That proper prayer is answered is an accepted Bible truth. However, the Bible is equally as emphatic that not all prayers are answered.
Many persons pray for wrong reasons—to win a prize at a raffle or in a contest, to get a big business order, or to win a bet or a sports contest. Is it any wonder that such prayers are not answered?
The disciple James reminded: “You do ask, and yet you do not receive, because you are asking for a wrong purpose, that you may expend it upon your cravings for sensual pleasure.”—Jas. 4:3.
Practicers of non-Biblical religions often consider their worship to be a sort of “magic” that gets their god to do whatever the worshiper wants. But the Creator is not like the fabled jinn of Aladdin’s lamp, waiting to do man’s bidding.
It is true, of course, that Jesus told his followers: “If you ask the Father for anything he will give it to you in my name.” (John 16:23) However, Jesus was speaking to his followers. The things for which they would ask were limited by what they had learned from him, and by their knowledge of God’s purposes.
“Anything” clearly did not include things they knew, or had reason to believe, were not pleasing to God, or things that were not in harmony with his will. If our requests are to be granted, they must please God. We must not request unrighteous things, or those contrary to God’s revealed will. The apostle John stated: “This is the confidence that we have toward him, that, no matter what it is that we ask according to his will, he hears us.”—1 John 5:14.
But, on occasion, even prayers by God’s servants are not answered. Moses’ prayer to enter the land of Canaan was not. King David’s prayer in behalf of Bath-sheba’s child went unheeded. The apostle Paul’s prayer to be delivered from his “thorn in the flesh” went unanswered. To be heard, prayers must be in harmony with God’s purposes! So, then, even failure to understand God’s purpose in a matter can result in an unanswered prayer.—Deut. 3:23-27; 2 Sam. 12:16, 22; 2 Cor. 12:7-9.
To be acceptable to God, prayers must be through the channel he recognizes. Jesus said: “No one comes to the Father except through me.” Jesus also said prayers should be presented ‘in his name.’ (John 14:6; 16:23) Thus, our prayers should acknowledge that the value of the sacrifice of Jesus’ own human life makes it possible for us to approach God in prayer, and that there is just “one mediator between God and men, a man, Christ Jesus.”—1 Tim. 2:5.