When Does God Answer Prayer?

Article by

Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

We receive from him whatever we ask, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. (1 John 3:22–23)

God answers prayers for people who keep his commandments. His commandments are summed up in these two: 1) believe in the name of Jesus, and 2) love each other.

Therefore, God answers prayers for people

who believe in his Son and
who love each other.

This could mean two things.

1. It could mean that believing Jesus and loving people is a way to earn answers to prayer. This is not true. First, because you do not earn anything by believing. Earning is a way of showing my worth and putting God in debt to me. That can’t be done. He already owns everything, and any worth I have is a gift from him. You can’t earn from a God like that. If you want his gifts, you must believe they are better than any others and then trust him to give them freely to those who look to him and not to the world for service.

Second, loving people cannot earn God’s blessing either, because love is already God’s work in us and not our self-reliant work for him. John plainly teaches that love is the evidence of the gift of life, not the earning or wage of life.

What then does John mean when he says that God answers prayers for people who believe in his Son and who love each other?

2. He means that prayer has a specific design, and if you misuse it, it malfunctions. What is the design of prayer? Prayer is designed by God to be the effect of faith and the cause of love.

Therefore if we try to pray when we really do not believe in the name of his Son, prayer malfunctions. And if we try to pray when our aim is not to love, prayer malfunctions.

This is why “We receive from him whatever we ask, because we keep his commandments.” Not because keeping his commandments earns answers to prayer, but because prayer is designed to give power in the path of obedience. Prayer is God’s way of making himself available for us when we are pouring ourselves out in love for others. Prayer is the power to love. Therefore if we do not aim to love, we pray in vain. Prayer is not designed to compound hoarded pleasures.

Prayer is a way of calling God alongside us in doing what Jesus came to do. “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers” (1 John 3:16). This is why believing Jesus and loving others are linked together as the way to answered prayers. Believing Jesus means that we admire the way he lived and want to be like him. You can’t believe in someone and think the way he lived was foolish. So believing in Jesus will necessarily lead us to want to love others the way he did. Believing in the name of Jesus and loving one another are almost one thing.

And since God was entirely behind Jesus with all his power and gave him all the help he needed, he will be behind us too when we believe in Jesus and love like Jesus. So the reason God answers the prayers of those who believe in the name of Jesus and love others like Jesus is that God loves to magnify Jesus.

For the glory of Jesus and the power of your prayer,

Pastor John