1.4 Is Prayer Answered?

Religious people pray because they believe it provides them with access to talk to God in some way including making requests to Him. But does prayer change outcomes and what does the Bible say about prayer.

The answer is that the Bible suggests mixed things about prayer. In John 14:13 Jesus tells his disciples that he will do whatever they ask in his name. If we take the approach that what Jesus tells his disciples he also tells us then our prayers should also be answered in this way.

We can compare this with Paul's thorn in the flesh in 2 Corinthians 12 where we read that Paul pleaded with the Lord three times to take his thorn in the flesh away from him, but Jesus doesn't and replies that his grace is sufficient for Paul. This seems a different outcome to the one Jesus told his disciples in John.

If we take an alternative approach which is that we need to put limits on the verse in John, i.e. that John records a specific instance when Jesus was speaking about a special period or to a special group then why does anything Jesus say apply to us since he doesn't address us directly, and how do we know what is limited and what isn't? If it's some half-way house where some of what Jesus says applies now, but other parts don't then how do we discern which is which from the Bible? I don't think we can.

I have heard Christadelphians assert that our prayers are answered in one of three ways; 'Yes', 'No' or 'Not yet'. I think this is an interesting manoeuvre for two reasons. Firstly, because it means that there is no evidence that can possibly be used to falsify this assertion - as a 'truth proposition' it is impossible to verify. And secondly, because if prayer didn't work we would expect to see these exact same outcomes. If the natural course of events were to play out then these are the only three possible options available.

I want to include some thoughts on the efficacy of prayer. Many studies have been done to see if prayer works, there is even a wikipedia page that catalogues some of this research. The research that has been done, especially the most statistically rigorous studies, show there is no differences between those who are prayed for and those who are not. This seems to falsify the position that prayer is effective in changing physical world outcomes.

What about if prayer is not about our own desires and God's will overrules? If this is the case then why pray anyway? There seems little point praying for something if it isn't going to change an outcome. This is also not how the Bible describes prayer working in, for example, Isaiah 38 when Isaiah comes to Hezekiah and tells him that he is going to die. Isaiah tells Hezekiah, "This is what the LORD says...you are about to die", Isaiah then leaves and Hezekiah prays to God. Immediately Isaiah is told to go back to Hezekiah and tell him, "This is what the Lord God says: “I have heard your prayer...I will add fifteen years to your life,"

My personal experience of prayer is that it doesn't change physical world outcomes and that there is no reason to believe that the prevailing natural course of events has been changed.


  1. Certain scriptures come to mind concerning this subject of prayer. James 5:16 - The prayer of a righteous man availeth much. Prayers can be hindered, 1 Peter 8:7. One must ask in faith nothing wavering, James 1:6. We may be asking for things to feed our lusts.

    Very much is required of us to ensure our prayers are first acceptable to Jesus, who we trust will offer them up to the Father.

    It does appear that many prayers go unanswered because we are not truly in the Faith of Jesus. We may ask for the wrong reasons, or not actually believe we will have what we ask for. Judging from what is written in the Word on prayer, the problems with it not working for us are due to ourselves not living up to our high calling.

    1. I accept your view of why ‘many prayers go unanswered’, and perhaps once I would have thought some similar things. But there is another possibility of why ‘many prayers go unanswered’ which is that prayer is not answered because there is no one to answer them. That would make it pure chance as to whether it is apparently answered or apparently not answered, which seems to be what the best physical evidence we have suggests.

  2. Well then, if there is no one there to answer one's prayer believers have all been incalculably deceived. The outstanding question to ask the doubter is, How was it possible to bring about such a great deception; an effort that required much complicity over a long span of time? The next question to ask is, How has what we see, hear, smell, taste and touch come in to being?

    It is a question of personal application to find what is true and what is false. Other believers can be some help, but it really requires that we spend ourselves in the endeavour to discern fully so that we can reach conviction. This is too high a price for so many who seem to prefer to be told what to think and do.

    What does God require of us? Anyone who has even a small amount of bible knowledge is not without important sign posts. But for the seasoned bible reader they would do well to recall the many admonishments and requirements of the LORD, one of which is given here:

    Thus saith the LORD, the heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool: where is the house that ye build unto me? and where is the place of my rest? For all those things hath mine hand made, and all those things have been, saith the LORD: but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word.

    1. I suspect that there is no orchestrated deception or grand plot by an organised agent, rather we have simply been self-deceived entirely accidentally on our own part while doing the best we can with the limited information we have available to us.

      As to, “Why is there something rather than nothing?”, I don’t know. I have no answer to this question. It is a gap in our collective knowledge which I am happy to recognise as something unknown, and I feel under no obligation to assert an explanation. Perhaps that's not a very satisfying answer, but it seems to me that it is all we have.

  3. Considering the Bible is packed with information and is a lifetime study, I cannot understand how anyone would say we have limited information to go on. If people need to witness miracles in order to believe, then not even that will work as we know from the New Testament.

    The God of the Bible is the only one of the gods, so called, to have revealed Himself to mankind, expressly so by His son. His laws are what the Western peoples have based their laws upon. Where properly implemented our laws have brought blessings to us all, so much so that those from non Christian countries greatly desire to live within the protection they afford.

    If, as you say, you are happy to recognise the question "Why is there something rather than nothing?" as something unknown, and you feel under no obligation to assert an explanation, then why have you put so much in to your blog? It appears to me that you are trying to disprove the God of the Bible though you say you are searching for truth.

    1. There is far more volume and diversity information to go on than the small number of words contained within the bible, but we still don’t know everything and what we humans have is therefore limited, and my specific pool of knowledge even more so. Some of the information available to us is more accurate than other parts of it, some parts are obviously false – we have to take each part slice at a time to determine if we think each ‘piece of information’ is more likely to be true or false, or just to recognise that we don’t know. Some of this sorting is easy, some is very subtle.

      If the premise is that the bible is true then then there is little more that I can say, only to highlight that what is written in some books is false so this therefore also has to be a possibility for the bible. To determine the truth of each ‘piece of information’ in the bible it has to be measured or tested against something reliable which for me is physical evidence which is harder to manipulate than words on a page.

      I don’t see any reason that searching for truth and saying “I don’t know” are incompatible or mutually exclusive. In fact sometimes the truest thing we can say is, “I don’t know”.

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