If by “answered prayer” we mean a “Yes” from God, a granting of our request, then not all prayers are answered. There are conditions or requirements established by God that govern whether He will answer our prayers or not. These conditions may be divided into two categories: moral conditions and divine purpose conditions. We will look at the first category in this article.
James writes, “You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures” (James 4:2,3) Like a wise parent who will not grant a child’s request because it isn’t good for him, so God does not answer selfish prayers of believers. God’s major concern for us is that we be like Christ. It goes against His basic plan for our lives to answer foolish requests.
Furthermore, James writes, “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (5:16). Even if the request were not particularly wrong, yet God may not be pleased to answer it unless the person asking is “righteous.” A rebellious heart cannot expect a benevolent response from God. The most appropriate prayer for one harboring sin is a prayer of confession (See 1 John 1:9). Just like a parent, God is happy to grant requests to His children who are open and honest before Him, who are seeking to please him with their lives.
Jesus told His disciples, “If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it shall be done for you” (John 15:7). Such a blank check must have the endorsement of a life adhering to (or remaining in) Christ. This is the moral condition for answered prayer. The child who learns that he or she can get anything he or she wants from the indulgent parent will never learn what it means to anticipate good things coming from being good, but will expect that one’s character has nothing to do with getting what one wants in life. Such a child is spoiled and self-centered in the most unattractive of ways. God is about building beautiful character in us.
How are you praying? Do you need someone to look at your prayers to help you see whether they are self-centered or righteous? Write out your prayers and then do the hard job of examining your motives for what you are asking. Is your motive to “spend what you get on your pleasures?” Or are the requests for genuine needs? Do you know the difference between a need and a want? Paul said, “My God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).