God is attentive to every prayer. Sometimes He says yes and at other times no. No is, after all, an answer. Sometimes He says wait a while. This is in order to give God time to be God and condition the person praying as well as to prepare the answer.
I am not so sure He doesn’t sometimes say, “You have got to be kidding. Which one of us God?”
The saddest of all possible responses would have to be, “I thought you would never ask!”
Regarding the scientific study of prayer two entities must be considered. They are the person praying and the one to whom the prayer is offered, God.
Every prayer has two aspects. One is the request itself, that which is asked for. Second, is the reason. Why is the request being made?
Two people may pray for the same thing. One might ask for a million dollars. The reason being that it might be used to benefit a commendable cause. Another person asking for the million dollars might have as the reason that they might selfishly eat, drink and be merry. Consider these four categories of prayer responses.
At times God says “Yes” to the request and “No” to the reason. A Bible example involves ancient Israel once they had been delivered from Egyptian slavery. In the wilderness they fell out of fellowship of God and were described as having “leanness” of spirit. They thought a change of diet would be fulfilling. God gave them an abundance of quail meat, but the spiritual leanness remained because they were out of fellowship.
Sometimes God says, “No” to the request and “Yes” to the reason. The Apostle Paul is an example of this. His request was for his thorn in the flesh to be removed. His reason was that God might be glorified. The thorn wasn’t removed, but God was glorified by it being left because it gave Paul an opportunity to show God’s grace is sufficient even when there is a thorn in the flesh, a problem or pain.
At other times God says “Yes” to the request and “Yes” to the reason. Jesus requested that Lazarus be resurrected and the reason was in order for person to believe. The resurrection of Lazarus caused many people present to believe. It was a “Yes - Yes” prayer.
That leaves the category where there is a “No” to the request and a “No” to the reason. Taking the Bible as the source book on prayer there are nine reasons God sometimes says no to both. Every one of the nine reasons for a no is found in the one praying.
For example that which is being prayed about might be a very commendable thing. However, there might in the life of the person praying unconfessed sin. God does not hear the prayer of that person. The Bible makes it clear: “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me” (Psalm 66:18).
In light of this it is obvious prayer doesn’t always “work.” The fault is not with God, but with the person praying not having the right relationship with God.
“Ask and you shall receive” is not open to every person Christian, Jew, or whatever. It is contingent on the persons praying having none of the nine blockages to prayer in their lives.
For prayer to be scientifically studied the spiritual life of the person praying would have to be known and evaluated before they make their request known to God. That would be difficult to measure scientifically.
In the meantime rely on James 5:16: “The effective fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.”
The Rev. Dr. Nelson Price is pastor emeritus of Roswell Street Baptist Church.