One ungodly person wrote in and said: “Prayer does NOT work. Jesus says that whatever you ask for in prayer, if you believe, will be given. If that were true then there would be no cancer on this planet. Millions of people have prayed for this believing God would answer but there is nothing. You could get millions more to pray for an end to hunger and I tell you nothing will happen.” Many believers have found themselves in doubt over this same issue, though believers would usually have more understanding of the issue. Everyone gets discouraged sometimes, though. God has to allow His people to be tested.
On reading something like this, anyone who has walked at all in the Spirit of God would wonder where this person is getting such ideas. We experience the answers to our prayers all the time. However, we understand what prayer is. The unbeliever likely does not understand what prayer is. We understand these things by revelation. God has told us what prayer is, and that is how we know. We recognize God’s voice because we are of His sheep. We don’t respond to other voices, because were are the sheep of the Good Shepherd. We know Him because we desire to do His will. All who desire to do His will know His voice when He speaks regardless of how He speaks. When we speak to others and testify of His Utterance to us, we usually will quote Him from His Bible, or quote Him from His creation, or quote Him from His moving in miraculous ways among us, often in answer to our prayers.
Those who do not receive an answer to their prayers do not understand what prayer is. They think that prayers are like the coins that you drop into a vending machine and then out comes the thing that you prayed for. God’s purpose for prayer is not like that. Let’s look at what God has revealed.
“Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” John 14:13 This is the Bible verse that the writer misquoted above by leaving off the key element for the answer to prayer. “In My Name.” To ask something in the Name of Jesus is not to say magic words: “in Jesus Name I pray, Amen.” To pray in the Name of Jesus is to pray the prayer that Jesus has given. It must begin with Jesus speaking the prayer. God doesn’t need us to inform Him about what needs to be done. He wants to partner with us in the administration of the Kingdom of God. In this, He speaks. He tells us what needs to be prayed. When we acknowledge Him, faith comes and faith is the door that accesses grace. Grace does the work of prayer. Grace prays the prayer. This is the prayer that God will answer. Note the purpose of the prayer, “that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” The purpose is not to give us the desires of our fleshly nature.
“When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” James 4:3 “whatever is not offaith is sin.” Romans 14:23 Yes. It is possible to pray a prayer in a sinful way. It is possible to pray for things that we think are good and yet they are not the will of God, therefore sin.
In addition to this, there are things that can keep us from receiving what we pray for. “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened;” Psalm 66:18 “Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.” 1 Peter 3:7
Not only that, but God also answers prayers in His own way and in His own time according to His own will. “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” Luke 22:42 “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Matthew 6:10
These things only apply to prayers to the True God by followers of Christ. There are prayers of other religions as well, but they are not the same. Many religions worship demons. They usually think they are praying to gods, spirit guides, aliens, or ancestors. Demons can answer their prayers. They pray to receive things for themselves that they want or for outcomes that they want. These prayers are different from the prayers of those who follow Jesus Christ in that they pray to obtain their own wills and they pray to demons who they treat as deities. One Hindu says, “The result of prayer and the effectiveness of prayer is acknowledged by the intensity, strength and devotion to which a person dedicate the mental state and body during prayer.” (There is quite a bit of variation among Hindus and their beliefs, so we don’t want to present this as something that all Hindus believe.) A Pagan/Wiccan said, “Pray when you need to, and say what you wish to say. Chances are good that someone is listening.”