Does God listen to all prayers? What kind of prayers would the Father reject? What kind of people would the Father reject? Does the Father truly grant everything we ask for?

Biblical Answers

God does not answer some prayers. Ponder two reasons that would cause God to disregard a person’s prayer.

  1. The prayer is contrary to the will and purposes of God

We can surely understand that God would not answer any prayer that would go against something that he wants to happen or any of his requirements. The apostle John wrote, “Because everyone who[1] has been born from God conquers the world. And this is the conquest that has conquered the world, our faith.” (1 John 5:14) For example, the Bible says that greedy persons will not inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Cor. 6:9-10) Therefore, God would never bless a gambling establishment, or our getting a job at such a place. Nor would he answer us if we prayed to win the lottery. Gambling is biblically wrong and it promotes greed. The Father is not some genie that we pray to and get whatever our imperfect treacherous heart desires. (Jer. 17:9) In one way this very beneficial, as we can only imagine if God were at our bidding, what some people might pray for, asking God to do.–James 4:3.

  1. The person praying opposes or defies God’s authority, and does not accept the moral cleanness outlined in Scripture

God does not listen to the prayers who opposes him or defies his authority. Nor does God listen to those who are not trying to be spiritually clean, morally clean, and mentally clean. Moreover, God would not listen to anyone offending him by his or her action or his or her way of life. The Father told rebellious Israel in the eighth century B.C.E., “When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; yes, even though you make many prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood.” (Isaiah 1:15) While the Israelites might have been guilty of bloodshed here, this would include anger, wrath, or rage, and any sin that one is living in because sin is sin. True, God views some sin as deserving of a greater punishment but he does not expect his servants to be living in any sin. He would not listen to a habitual liar any more than he would one guilty of bloodshed. Nevertheless, even though the Israelites were guilty of such a sin as bloodshed, look at God’s response of they were to repent and turn themselves around.

Isaiah 1:18-20 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

18 “Come now, let us set matters straight, says Jehovah:
“though your sins are like scarlet,
they will be made as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson,
they will become like wool.
19 If you are willing and obedient,
you will eat the good things of the land;
20 but if you refuse and rebel,
you will be devoured by the sword.
Truly, the mouth of Jehovah has spoken.”

[Isaiah] 1:18–20. The judge did not pronounce the sentence. He laid a choice before the accused. The evidence was clear. The verdict: guilty. But the divine judge offered one more chance for a new start. Would Israel obey and prosper or remain rebellious and die? The reasonable course of action was clear. They were sinners. They needed cleansing. God offered to cleanse them from their sin. First, they must be willing to obey. Then God would restore the desolate land so that abundant crops would cover the hillsides. Resist and rebel, however, and cleansing would be impossible. They would not eat the best from the land. Instead, the enemy’s army would consume them. Give reasonable repentance and obvious obedience, or receive the rebel’s reward. God had spoken the final word.[2]

Why Would God Let Some Prayers Go Unanswered?

We can approach the Father about anything that weighs on our minds, just as we would hope to be the case of a loving human father. In fact, the Scriptures are filled with verses saying that God welcomes our prayers very much. However, at the same time, God has very good reasons for not answering our requests. Almost anything that we would ask of the Father, the answer is found in the Scriptures. This is the reason that we are encouraged to study the God’s Word. (Pro. 2:1-6) In addition, there is one main reason that many prayers go unanswered and this can be found in the Scriptures as well. Again, please see CHAPTER 12 and APPENDICES A and B.

James 4:3 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives,[3] so that you may spend it on your pleasures.

[James4:]3 To be sure, James notes, you ask. But you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. The Greek is more indefinite than the NIV translation: “you do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend freely on your pleasures.” “Spend freely” (the verb is dapanaō) can have a neutral sense (Mark 5:26; Acts 21:24; 2 Cor. 12:15), but the meaning here is negative, as in Luke 15:14, where the prodigal son is said to have “freely spent” all of his father’s inheritance. Jesus had promised, “Ask, and it will be given you” (Matt. 7:7). But clearly Jesus had in mind that asking which has as its focus and motive God’s name, God’s kingdom, and God’s will (Matt. 6:9–10)—not an asking that had the purpose of the indulgence of those “pleasures” (hēdonai) that are at war with our souls (cf. v. 1). Hort comments: “God bestows not gifts only, but the enjoyment of them: but the enjoyment which contributes to nothing beyond itself is not what He gives in answer to prayer; and petitions to Him which have no better end in view are not prayers.”[4]

[James] 4:3. Here we see an additional reason these believers failed to gain their desires. When they asked, they asked with wrong motives. They may have made legitimate requests, but their purpose in praying was illegitimate. They only wanted to pursue their personal pleasures.

Scripture suggests that God listens to the prayers of the righteous (Ps. 34:15; 1 John 3:21–22). Those who are upright must voice their requests in accord with God’s will (1 John 5:14–15). We will not receive prayer answers from the Lord unless we ask with the right motives in accord with God’s will.

A cancer victim who had experienced healing wrote the following words to a denominational paper: “My family and I have become keenly aware of the value of prayer in the past few months. As a result of the prayers of people all over Alabama, God healed my body from cancer.… I am grateful to have been included in the prayers of so many people and grateful to the Lord for His healing power.”

Experimental treatment removed all signs of the cancer in a few weeks, and the individual was able to return to an active ministry of pastoring. It is a legitimate prayer request to ask God for healing from sickness. Even that request may not be answered affirmatively because God may have another plan for an individual (see 2 Cor. 12:7–10). Our prayers can be a factor in bringing God’s blessings to ourselves and to others.[5]

[James] 4:3 The negative progression continues. As an afterthought, prayers are directed to God (lit. “you ask and you do not receive”), but not from a heart that is cleaving to him who is our greatest gift (lit. “because you ask wrongly”). Such prayers cannot lessen frustrated evil desire. No “spiritual benefit” is found under such psychological conditions from prayer. The imperative of prayer (1:5), of asking God for his provision, requires the prior knowledge of our true need. But the kind of asking practiced by some of James’s addressees is futile because it asks only on selfish and envious terms (lit. “in order that you may spend/squander in your pleasures”). As such, prayer becomes evil because of what is prayed for and why. Such prayers from the tongue, that is, the “world of evil” (3:6) within the body, are entirely rejected by the one to whom they are addressed.

The evil motives from which some have dared to shape their requests have their source, again, in evil desire, that is, their “pleasures” (v. 1). In such prayers God is regarded as a mere dispensary of instruments of vice. The language of monetary exchange is brought in by James. God does not answer their prayers not only because they are evil but also because they would just spend his generosity on themselves. They would, as it were, simply “cash in” whatever they could exchange his gifts with for their idea of “gain.” This sort of religiosity represents the worst of pagan attitudes about deity. Indeed, such a heathen approach to God is at the heart of “friendship with the world” mentioned in the next verse.[6]

[James] (4:3) Their prayers were toward selfish ends, as they had the wrong motives. We think of Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son, as he initially sought to waste his father’s money on his selfish needs. (Lu 15:14) Paul tells us that there is a “constant friction among people, who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.” (1 Tim. 6:5) Jesus said that our prayers should not extend beyond asking for “our daily bread.” (Matt. 6:11) He went on to say, we should ‘seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to us.’ (Matt. 6:33) Many do not realize that God does not listen to everyone’s prayers, just those of the righteous. Who are the righteous? They are those, who are doing their best in their circumstances to live by God’s Word daily. (Pro. 15:29; 28:9) We must be humble when we are praying. (Lu 18:9-14) We need to evidence our prayers by working on behalf of those prayers. It would do very little good to pray to God to better understand the Bible and then never read the Bible or reading any books on how to understand the Bible correctly. It will do very little good to pray for a job when unemployed if we never fill out applications because we are sitting around waiting on God to find us a job. It evidences our faith when we work on behalf of what we pray for, as this is what God expects.–Hebrews 11:6.

We are fooling ourselves if we are using God in our prayers simply for what we can get out of him. This sort of prayer is actually idolatry. How, we may ask, is it idolatry? The pagans believe they can force a god to give them whatever they want by using special words or phrases in their prayers. Jesus told us plainly, “your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” (Matt. 6:8) We can pray for things, but what we pray for must be in harmony with God’s will and purposes. If we are praying for a job that is going to require us to work 65 hours a week, causing us to have no family life, and miss our Christian meetings, do we believe that God is going to bless our efforts?[7]

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Does God Attend Sports Events? Is God an Oakland Raiders Fan? Is God a Chicago Bulls Fan? Is God a Cincinnati Reds Fan?

Football players have long prayed after scoring a touchdown. These same players huddle in prayer after a game as well. However, some of these same players can also be seen cursing out reporters in the locker room. In addition, these same players have been seen trying to hurt opposing players on the field. The idea that God favors one team over another would seem to be silly and mundane, only serving to demean our Creator.

Only those in denial would ignore the facts that almost all sports are violent, especially, boxing, UFC, Hockey, and football. Does God love violence?

Psalm 11:5 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

Jehovah examines the righteous one,
but the wicked one and the lover of violence his soul hates.

One ex-football player writes, “Competitive, organized injuring is integral to our way of life, and football is one of the more intelligible mirrors . . . showing us how exciting and rewarding it is to Smash Thy Neighbor.”[8]

So, did Jesus say, “Smash thy neighbor” or “love thy neighbor?”

Matthew 22:39 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

39 The second, like it, is this: ‘You must love your neighbor as yourself.’[9]

It is unreasonable to even consider that our God of love would be present at a sporting event and blessing any sports team, with their mindset of win-at-all-costs. (1 John 4:16)

The psalmist David said, “The friendship of Jehovah is for those who fear him, and he makes known to them his covenant.” (Psalm 25:14) In the original Hebrew (“friendship,” ), the meaning is “circle of confidants.” Therefore, the sense of this verse is that we are given admission into the inner circle with God or a covenant of intimate friendship. Worshipers with the proper respect are the only ones admitted into this intimate friendship. Our reverential fear of God and our close friendship should motivate true Christians so that they would never consider breaching that relationship by doing anything that would dissatisfy him, such as praying over a violent sporting event, or any sporting event, which is mundane in the scheme of things.

Let us say for a second that God does listen to a sporting event, and both teams are praying for a victory over the other, which one should he bless with a victory? On the other hand, say he did bless one team over the other, and a player was injured during the game, paralyzed even, would not God be the blame?

When we pray, it is to be on the right matters. The apostle John had this to say, “And this is the confidence that we have before him, that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.” (1 John 5:14) John also said earlier in the same book, “The world is passing away, and its lusts; but the one who does the will of God remains forever.” Jesus said that the ones, who would benefit from the kingdom, are those “doing the will of the Father.” (Matt. 7:21) He also said to those who believed that they were doing the will of the Father but were not doing His will, “‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (Matt. 7:22-23) Therefore, it is clear that God listens only to prayers that are according to his will. Are we to suppose that sports, which are inundated with violence, scantily dressed female cheerleaders, having stadiums filled with fans abusing alcohol, and are hit with one scandal after another is a part of God will and purposes? So, is God listening to or actively blessing sporting events? According to God’s Word and common sense, absolutely not!

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[1] Lit everything that

[2] Anders, Max; Butler, Trent. Holman Old Testament Commentary – Isaiah (p. 17). B&H Publishing. Kindle Edition.

[3] Lit., wickedly or badly

[4] Douglas J. Moo, The Letter of James, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: Eerdmans; Apollos, 2000), 185.

[5] Thomas D. Lea, Hebrews, James, vol. 10, Holman New Testament Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 319–320.

[6] Kurt A. Richardson, James, vol. 36, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1997), 177–178.

[7] Brent Calloway, James, vol. 17, THE BOOK OF JAMES: CPH Christian Living Commentary (Cambridge: Christian Publishing House, 2015), 103-102.

[8] And devoting our very lives to outgunning one another .., https://www.coursehero.com/file/p27ult5/And-devoting-our-very-lives-to-outgunnin (accessed December 17, 2016).

[9] A quotation from Leviticus 19:18