On the night He was betrayed, Jesus made an incredible promise to the Apostles: “I will do whatever you ask…..You may ask me for anything…and I will do it.” (John 14:13-14 NIV).
What a statement! But if you know your Bible, you noticed that the above quote is incomplete. I intentionally left out some of the words to make a point: The often-repeated claim that “God answers prayer” is not a blank check. It is not without requirements that must be met by the one making the request. In other words, God promises to answer prayer only if we are faithful in meeting the conditions of answered prayer.
And so we begin a series of posts that focus on the question: What must I do in order for God to answer my prayers?
Let’s go back to John 14:13-14 and read it again….in its entirety: “I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” (John 14:13-14 NIV)
This passage contains two conditions of answered prayer. Did you notice them?
First, we must ask “in my name”, i.e. in the name of Jesus. And second, the prayer must have the glory of God as its ultimate objective – this is indicated in the second half of verse 13: “so that the Son may bring glory to the Father.”
Both of these conditions are critical. And because they are part of one of Bible’s most foundational and pervasive themes (the glory of God), we will come back to them in future posts.
Today I want to draw your attention to what I believe to be the most overlooked condition of answered prayer. It’s found in Psalm 66:16-20 (NIV) –
16 Come and listen, all you who fear God; let me tell you what he has done for me. 17 I cried out to him with my mouth; his praise was on my tongue. 18 If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened; 19 but God has surely listened and heard my voice in prayer. 20 Praise be to God, who has not rejected my prayer or withheld his love from me!
The psalmist is bursting with joy because God has listened to him, heard his voice and accepted his prayer – all indications of the inexhaustible love of God. Truly this is a man who is enthralled with a God who answers prayer!
But did you notice verse 18: “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.” Right in the middle of this outpouring of praise, the psalmist reminds us that sin will prevent God from even listening to our prayers. What a sobering statement.
Take a moment now and reflect on the word “cherish” — to hold something dear that is precious to you. Many synonyms come to mind: to treasure, to value, to adore, even to love.
So the psalmist is reminding us that if we are cherishing sin, God is under no obligation to answers our prayers, or to even listen to them.
God wants us to bring our requests before Him (Philippians 4:6). He delights in our depending upon Him in any and every situation, and wants us to call upon Him “in the day of trouble”, resulting in our deliverance and His glorification (Psalm 50:15).
But we must first examine ourselves in the light of His Word and if we find sin in our heart, the first order of business is confession and repentance rather than petition. Only then are we entitled to claim the promise of answered prayer. Notice the relationship between the self-examination of a righteous life and the expectation of answered prayer in Psalm 17:
“Hear, O LORD, my righteous plea; listen to my cry. Give ear to my prayer – it does not rise from deceitful lips. May my vindication come from you; may your eyes see what is right (v. 1-2)
“Though you probe my heart and examine me at night, though you test me, you will find nothing; I have resolved that my mouth will not sin.” (v. 3)
“As for the deeds of men – by the words of your lips I have kept myself from the ways of the violent. My steps have held to your paths; my feet have not slipped.” (v.4-5)
Only after a thorough self-examination in verses 1-5 does David say with confidence: “I call on you, O God, for you will answer me; give ear to me and hear my prayer.” (v.6)
May this be the pattern of our prayers: Self-examination, confession and repentance must precede petition.