The prayers God always answers
September 20, 2019
Among all the questions people ask regarding prayer, there is one that has probably been on each of our lips at some point: “Why doesn’t God answer my prayer?”
Didn’t Jesus promise that he would hear and answer us? The lack of response can lead to doubt of God’s goodness and faithfulness. However, there is one category of prayer that God always answers. What is it and how does it apply to our lives?
Jesus said, “Ask and you will receive. Seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened to you” (Mt 7:7). This and similar verses seem to guarantee receiving whatever we ask for from God. We know from experience that God does not answer every prayer, however. Or, as some like to say, God sometimes answers with a no. So where is the fulfillment of the words of Christ?
St. James gives us one reason our prayers go unanswered. He writes, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions” (Jas 4:3). Those of us who are parents should readily understand this concept. Jesus said that if a child asks for a fish, his father does not respond with a snake (Lk 11:11). But what if the child asks for a snake? Sometimes our children ask for things that are not good for them. They ask with wrong motives, or we discern that they are becoming spoiled by their possessions, so we withhold even good things that they desire. God is a good Father and will similarly only answer prayers that are good for us.
Of course, there are many cases where we ask for help for a loved one, or for renewal in the church. The reasons God does not answer these prayers sometimes remain a mystery. What do the saints teach about the fulfillment of Christ’s promises in this regard?
St. Thomas Aquinas taught that God will infallibly answer our petition (with a yes!) when four requirements are met: First, since God always respects the free will that he gave us, this prayer must be for ourselves. God will not force gifts upon someone who doesn’t want them. Second, we must be asking for something that is necessary for our salvation – or at least for what we need to grow closer to God. Third, we must ask piously. In other words, we must pray in Jesus’ name, with humility, trust and attention. Finally, if God does not answer immediately, we must persevere in prayer.
So, if you are praying to be a saint, take heart! If you are praying to remain in God’s grace, trust that he will answer. If you are praying to overcome a certain sin, depend on him to see you through. Prayers to conform more to God’s will, to be more consistent in prayer, to better love God and neighbor – these are among the prayers you can be sure that God hears. We know he desires us to come closer to him and ultimately to see him face to face. If we ask sincerely and persevere, God will answer these prayers. We have Christ’s promise that this is so.
Connie Rossini is a member of St. Peter Parish in Omaha. She is co-author of “The Contemplative Rosary” just released by EWTN Publishing and author of four other books on Catholic spirituality.