Four Types of Answers to Prayer

Over the years, I’ve often read and heard things like “God didn’t hear my prayer,” or “God didn’t answer my prayer.” These statements betray a singular focus on one aspect of prayer, that being requests. There is so much more to prayer than requests, including confession, praise/adoration, and thanksgiving.

Regarding sin and confession, here’s what Psalm 66:18-19 says: “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened; but God has surely listened and heard my voice in prayer.” These two verses get at something that may often be missing in our prayers: confession. 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

Regarding thanksgiving, here’s what Philippians 4:6 says: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (emphasis mine)

First of all, then, let us examine ourselves to see if there is sin we are “cherishing” (loving, holding on to, protecting). Then let’s make our requests to the Lord with thanksgiving. We can be sure that He will hear and answer us. We also need to pray according to His will, just as Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane in Luke 22:42: “Not my will, but yours be done.” The question then becomes: What will the Lord’s answer be?

This week, we had a guest speaker at my church: Dr. Ravi Jayakaran, President of Medical Ambassadors International. He gave a powerful message about prayer, including four types of answers to prayer. (The following examples from Scripture are different from those he mentioned.)

  1. Direct. This is when the Lord gives us a direct “yes” answer to prayer. The Bible is full of such examples. In 2 Chronicles 20:5-12, godly King Jehoshaphat asks the Lord to judge three enemy armies that have risen up against Israel. Here’s what happened a few verses later, in 2 Chronicles 20:21-23: “After consulting the people, Jehoshaphat appointed men to sing to the Lord and to praise him for the splendor of his holiness as they went out at the head of the army, saying:  “Give thanks to the Lord, for his love endures forever.”  As they began to sing and praise, the Lord set ambushes against the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir who were invading Judah, and they were defeated.  The men of Ammon and Moab rose up against the men from Mount Seir to destroy and annihilate them. After they finished slaughtering the men from Seir, they helped to destroy one another.” (emphasis mine) In my own life, I can think of times when the Lord has given me a very direct answer; for example, we used to have various neighbors who sometimes had late-night parties. Without fail, every time I went outside to talk to them, they quickly toned it down, without any expression of anger on either side.
  2. Delayed. Sometimes the Lord gives us what we have asked for, but not immediately. In 1 Samuel 1, for example, you can read how year after year, Hannah would go to the house of the Lord to worship, sacrifice, and ask the Lord for a son. Eventually, the Lord did just that; her son became the godly prophet Samuel. Then in 1 Samuel 2:21, we read, “And the Lord was gracious to Hannah; she conceived and gave birth to three sons and two daughters.” These five children were in addition to Samuel, who Hannah had dedicated to serve at the house of the Lord! One very significant example in my own life that comes to mind is my father-in-law, who came to faith in the Lord at the age of 91; my wife and I, as well as others, had prayed for him for many years. I should add that in the parable of the persistent widow and the unjust judge in Luke 18, we are told that the Lord is not like the unjust judge, who gets tired of the widow bothering him and thus responds to her request for justice. Instead, the Lord will see that His chosen ones “get justice, and quickly.” (verse 8) From our perspective, it sometimes doesn’t seem quickly, but that’s because we’re impatient and can’t see the big picture.
  3. Denied. This is a hard answer to hear to a prayer request, but we have examples in the Bible to help and encourage us. Earlier, I referred to Jesus Himself, who asked the Father to keep Him from having to be crucified, but the Father denied Jesus’ request. That answer to prayer is our salvation! Another example is the Apostle Paul, who had “a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.'” (2 Corinthians 12:7-9) When I graduated from college, I had planned to combine my love of astronomy and the English language to be a writer and/or copy-editor at an astronomy magazine. I had two interviews, but the answer was No. (More about this below.)
  4. Different. Sometimes the Lord gives a different answer than we expect or hope for. In the Bible, I think of the Jews of Jesus’ time, being crushed under the heel of the Roman empire. Much has been written about how the Jews were expecting a political Savior who would liberate them from their oppressors. While I suppose this expectation was understandable, it was in spite of Biblical passages like Isaiah 53, which speaks of the Messiah as One who will be “despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.” (verse 3) God’s plan was to give all people who believed from all countries, for all time, salvation from sin. In my own life, it took me over a year of floundering a bit regarding my career hopes, but one day I saw a poster for a nascent organization which had started to send teachers to a Third World country that had recently “opened.” Somehow I knew immediately that was for me. It took me a year and a half to get my M.A. in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages); along the way, I met the beautiful, godly woman who was to become my wife; and I spent 32 years (the first five overseas) teaching ESL. I still love astronomy, but it’s easy to see now that the Lord had something very different–and much better!–for me.

In my own life, I have learned that whether answers to my prayer requests are direct, delayed, denied, or different, my heavenly Father always knows what’s best. If you are one of God’s people, you can rest assured that He knows what’s best for you as well; if you are not, that can change today!

18 thoughts on “Four Types of Answers to Prayer

      1. The Parkinson’s is kicking my tush (to put it mildly) and the concussion be dealt with (about 17 of them, some major) – I’m just trying to stay vertical and off the floor. Ever seen the movie Concussion? Getting there 😢 … just praying for God to intervene sent heal because getting a bit tired of this.

        Hey brother, you asked…😉

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Hi Keith, I was particularly moved that the Lord saved your father in law (my uncle) when he was already 91 years old. In his last years he was not in the best of health so regretfully I did not have much of a chance of speaking with him over the phone after he became a Christian.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, Anthony. He never really liked to talk that much, and his final years were an extension of that. The day he put his faith in Jesus, he had told Yolande, “I accept Jesus as my Savior.” Yolande prayed with him, and then he asked something like what he should do next. Yolande said that he should get baptized, which for many years had been a stumbling block. He said that he wanted to get baptized where he and Isabel had attended church for several years (about an hour and a half from us), so we arranged for that to take place. After that, we don’t really know much of what was going on inside because of his not saying much; we took him to a church which was similar to the one he had previously attended, but just going out had become too much for him, both physically and mentally. I read some Scripture with him for a while as well, and Yolande thinks he may have read some on his own.

      Anyway, the Lord drew him to saving faith while he was still able to understand, thankfully!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. As a fiction writer, this post on the different types of answers to prayer has really resonated with me. It’s easy to become fixated on the outcome we want, but this reminder of the importance of confession, thanksgiving, and the understanding that sometimes our requests will be delayed, denied, or answered in unexpected ways is so valuable. The examples from scripture and personal anecdotes illustrate this in such a powerful way. Thank you for reminding us of the complexity and beauty of prayer.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Sebastian, thank you for your thoughtful comment, which is an excellent summary of what I wrote, as well as an encouragement to me. I especially love how you used the words “resonated,” “fixated,” and “complexity.”

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for sharing Brother Keith. Wow! These 4 points are very good to have and I believe sum up the walk of every Saint. I had always believed in the 3: YES, NO, NOT NOW. The “DIFFERENT” is a very good add and true. Thanks to you, I now have a “new add” to my tool box. I will use and share with others. I would like to comment regarding scripture you use with the modern bible vs the King James Bible. If you would have used the King James Bible your first point would have been more powerful. If you would please allow me dear Brother: When studying your Blog I read along with you in my King James Bible. In Psalm 66:18 King James Bible it reads: If I regard iniquity (present tense)…the Lord will not hear me. (Future tense.) This is far more accurate by both word choice (regard vs cherished) and verb tense describing the seriousness regarding prayer. What’s even more amazing to me personally is the powerful point you make – as usual in your Blogs, is that your point would have been even more powerful if you would have used the King James Bible. The King James Bible does not use the perfect past tense of had cherished as the modern bible says, but rather a present tense meaning of “guarding, protecting, keeping unrepentant sin” in my heart the Lord WILL NOT (future tense) hear me in the future. WOW! Unrepentant – unconfessed sin is a big deal. In other words, here is what the King James Bible is saying: IF regard (I retain, protect (hide) iniquity (more serious than sin but it is: wickedness – unrepentant sin, not confessed but hidden – see where the Psalmist uses the word iniquity in Ps 66, and see where the Psalmist uses sin, example in Ps 51:2. Iniquity here in Ps 66 shows that it is unconfessed. Praise God . I had never realized what a stern warning Ps 66:18 truly is… Thank you dear Brother. Another issue is Philippians 4:6… “be anxious for nothing” compared to “be careful” Your point is sound but the King James Bible gives a much deeper, more profound meaning which would bolster your teaching. Thank you dear Brother, God bless you and yours.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Brother Andrew, I appreciate your thoughtful comment, much of it based on the KJV. I have noticed on your blog that you quote the KJV as well. It’s what I grew up with, but even now, I find it hard to understand at times because of its somewhat archaic language. When I became a Christian, I found the NIV much easier to understand; however, the NIV I use predates the gender-neutral version which was published in 2005. That revision was a mistake.

      In the case of Psalm 66:18, I really appreciate your pointing out the verb tenses. When I read the NIV and ESV, it sounds to me like the psalmist is referring to a specific, past instance of prayer–or perhaps multiple instances in the past. However, I agree that in this verse, the King James present tense (in the first clause) and future tense (in the second clause) gives a better meaning: in other words, applying at every instance. One other comment in this verse: the word “regard” in the King James is confusing to modern readers, whereas “cherish” is more readily understood. The synonyms you gave–guarding, protecting, keeping–are almost the same as the ones I gave–loving, holding on to, protecting. However, I love your emphasis on the fact that it is unconfessed, or “hidden.”

      I strongly appreciate the fact that you and I can have this dialog as brothers in Christ, without rancor. I will try to remember to consult the KJV more often. Thank you, Brother!


  4. Thank you Brother Keith. You’re a rare man of God who is able to sit and reason in love without rancor. Your insight and deep thought are always a welcome sight to the weary traveler in this strange land we walk. I just wanted to emphasise how taken back I was by the simplicity of your teaching and how we need to be aware of these keys thoughts because prayer is so esential in our walk. I was especially “personally” convicted to really take my confession before the Lord for repentance.
    Romans 2:4 – Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?
    Thank you again Brother. Always look forward to your Blog posts.
    God bless.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Brother Andrew, your words bring joy to my heart. We all (me included) need to be reminded of how important it is to confess our sins to the Lord. I so appreciate the fact that we are brothers in Christ!


  5. I’m so glad you directed my attention to this post! Our Father always, always answers our prayers, no matter what it looks like, in the most loving way possible. If His answer is “Wait…”, it’s from a heart overflowing with mercy and compassion for us, knowing how much immense good He will work in our lives as we wait on Him! I also smiled fondly hearing about how He directed you to ESL, that is SO neat. Many blessings today!

    Liked by 1 person

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