(Isa. 1:15) Will God answer prayers or not?

CLAIM: In this passage, Isaiah writes, “So when you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide My eyes from you; yes, even though you multiply prayers, I will not listen” (Isa. 1:15). However, Jesus taught, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened” (Mt. 7:7-8). Will God answer our prayers or not?

RESPONSE: God is not required to listen to our prayers. Instead, he only listens (or answers) prayers that are within his divine will (1 Jn. 5:14-15). In the OT, Jeremiah was even commanded not to pray for the people, because they were past the point of no return, deserving judgment (Jer. 14:11-12). When we consider this passage in Isaiah, God explicitly states that we will not hear the people’s prayer because of serious sin in the nation (“Your hands are covered with blood” verse 15). This fits with Jesus’ teaching that he will only respond to those who “seek” God. Murdering is clearly not seeking the Lord! In addition, there are a number of biblical reasons for which God will not answer our prayers:

1. Serious sin in our lives

(Ps. 66:18) If I regard wickedness in my heart, the Lord will not hear.

(Jer. 11:11) “Behold I am bringing disaster on them which they will not be able to escape; though they will cry to Me, yet I will not listen to them.” [Of course, both of these passages were written in the old covenant—before the Cross. However, we see similar claims in the new covenant]

(1 Pet. 3:7) You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered.

2. Having a dual loyalty to God and the world-system

(Jas. 4:3) You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.

(Jas. 1:5-8; c.f. 4:8) But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. 6 But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, 8 being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways… Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. [Some mistakenly believe that this passage teaches that we can’t doubt in prayer. This is certainly not the case. Both Mark 9:24 and Jude 22 state that God is patient and merciful with doubters. Instead, this is referring to having a dual commitment to God and the world system, as James 4:8 demonstrates. To be ‘double-minded’ means that we have a dual commitment –not doubt.]

3. Hypocrisy

(Mt. 6:5-6) When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. [In other words, by praying in a hypocritical fashion, we do not receive an answer from God]

4. Asking for something outside of God’s will

(1 Jn. 5:14-15) This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. 15 And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him.

(Jn. 14:13-14) Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it. [Praying in Jesus’ name means that we pray according to his will]