It only takes a few seconds of thinking to provide a superficial answer to this question. God knows everything about us. In Psalm 34 King David cries out:
"Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD".
He is ever-present, all-knowing, and all-powerful. In short, He listens to everyone in all places and at all times. He is God. But that’s not what this question is about. It is sometimes offered that God answers every prayer, but that sometimes, His answer is “No.” While this may very well be true, again, it does answer what is really at the heart of this question.
When we ask about whether or not God listens to us, we are not questioning whether He is aware of something that we’ve asked of Him. In fact, we are acknowledging that He does indeed know what we’ve asked. The real question is why God has not acted on our request. That He has answered “no” leaves us unsatisfied rather than answered. We want to know why. This question is vastly more complicated.
The New Testament covers four main areas that affect prayer. Jesus often spoke of faith, Peter wrote on obedience, Paul wrote about consistency, John wrote concerning God’s name. When James wrote, he covered each of these four areas equally. Let’s take a look at each area to see how it contributes to the way God responds to our prayers.
FAITH - Faith is the basis of Christian living. It is the material that our relationship with God is woven out of. Without it, it is impossible to please God. Though we don’t see God, faith provides powerful evidence (Hebrews 11:1). We must trust in God when we pray. When we place items of prayer into God’s hands, we must trust Him to do what is right. Jesus said, “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.” Jesus does not mean that we must simply believe in our prayer. He means that we must believe in Him. Obedience, consistency, and God’s name help us to see what it means to believe in Him.
OBEDIENCE - Read 1 Peter 4:12. When we are disobedient to God, His focus is not on listening to us - it is on getting us to listen to Him. Having real faith in God means that we believe He is the Lord. It means that when He speaks, we listen. Disobedience is a way of telling God that we know better than Him. It is saying to Him that we are going to handle things our own way. If we have truly come to love and to honour God – to have real faith in Him – then we will live lives marked by obedience.
CONSISTENCY - The apostle Paul wrote about the need for us to pray regularly. As in a good marriage, friendship, or any relationship, communication is vital. Prayer is our method of communicating with God. Often, if we listen, God will suggest things to our minds in the quietness of prayer. If faith is the material that our relationship with God is woven out of, then prayer is the beautiful garment that emerges from the weaving process. It is the relationship itself. It is speaking with God and listening to Him. It is getting to know our Maker. Take a look at Romans 12:12 and Ephesians 6:18-20. Do you pray consistently?
GOD'S NAME - In the book of James, we are told we do not receive what we pray for because we often ask with wrong motives. We can all acknowledge that this is sometimes true of us, but what are the right motives? Jesus said that if we ask anything in His name, He will do it. In Jesus’ day, a person’s name was their reputation. To ask something in someone’s name didn’t simply mean to end our prayers with the words “in Jesus’ name.” It meant to pray on behalf of Jesus’ reputation, in accordance with His reputation. It meant to pray in line with His good name, to consider His will rather than ours when we pray. He gave the ultimate example of this when He prayed before His crucifixion, “not my will, but yours be done.” He gave His life for the Father’s will, for His Name.
When we pray, we must have faith. We must be obedient, and we must be consistent. Lastly, we must always remember the One we pray to is God and we are not, so we pray according to His name. He will use our prayers in accordance with His will. We must handle these four areas well and trust the rest to Him. We cannot expect to comprehend all that is in the mind of God, but we can say with the apostle Paul, “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!” (Romans 11:33).