“I prayed to the LORD, and he answered me. He freed me from all my fears.” Psalm 34:4 (NLT)
Psalm 34 was written in a very difficult time in David’s life. In some ways he was the victim of his own success or perhaps more accurately, the success that came from being obedient to the Lord. God’s favor upon David’s life caused Saul to be jealous and as a result David was on the run. David fled to King Achish of Gath because sometimes we think that the enemy of our enemy could be our friend, but David’s reputation had preceded him and his presence was viewed with suspicion.
Our verse tells us that David prayed to the Lord and his prayer was answered, but what are the keys to getting our prayers answered? We may have heard of or know of others who get their prayers answered, but for some reason we still have questions. How can we be sure that God hears our prayers? And if he hears our prayers, how do we know that he will answer them?
Let’s start by seeing what the Bible tells us about God answering our prayers. “And we are confident that he hears us whenever we ask for anything that pleases him. And since we know he hears us when we make our requests, we also know that he will give us what we ask for.” 1 John 5:14–15 (NLT)
God lets us know that we can have confidence that he hears us and that he answers our prayers. However, you may notice that there is a condition attached to this promise. It says, “He hears us whenever we ask for anything that pleases him.” How do we know what pleases him? To begin with, we can always pray for people to come to know him. Peter reminds us that God is not willing that any should perish. We can confidently pray for healing because Psalm 103 tells us that “He heals all of our diseases” and Isaiah 53 lets us know “that by His wounds we are healed.” In short, it is really not difficult to pray according to the will of God.
So what is it that prevents us from having our prayers answered? We may have prayed concerning some desperate situation in our lives and yet we waited, sometimes losing hope and confidence. We may believe that God is willing, but yet we ask, “Where is our answer?” What will it take for a breakthrough and when can we expect to see God move in our situation? There are no magic formulas, but we can see patterns in Scripture that have prepared the way for answered prayer.
Time and time again in Scripture we see that confession of sin opened the way for answered prayer. Nehemiah confessed and asked forgiveness for his sins and the sins of the people before undertaking the rebuilding of the wall in Jerusalem. Confession of sin and repentance led to a breakthrough of answered prayer many times.
Secondly, when we go to God in prayer and expecting an answer, we must not have an alternative plan held in reserve. God wants us to recognize that he is our sole source of everything that we need. As the Psalmist said, “Whom have I in heaven but you?” God can answer prayers in many different ways and even through avenues that seem quite strange, but he wants us to recognize that he is our source. In Scripture, Egypt often represents this world’s system. “What sorrow awaits those who look to Egypt for help, trusting their horses, chariots, and charioteers and depending on the strength of human armies instead of looking to the LORD, the Holy One of Israel.” Isaiah 31:1 (NLT)
A third key for answered prayer is that we have compassion for others, especially the poor and those who are in need. We should not expect God to hear us and our call for help if we do not hear the call for help of those who are in need. “Whoever shuts their ears to the cry of the poor will also cry out and not be answered.” Proverbs 21:13 (NIV)
God may not always answer our prayers in the way that we expect, but if we are serious about having our prayers answered, we will confess our sins and repent, we will expect that he is our only source and supply and finally, we will be people of compassion who are attentive to the calls for help from the poor and those in need. With these three conditions met, we can confidently approach God. “So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.” Hebrews 4:16 (NLT)