The Bible has much instruction concerning prayer. The basics include these truths . . .
One, God hears my prayers.
Two, He always answers in one of three ways: Yes, No, or Wait.
Three, if the answer is No, then it is either not His will for me, or I am blocking the answer with unconfessed sin in my life.
When I read a passage about prayer, it points to at least one of those basics. The following words from Jesus point to the fact that God will give me what is good according to His will.
“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 the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are 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!” (Matthew 7:7–11)
Today, Chambers says this passage illustrates prayer as a “good child asking for a good thing.” While it is true that these instructions are for His children, and that confessing our sin is important, this is not what the passage says. Several other passages fit his theme much better:
“If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.” (Psalm 66:18)
“Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.” (Isaiah 59:1–2)
“We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him.” (John 9:31)“You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” (James 4:3)
I can pray very selfish prayers, ignoring sinful behavior like spats with other people, pride in myself, defiance toward God’s commands, greed, and all sorts of unconfessed junk. When I pray without paying attention to those things, God has a priority: clear them up first. (See 1 John 1:9)
However, I can also pray with uncertainty. Does God care about what I need? Will He give me something good? If I ask that His will be done, will He bring total misery into my life?
If I am praying with those questions and fears, perhaps I need to confess a lack of faith, or a lack of believing the promises of God. Regardless of the need for humility, in these verses from Matthew, Jesus addresses those fears. He assures me that God knows how to give good things to His children. This means that God loves me and is looking out for me. If I ask for anything that is good for me, He will make sure that I get what is good for me.
Of course it can take years to learn what I should be asking for — especially when my old nature always wants something that I think is good. That is why the Bible tells me to trust Him when I pray. He knows what I need even before I ask, and even better, He promises to answer — with whatever is good for me.