Dear Father, Other people tell me how God answers their prayers in remarkable ways, but he doesn’t seem to answer mine. I have been praying for several intentions for a long time with no result. Does God always answer our prayers?
We can start with Jesus’ familiar words in the Sermon on the Mount: “Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened” (Mt 7:7-8). It is clear from this that everyone who asks God for something will have their prayer answered. Everyone.
Our Lord goes on to explain that even earthly parents, with all their limitations, know how to give good things to their children: “Or what man of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Mt 7:9-11)
In the example of parents giving good things to their children we find an initial answer to your question. First of all, parents are not going to give their children what is bad for them. They will not give them a stone instead of bread, or a snake instead of a fish.
Neither does God ever give us what is bad for us.
Here we might be inclined to answer: “Yes he does. God allows us to suffer: illness, failure, loss of property…” Indeed he does. But suffering is not bad for us. It can even be very good. Illness moves us to take better care of our health and to be detached from even life itself; failure helps us to be more humble and aware of our weaknesses; the loss of property helps us to be more detached from the things of this world…
In allowing us to suffer, God is treating us as his children.
He himself says so in the letter to the Hebrews: “And have you forgotten the exhortation which addresses you as sons? – ‘My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor lose courage when you are punished by him. For the Lord disciplines him whom he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.’ … God is treating you as sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers to discipline us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time at their pleasure, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness” (Heb 12:5-10).
Yes, God allows us to suffer. He disciplines us, just as parents discipline their children because they love them and don’t want to spoil them.
While this can appear to the children to be bad, and even a lack of love, it is rather a manifestation of true love on the part of their parents.
So, if in answer to our prayers for good things, or to be delivered from suffering, God allows us to suffer, this can be seen as an answer, a good answer. As the letter to the Hebrews says, it allows us to share in God’s holiness.
We shouldn’t forget either, that our suffering unites us to the much greater suffering of Jesus himself, the beloved Son of the Father, and that too is a great good.
While God will never give us something bad, he doesn’t always give us what we are asking for, as good as it may seem to us. Neither do earthly parents always give their children what they are asking for.
When the child asks for a smart phone or a computer game, the parents, moved by love, may decide that this is not in the child’s best interests, and may answer no, or not yet.
Similarly, when God doesn’t seem to answer our prayers, it may be that he knows that what we are asking for is not good for us. After all, we only see things from the human point of view and he sees them from the point of view of eternity.
So God’s answer to our prayer may be no, or not yet.
In any case, God always answers our prayers by uniting us with him through the prayer itself, which sanctifies us and gives us an increase of grace.
In short, God gives us the Holy Spirit, as he himself says: “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Lk 11:13) What better answer to prayer can there be than to receive holiness, grace, the Holy Spirit himself?