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Do our prayers get answered if we don’t believe they will?

When it comes to prayer, there are several biblical themes we ought to hold together. We are told to pray expectantly, with confidence that we are heard and that our prayers make a difference (Mark 11:24). We are also told that there are things that can hinder our praying, such as selfish motives (James 4:3) or lack of concern for the poor (Prov. 21:13). Finally, we are given testimonies of unanswered prayers in the life of the faithful (2 Cor. 12:8-9). 

When we hold these themes together, it shows us that prayer is not just about asking of God, it is also about aligning with God. We need to know that our prayers make a difference, but prayer is not magic or manipulation. It is an invitation to believe that all things are possible but also to surrender to the wisdom of God; to confess our faith, but also to confess our doubt after the pattern of the one who prayed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!!” (Mark 9:24).

I love what the Heidelberg Catechism says: “God will certainly hear our prayer for the sake of Christ our Lord, as he has promised us in his Word” (Q&A 117). This reminds us to place our trust in the Father’s heart toward us. It is not the fervor of our prayer or the strength of our faith that gives us confidence, but the God to whom, in whom, and through whom we pray. Indeed, Paul says that we do not know how to pray, and so the Spirit prays for us with groans too deep for words (Rom. 8:26). 

That means that we can offer up every prayer with whatever measure of faith we can muster and with hope in the One “who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Eph. 3:20).


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