Westminster Shorter Catechism defines Christian prayer as “an offering up of our desires to God, for things agreeable to his will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgment of his mercies.” But a simple and very common definition of prayer is communion or communication with God. In prayer, we talk to God and He, in turn, talks to us. Generally, prayer consists of about four elements, namely, adoration, confession, thanksgiving and supplication (ACTS).
However, when we talk of God answering prayer, we are mostly talking of His response to the 4th element, which is our requests or petitions or what we ask of Him. It is this dimension of prayer that is most constantly highlighted in the Bible (e.g., Gen. 18:16-33; Exod. 32:31–33:17; Ezra 9:5-15; Neh. 1:5-11; 4:4-5, 9; 6:9, 14; Dan. 9:4-19; Matt. 7:7-11; John 16:23-24; 17; Eph. 6:18-20; James 5:16-18; 1 John 5:14-16).
The Bible teaches that God answers prayers. But we need to note that God’s primary concern is to meet us at our very point of need, and He knows what is best for us in a way that we do not. Therefore, He may answer our prayers or meet our needs in ways different from the particular ways we have applied for or put up in our prayer. This means that even though God always answers the prayers of His faithful people, His answers will not always be “Yes”. It can as well be “Wait,” if God perceives that you are not yet ripe for what you are asking; or an outright “No,” if He knows that what you ask for is not good for you or that He has something better for you than what you asked for.
Our confidence that God answers prayers is based on historical facts as recorded in the Bible; experiences (both personal and others’ testimonies of) and trust in God’s promises. Some of the promises can be found in the following Bible passages: Psalm 9:12; Psa. 145:18; Matt. 7:7; James 1:5; 5:16; 1 Pet. 3:12; 1 John 5:14.
Furthermore, it needs to be said here that although prayer is simple enough for a child to understand, it is also so profound that we spend a lifetime plumbing its depths. There is no tension or inconsistency between the teaching of Scripture on God’s sovereign foreordination of all things (the concept of “What will be, will be”) and the efficacy of prayer. God foreordains both the means and the end. Our prayer is foreordained, as the means whereby He brings His sovereign will to pass. Thus, prayer may not really induce God to manipulate events or otherwise act on our behalf. But in prayer, we find confidence in an intimate relationship with a God Who hears, cares, and is able to act.
Petition or supplication or asking God of something is not to inform Him of matters that He would otherwise be ignorant of, but a demonstration of our trust and dependence on Him.
The Ven. Dr Princewill Onyinyechukwu Ireoba is the Rector, Ibru International Ecumenical Centre, Agbarha-Otor, Delta State.