you.” (Matthew 6:5, 6) By saying this, Jesus did not rule out all public prayers, for he himself prayed audibly in the presence of others. (Matthew 14:19) But Christ was showing that it is wrong to pray in public solely to be seen and heard by others and to receive their praise.
Jehovah does not answer insincere, repetitive prayers. Said Jesus: “But when praying, do not say the same things over and over again, just as the people of the nations do, for they imagine they will get a hearing for their use of many words. So, do not make yourselves like them, for God your Father knows what things you are needing before ever you ask him.” (Matthew 6:7, 8) Many in Oriental lands think that each time they spin a prayer wheel (a drum into which written prayers are put), the petitions are repeated. Millions of others use Rosaries or recite prayers from prayer books. But those wishing to be heard by God will avoid repetitive prayers and will pay attention to Jesus’ further instructions.
“Pray . . . This Way”
Jesus next gave what many call the model prayer. (Matthew 6:9-13) He said: “You must pray, then, this way: ‘Our Father in the heavens, let your name be sanctified.’” Addressing God as “our Father” indicates that others also have a close relationship with him as part of his family of worshipers. The sanctification of God’s name, Jehovah, is of utmost importance, but how will he sanctify it? By removing the wicked, he will clear away from that name all the reproach that has been heaped upon it.—Ezekiel 38:23.
“Let your kingdom come. Let your will take place, as in heaven, also upon earth,” added Jesus. God’s rulership as expressed in his Son’s heavenly Messianic Kingdom will soon come against all opposers of divine sovereignty, removing them from the earth. (Daniel 2:44) But what is meant when we ask that God’s will take place upon earth as in heaven? This is a request that Jehovah carry out his purposes toward the earth, including the removal of his opposers.—Revelation 16:14-16; 19:11-21.
Having put God, His sanctification, and His purposes first in the model prayer, Jesus continued: “Give us today our bread for this day.” Asking Jehovah to provide necessities “for this day” promotes faith in his ability to care for the daily needs of his worshipers. This is not a selfish request for excessive provisions.
Jesus added: “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” (Luke 11:4 shows that these “debts” are “sins.”) We can obtain forgiveness from God only if we have forgiven those sinning against us. (Matthew 6:14, 15) Fittingly, then, the apostle Paul said: “Even as Jehovah freely forgave you, so do you also.”—Colossians 3:13.
Concluding the model prayer, Jesus said: “And do not bring us into temptation, but deliver us from the wicked one.” Jehovah never tempts people “with evil things.” (James 1:13) Temptation comes from the wicked one, Satan the Devil, but the Bible sometimes says that God’s permitting certain things amounts to his doing them. (Ruth 1:20, 21; Ecclesiastes 7:13) In answer to the request, “Do not bring us into temptation,” Jehovah does not abandon his faithful servants, though he permits them to be tempted. Indeed, “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear, but along with the temptation he will also make the way out in order for you to be able to endure it.”—1 Corinthians 10:13.
When we request deliverance from the wicked one, we are asking that the Devil not be allowed to overcome us as Jehovah’s faithful worshipers. If we are loyal servants of God, we can be confident that he will answer such a petition, since the apostle Peter wrote: “Jehovah knows how to deliver people of godly devotion out of trial.” (2 Peter 2:9) And how important this part of the model prayer is, for Satan the Devil “walks about like a roaring lion, seeking to devour someone”!—1 Peter 5:8.
Why Their Prayers Are Answered
God answers the prayers of his faithful worshipers. Why? In part, Jehovah does so because they pray to him alone, making their approach through Jesus Christ. They shun wickedness and avoid hypocritical and repetitive prayers. Instead of repeating the model prayer by rote, Witnesses of Jehovah use its splendid guidelines in expressing their own heartfelt sentiments to God. But there are yet other reasons why their prayers are answered.
Those whose prayers are answered have met basic requirements. Citing these, Paul wrote: “He that approaches God must believe that he is and that he becomes the rewarder of those earnestly seeking him.” (Hebrews 11:6) Note these two basic points: Jehovah answers the prayers of (1) those who believe that God is, or exists, and (2) those who are “earnestly seeking him.”
One such first-century individual was the devout Gentile Cornelius. He believed that God is, and he was earnestly seeking him. What did Cornelius do upon gaining accurate knowledge? Why, he wholeheartedly dedicated himself to Jehovah God and was baptized to symbolize that dedication. Thereafter, Cornelius apparently had a close relationship with God, and this would have had a positive effect on his prayers.—Acts 10:1-44.
Before Cornelius was baptized, his prayers only “ascended as a remembrance before God.” (Acts 10:4) However, by making a dedication to God on the basis of his belief in Jesus’ ransom sacrifice, and being baptized, Cornelius unreservedly gave himself to Jehovah. This established a wonderful closeness between God and this devout man—a relationship giving Cornelius the unrestricted privilege of prayer. (James 4:8) He could approach his heavenly Father through Christ Jesus with the expectation of being heard. That is what happens to all who dedicate themselves to God through Christ and get baptized. They too have the unrestricted privilege of prayer.
Surely, you desire to have your prayers answered. Therefore, if you are not now serving Jehovah as one of his dedicated worshipers, how wise to seek him earnestly! Pursue a course like that of Cornelius, and God will answer your prayers.
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How were the prayers of Cornelius affected by his dedication to God and his baptism?