Within this command to pray I think we can see four general principles about prayer:
1. God does not promise to answer everyone’s prayers. There is a restriction to the promises given in these verses. The promises apply only to those who are really God’s children. “But isn’t God the Father of all humans?” you may ask. And the answer is, “No he is not.” He is the creator of all, but he is not obligated to answer the prayers of those who are not his children. I realize of course that is pretty narrow statement, in fact a former head of the Southern Baptist Convention once stirred up a big conflict over this statement that God is not obligated to answer the prayers of unbelievers. But he was right! And I believe it’s scriptural. God is not the Father of all men, God is the Creator of all men, but that is not the same. God is Father only to those who are born again into the family of God. God does not promise to answer everyone’s prayers. He may at his own discretion, but he is not obligated.
We are expected to ask for the things God has promised. “ask (for whatever God has promised) and it shall be given.” This same principle is stated in the negative in James 4:2 “you do not have (the things God has promised) because you do not ask.” And, it goes on to say that we ask with the wrong motives. We live in an age of man’s efforts and man’s determination, of man’s confidence in himself and his own power to achieve things, an age of human organization, human machinery, human push, human scheming, and human achievement; even in the church. But, where is God in the church? Jesus said; “Unless you abide in me, you can do nothing.” Oh, it may look like something, but it’s nothing!
God hears and answers every prayer of the believer. “For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.” There are two certainties when we pray; one is that God hears every prayer; the other certainty is that God always answers. This verse says for ‘everyone who asks receives,” did I read that right? Yes, it says everyone receives! But we have the misconception that the only possible answer to prayer is yes. There are other possibilities; God can say, no or he can say, not yet, I have something better planned. But, God hears and answers every prayer.
Sometimes God gives us what we need and not what we ask for. “Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!”
Even earthly fathers give good things to their children. We do not give a child a red-hot chili pepper just because they ask for it. Well, some fathers might, but with a sense of humor. My dad once had me hold on to the spark plug of the lawn mower so “I could see if it was firing!” But generally speaking we do not give things to our children that we know will really harm them. And if this true of our earthly fathers how much truer it must be of our heavenly father. So then if we ask for good things, he grants them. If we ask for things which are not good (either not good in themselves, or not good for us or for others, directly or indirectly, whether immediately or ultimately) God will deny them; and only HE knows the difference.
Someone has written “I asked for strength that I might achieve; he made me weak that I might obey. I asked for health that I might do great things: he gave grace that I might do better things. I asked for riches that I might be happy; he did not give them so that I might be wise. I asked for power that I might have the praise of men; I was given weakness that I might feel a need of God. I asked for all things that I might enjoy life; I was given life, that I might enjoy all things. I received very few of the things I asked for; but I received all the things I had hoped for.”
Sometimes God gives us what we need and not what we ask for, but then, He is God.
The good news is that God has promised that “it shall be given to you; you shall find; and it shall be opened to you” but, we can’t just ASK… We must also “seek” and we must “knock”.