Handling Answers to Prayer

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened” (Matt. 7:7,8).

Does God always answer prayer? Your personal experience may prompt you to reply, “No.” Yet, we can make a strong case for God faithfully answering the prayers of His people. Consider three possible “answers”: yes, no, or wait.


We are so encouraged when there are vivid “yes” answers. The early church rejoiced when the angel released Peter and John from the Sanhedrin’s prison (Acts 5:16-24). Later, when it appeared that King Herod Agrippa I would kill Peter, the church’s intercession led to another angel escort out of prison! God’s power is limitless; when His wisdom and sovereignty answer with “yes” we rejoice!


Alas, sometimes there seems to be a mysterious “no.” This is not necessarily because of defective praying. When the apostle James was arrested by King Herod, he became the first apostle to be martyred (Acts 12:1,2). Doubtless, the believers had been praying for his deliverance. Later, Paul intensely prayed three times for the Enemy’s “thorn” to be removed. Yet the Lord answered him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). No may be a legitimate answer.


Sometimes our prayers continue and God seems to say “wait.” This may involve training us to persevere, or to wait to other factors to come into place (Luke 18:1-8). Sometimes we are not given a reason for the delay; we are to keep trusting and casting our burdens upon Him (Psalm 55:22).

Here is a passage that combines “yes” with “wait.” Paul wrote:

Now I beg you, brethren, through the Lord Jesus Christ, and through the love of the Spirit, that you strive together with me in prayers to God for me, that I may be delivered from those in Judea who do not believe, and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, that I may come to you with joy by the will of God, and may be refreshed together with you (Rom. 15:30-32).

Amy Carmichael expounded in this text:

God counts on us to accept whatever answer to our prayers He gives us, whether or not it be the answer that we wished and expected.

When Paul wrote to the Christians of Rome, he asked for the kind of prayer that is like wrestling with a strong (though unseen) enemy. He asked for prayer for three things:

  • that his service might be acceptable to the Jewish Christians;
  • that he might be delivered from the Jews who did not believe;
  • that he might come to them–the Christians of Rome–with joy.

The answer to the second of these three prayers was two years in a prison in Caesarea; the answer to the third was two years’ imprisonment in Rome. In both cases, the kind of imprisonment which required the prisoner’s right hand to be chained to a soldier’s left…

“That I may come unto you with joy by the will of God, and may with you be refreshed.” There was not much natural joy and refreshment in coming as a chained prisoner. Nothing was explained. Paul and the men and women of Rome were trusted to accept the unexplained and, like John the Baptist, not to be offended in their Lord [Luke 7:23].

Do you not think that a great deal of what we call faith is not worth the name? It is too flimsy to be called by so strong a word. Faith is the steel of the soul.[1]

Elsewhere the apostle expressed this kind of faith. After his “thorn” remained, he concluded, “Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Cor. 12:7-9). His heart was governed by Kingdom values.

These “answers” in biblical context show us that prayer is not an automatic formula to get our own way with God’s help. That is why prayer is linked with God’s good, wise purpose: “Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him” (1 John 5:14, 15).

You can appreciate all of God’s answers since “prayer is not overcoming God’s reluctance, but taking hold of His willingness.”

[1] Amy Carmichael, Edges of His Ways (Christian Literature Crusade, 1955), 89,90.

See also “When God Says No” in Experiencing God Day by Day, Henry and Richard Blackaby (Broadman & Holman),172.

This article is copyrighted by John B. Woodward, 2010. Permission is given to reprint it for non-commercial use with credit given. Biblical quotations are from the New King James Version, copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson.