In what way does God answer prayer?

I received the following email from a Resurrection attender this week. I have included my response below and some additional thoughts. It has been edited for anonymity

Email Received:
A friend of mine has a perspective on prayer that falls under what the internet refers to as Prosperity Gospel. She repeatedly says, “If I pray hard enough, God will make it happen.” Interestingly, her latest comment relates to her pregnancy where she says she is praying hard (and is fully convinced) that God will grant her a little girl. I tend to disagree with this perspective because it makes it about the person and not God. God answers prayers, but for his purposes not ours. We will always get a yes, no, maybe later type of answer.

Any thoughts?

My Response:
In response to the “If I pray hard enough, God will make it happen.” I do not think that prayer will direct the gender of an unborn child. I agree with the types of responses that you suggest to prayer. This question also touches a bit on open theology – How and in what way does God respond to prayers? How does prayer make a difference? These are questions that I continue to think about.

What do you think, dear reader?

10 thoughts on “In what way does God answer prayer?

  1. My wife and I joke about what Morgan Freeman states in Evan Almighty:

    If someone prays for patience, you think God gives them patience? Or does he give them the opportunity to be patient? If he prayed for courage, does God give him courage, or does he give him opportunities to be courageous? If someone prayed for the family to be closer, do you think God zaps them with warm fuzzy feelings, or does he give them opportunities to love each other?

    My wife leans further toward determinism, and I toward free will, but we both agree that God does answer prayer, and sometimes that answer is no. I think God answering the prayer for a female child would be silly, but I think He can. What do I know about silly from a perspective of omnipotence and eternity? 🙂

  2. I think God steadfastly refuses to be manipulated by us. If it was possible to get God to answer a prayer by praying hard enough, then God would be reduced to a cosmic vending machine: a) hard prayers in the slot; b) pick H7; c) female child is formed in the womb. In fact, if there were such a thing as a formula to ensure our prayers are answered, then it would be possible for humans to manipulate God. God is god and we are not. If not, what kind of God would God be?

  3. I think a lot of times we think God is like us.
    Someone once said that God created humans in the image of God, and we returned the favor.

    I do believe that God answers all of our prayers. However, I do believe that many times, the answer is simply no, or not yet.
    I don’t think that asking God more and more and more and more changes the fact that God will allow it. (although, may be it does in some cases, like the parable of the persistent widow. But somehow, I feel like if i continue to pray to God for a motorcycle, it’s likely never going to happen.)
    I feel like we treat God as the Genie in the Bottle or like Santa.

    In my experience, God answers prayer in ways we never expect. I once kept a prayer journal (i should continue to do so) and every 6 months or so, I would look back at the prayers i prayed. A lot of them were answered in such little ways that made me just sit back and think about how God really works in mysterious ways.

  4. I think she is right, and wrong.

    As a Wesleyan, I firmly believe that God is a Person and can be influenced by the passion of our prayers. Clearly you cannot read the scriptures without finding instances of such occasions. I think particularly of Hannah – and her promise to dedicate her first born to the Lord if only he would open her womb. The clear message of scripture is that, in fact, God did answer her heartfelt prayers.

    As a Wesleyan I also believe in the absolute sovereignty of God. In the end God is the “Decider” to use some common language these days. We trust in his ultimate Goodness and so his wisdom and decisions are always best. However to say that prayers don’t influence God – is to directly contradict the whole sweep of the scriptures.

    So my answer is yes – pray for a little girl, and expect an answer, and expect your prayers to be heard by, and considered by the Father. And more than that, expect those prayers which are passionate, and deep, and profound, to have more impact on the Father than those which are limp and half hearted. And more than that – the scriptures indicate, that our intimacy and level of holiness of heart and life are important to this whole calculation as well….However at the end of the day – Know that God is God – and his ultimate will is perfect and respected even if it is not what we pray for with passion.

  5. Question for Andrew:
    Why wouldn’t God be persuaded by a mothers passionate prayers to give her a female child. Not saying that he must do so, but why wouldn’t he be influenced in that direction.

  6. Brian – Thanks for the link to Evan Almighty, good stuff. Also, I appreciate the reminder that our perspective is certainly not God’s perspective.

    Clif – I agree that there is no particular prayer formula that we can fulfill to ensure that God will respond in the way that we want. However, I do want to assert that God may be influenced by our prayers. What do you think?

    Joseph – I appreciate your reminder that God does answer prayer, but not often in the way that we expect. God does move in mysterious ways and your reminder and practice of keeping a prayer journal is an excellent reminder of that.

    Chuck – I believe that you have responded to this question in a far more faithful and full way than my original response. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. As with Clif, I agree with you that God is God and will respond in the way that God sees fit. I think that there is a fine balance between understanding God that responds impulsively or unpredictably and as Clif rejects God who responds exactly the same way to a particular pattern of prayer.

    In response to your final question, I do not see any reason why God would not be able to respond to the prayer for a particular gender. I would see the greatest opportunity for such a prayer to be effective would be before conception. That being said, however, there is nothing that is beyond God.

  7. Through all of these comments, I have recognized that my initial response was quite inadequate in addressing the breadth of possible responses. Thank you for helping me grow in my faith and ability to clearly share that faith with others.

  8. I have prayed and fasted many times about issues which I know are genuinely needed, say the restoration of my family, my job and others. I did not get any answers and was very miserable and depressed. My kids also suffered because I was not with them anymore, and their home was broken. God does not answer prayer, we only want to believe he does because we prayed. Anyone with different opinion should substantiate with testimonies and exact happening

  9. Les – I am sorry that you have felt that God does not answer prayer. I think that sometimes God answers prayers in ways that we might not expect. I also believe that sometimes the answer can be “wait” or “no”. There is a balance between waiting for God’s response and being active in our lives to move them closer toward God’s dream for each of us. Thank you for sharing your perspective.

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