In a world laden with war, famine, disease and other escalating problems, people pray to God for intervention, yet their suffering continues. Why?
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Before launching a fatal attack, a suicide bomber prays to his deity, asking for success in taking the lives of as many men, women and children as possible.
In the aftermath moments later, among the strewn bodies is a bloodied woman grasping hold of her husband. In her anguish, she turns to God for the first time in years and cries out, “Why God, why?”
Nearby, a man stretches his hands to the sky as he stands over the lifeless body of his child. He has diligently attended church services every Sunday and has repeated the “Lord’s Prayer” every day of his life for the past 15 years—yet he still feels cut off from God, left alone to wallow in his pain.
Elsewhere, at a military base within a war zone, soldiers observe a moment of prayerful silence before going into battle. The commander, his head bowed low, concludes his prayer, “…and Lord, protect us from the enemy we are about to face and help us to be victorious in battle.”
Later in the day, the same troops are ambushed 30 miles from base, as a land mine rips to shreds the armored personnel carrier in which they are traveling. Ten men die in the initial blast. Another 18 die in the battle that follows. Only a handful of soldiers survive, forever scarred by the events of this day—a day in which their prayers went unanswered.
Throughout the world, people hold prayer vigils, asking God to end both natural and manmade catastrophes—droughts, famines, wars—yet circumstances only grow worse. Why does God not answer when millions seem to seek His intervention?
Among the world’s religious faiths, prayer means anything to anyone. It can be sing-song chants or long, monotonous recitations repeated over and over again. For hundreds of thousands of worshippers, prayer means public displays of emotion, involving tears, swaying bodies, and hands lifted to the sky. For others, it means facing a specific direction toward a revered, faraway site.
But to the God of the Bible, true prayer is a personal, private, one-on-one conversation between man and his Creator.
Scripture is filled with numerous accounts of answered prayer. Moses pleaded with God to change His mind and not destroy rebellious, carnal-minded Israel (Num. 14:11-19). Hannah, who was barren, implored God to give her a child of her own (I Sam. 1:5-11). David beseeched God to forgive him for committing terrible sins (Psa. 51). And before He was taken to be crucified, Jesus asked God to protect His disciples (John 17:6-11).
God answered their prayers. He answers prayers today—if they meet certain conditions.
The Holy Bible is a divinely inspired instruction manual from the Creator to His creation. It explains who and what man is—why he exists, what is life’s purpose—and how man can attain the awesome future God has in store for him.
The Bible is also God’s Word of truth (John 17:17). As its Author, God declares “the scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35). It is a book of promises guaranteed to be fulfilled because it is “impossible for God to lie” (Heb. 6:18).
Study the Bible and you will find God promises protection, to provide our necessities (food, drink, clothing and shelter), strength in time of need, and more. Jesus said, “And all things, whatsoever you shall ask in prayer, believing, you shall receive” (Matt. 21:22).
This requires faith. The apostle Paul wrote, “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Heb. 11:6). It takes faith to believe that God exists and that He always keeps His promises.
The Bible defines faith as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (vs. 1). Faith is your proof that God will deliver His promises—it is your guarantee He will come through for you. (To understand more, read our booklet What Is Real Faith?)
Psalm 14:1 states, “The fool has said in his heart, There is no God.” In this modern age of secular thinking, hundreds of millions do not believe God exists. Naturally, such people would think prayer a waste of time.
Yet there are others who—by their actions—say, “There is no God,” meaning, “There is no God over me!” They pray thinking they can flatter the Creator of the universe into doing whatever they ask. Often they are religionists who put on a “holier than thou” show of prayer “testimony” before their congregations, believing they can convince God with their many words. Their prayers may seem sincere—but God is not moved.
To approach God in prayer means to believe He exists. He is the One who says in Isaiah 1:18, “Come now, and let us reason together.” God wants His creation to approach Him, to express thoughts and concerns to Him. He is the Master Potter, and we are His clay (Isa. 64:8). He declares, “I the Lord search the heart [mind], I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings” (Jer. 17:10).
But belief in God is only the first step. Billions believe God exists. They cry out to Him, but He seems so far away.
Yet God says of Himself, “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither His ear heavy, that it cannot hear” (Isa. 59:1). Still something prevents the prayers of most from going any higher than the ceiling. Verse 2 reveals the answer: “But your iniquities have separated between you and your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear.”
“Sin is the transgression of the law” (I John 3:4). Sin separates—cuts us off—from God. Ironically, religionists, preachers and others teach their followers that God’s Law is “done away,” “abolished” or “kept for us by Christ,” convincing them there is no need to obey God.
The continual breaking of God’s Law is a major factor in unanswered prayer. Consider: “He who turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be abomination” (Prov. 28:9).
God will not hear the prayers of those who do not obey Him: “Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God. And whatsoever we ask, we receive of Him, because we keep His commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in His sight” (I John 3:21-22).
Note what Jesus said in John 8:29: “And He that sent Me is with Me: the Father has not left Me alone; for I do always those things that please Him.” Christ obeyed God, and for this His Father always heard His Son’s prayers. The same could be said of you—IF you, like Christ, obey God and diligently put His will first.
When thousands of believers gathered at Jerusalem asked the apostle Peter what they must do to stop living contrary to God’s way of life, he said, “Repent”! (Acts 2:38). The word “repent” simply means “change.” But what does one change? His attitude, thoughts and behavior—the total person, a complete change of life and direction from the way of get (selfishness, vanity, lust, greed, pride, competition) to God’s way of give (selflessness, meekness, humility, concern for others, cooperation). Romans 3:23 states, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.”
Through genuine, heartfelt repentance, God grants the forgiveness of sins, removing through Jesus Christ’s perfect sacrifice the very thing that separates us from God. Then and only then can our prayers be heard.
Traditional Christianity has lost these vital keys in obeying and serving God. Modern Christendom, though outwardly appearing to be righteous and sacred, is mired in traditions and customs of men. Christ says to those who profess to be Christian that God does not hear them because they break His laws (Matt. 7:21-23).
Determine to adhere to what God teaches, and not men. Avoid becoming like those Jesus spoke of in Matthew 15: “This people draws near unto Me with their mouth, and honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. But in vain they do worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” (vs. 8-9).
There is an additional requirement to answered prayer, which flows from believing and obeying God: We must fear Him.
The Israelites fell into a tragic cycle of believing God, obeying Him, taking His blessings for granted, forgetting God, disobeying Him, worshipping false gods, being punished, crying out for mercy, receiving God’s deliverance—and so the pattern repeated itself.
Not fearing God prevented Israel from continuing to believe Him, and recognize His authority over their lives. Lack of godly fear kept the Israelites from faithfully obeying God’s commandments, judgments and statutes.
Proverbs 8:13 states, “The fear of the Lord is to hate evil: pride, and arrogancy, and the evil way, and the froward [perverse] mouth, do I hate.” God hates ALL forms of evil—proud thoughts, arrogant attitudes, evil behavior, and perverse words—everything that comprises carnal nature.
The vast majority mistakenly believes man is “basically good,” but flawed. But that is not how God views human beings. He says it is not natural for man to follow His ways. Take note: “Because the carnal mind is enmity [hostile] against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be” (Rom. 8:7).
But what about those who claim to worship God, who go to Sunday services and close their eyes in prayer, thinking that God will hear them?
“There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understands, there is none that seeks after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that does good, no, not one. Their throat is an open sepulcher; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: Their feet are swift to shed blood: Destruction and misery are in their ways: And the way of peace have they not known: There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Rom. 3:10-18).
As you can see, the carnal mind does not naturally fear God—in fact, it works against Him. However, a believing, obedient mindset will allow one to fear God, if he submits himself to be led of God’s Spirit.
God listens to those who are teachable, humble and yielded to Him. Notice Isaiah 66: “Thus says the Lord, The heaven is My throne, and the earth is My footstool: where is the house that You build unto Me? And where is the place of My rest? For all those things has My hand made, and all those things have been, says the Lord: but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembles at My Word” (vs. 1-2).
But what steps must one take to have the Holy Spirit actively at work in the mind, converting carnal thoughts to the outgoing thoughts of holy, righteous, godly character? Read our booklet What Is True Conversion? for answers.
The above points are just a few of the keys to establishing active, prayerful communication to which God will listen. Our article “The Keys to Dynamic Prayer” reveals much, much more. It will help you understand what it means to pray to God—how to pray—when and how often—what to pray for.
For example, the article explains the truth about the “Lord’s Prayer”—that it is actually a prayer outline of major topics to address before God. The article goes into detail about each of the topics and what they mean. It also explains what the apostle James meant when he wrote, “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (Jms. 5:16), and how to offer such a prayer.
The God who answers prayer, and says, “Come now, and let us reason together” (Isa. 1:18) is waiting to hear from you.