How To Know Your Prayers Were Answered

I recently listened to a lecture on prayer by JP Moreland. He gave a great recommendation for how to know your prayers are being answered. He took it straight from the Intelligent Design playbook. It’s a concept known as “specified complexity“.

Say you’re playing the card game “Spades”. The dealer gives you exactly 13 Spades. It’s a perfect hand! But wait, don’t get too excited. The chances of getting 13 Spades in a hand is just the same as getting ANY 13 cards in your hand. It’s not the random luck that should get you excited (otherwise you’d be excited to get any hand since they are all random). It’s the rules of “Spades” that make those 13 black cards special.

So how does this apply to prayer? Quite simply, we need to add some “rules” to our prayers. Not to test God, but so that we’ll know which random events in our lives are special. It’s quite easy and common to say to God “please give me a special week”. But that doesn’t really mean anything. We could find a $5 bill on the ground and assume that God answered our prayer for a special week. It’s a very safe prayer. We don’t ask God for too much and he doesn’t disappoint us by not giving it to us. “Please help Aunt Dora to feel better”. God may answer that prayer, but we’ll never know because the conditions on Aunt Dora feeling better are pretty loose.

What we need to do is pray boldly and specifically. We need to pray exactly for what we KNOW to be a good and righteous outcome. So for instance, a friend of mine is a nurse and she recently started a medical ministry at our church. She asked for prayer for her first meeting that it would “go well”. That’s kind of a pansy target in my mind. So I prayed with her that God would specifically send a doctor to the meeting that would model humility and what it looks like to submit to the leadership of a female nurse in a ministry setting. I prayed that this doctor would make him/herself know to my friend at the meeting by saying something along those lines to her. I knew that if it had happened my friend would not only think that the meeting went well, but she would know that God was active in her life.

Here’s the trouble. God didn’t answer that prayer. It didn’t happen (yet, I’m still cooking it). So now I’m bummed because I KNOW God didn’t answer my prayer. If I had just prayed for the meeting to “go well” I could assume he answered my prayer, but I wouldn’t really know. Honestly, my friend is pretty on top of things, she could set up a good meeting without God’s active role in it. There’d be no way to know if it was God’s hand at work in that meeting.

So I’ve started to add some “rules” to my prayers. What if 95% of the time God doesn’t answer my prayer and give me what I ask for? That’s going to suck. But that also means that 5% of the time I’ll know that God really WAS listening to me and answering my exact requests. That 5% will be SO much more encouraging than 100% of not knowing one way or the other.

The same night I prayed for my friend’s meeting, I also prayed for my foster daughter. I prayed that both her boyfriend and another guy friend would be taken out of her life by the end of the week (a remote possibility for one if not both). Within 36 hours they were both gone.

I also should throw in that you can’t just “dive bomb” these things and think that a 10-seconds-in-passing is going to do it. You’ve got to be committed and consistent to praying for the same thing. But that’s all for another post: “How To Get Your Prayers Answered.”

18 thoughts on “How To Know Your Prayers Were Answered

  1. Sorry; I don’t buy this.

    If God is only answering your prayers 5% of the time, I imagine you’re starting to get into the realm of stuff that was going to happen anyway. Unless these 5% answers are particularly miraculous such that the probability of it actually happening on its own was absolute zero or very near thereto.

  2. yes, this is what I’m getting at. You have to be asking for things that are miraculous (and perhaps my examples don’t do this justice). You have to be asking for things that you shouldn’t be able to assume could have happened without God’s hand in it.

  3. Good post and good reminder. A good way to see how God is truly working in your life. I also think general prayers that we won’t see the answer for years are also good. Like when we pray for our child’s salvation and their spouse. We pray for their salvation at an early age, and that they will come to love and obey God. But how is that measurable until years later? I guess coupled with present acts of obedience that are age appropriate are a good way.

  4. Yes, we should abandon our notion that God is a vending machine.

    But the Bible certainly teaches us that God wants us to ask for things and that he’s inclined at times to change his mind based on our prayers.

    The Bible also says that we are co-laborers with God. Part of the way we labor with God is through prayer and there are some things he chooses not to do because we don’t pray.

  5. Hmm. I mean, the Bible does indicate that God answers prayers. More importantly to me, Jesus himself specifically mentions it on more than one occasion.

    I’m not sure really how i feel about the whole issue.

  6. Yes, Jesus says some REALLY troubling things like “If you remain in me, and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.”
    Does he REALLY mean that? “whatever you wish”?!?!

  7. That’s pretty much the kind of thing I’m talking about. Yet, amputees’ limbs don’t get healed…

    To be less flippant about it, I’ve seen lots of people pray for things and not get their prayers answered, and I’m not sure how to reconcile that. Sure, on the one hand, you can go back in and try to find some way in which their prayer was answered “in a sense” or metaphorically, or whatever, but that approach is fraught with confirmation bias- if you’re sure the prayer was answered before you go looking for the answer, you’re bound to find it, even if it means weighing the data in a wildly disproportionate way (i.e. overvaluing the things that seem to prove your point and undervaluing or minimizing the things that seem to disprove it). It’s like Tarot cards and such: if you interpret the meaning broadly enough, you’re bound to find that it was fulfilled somehow.

    On the other hand, maybe that’s exactly what Jesus was talking about. Perhaps he is encouraging confirmation bias as a way of faithfully looking at the world, increasing our gratitude towards God, and appreciating the rich blessings that we have.

  8. quite the contrary. amputees ARE sometimes healed. The blind are able to see. Cancer is removed from people’s bodies and full blown AIDS is taken away from people through prayer. Miracles are happening, I hope you’re able to see them someday.

    See my post for my own personal experience. There are many stories I have heard from people I consider to be credible witnesses, but I’m careful not to share anything i haven’t seen firsthand (as I know how quickly stories can become urban legend).

  9. Well, I won’t rule that out either, but if it happens at all, it seems like the exception rather than the rule.

  10. That’s really neat. If anything its not that god doesnt answer your prayers because of what you prayed for, god answers all prayers jsut as long as you call him, and he knows that you really need help with that particular prayer. The only difference is that, “PATIENCE IS VIRTUE” you can’t tell god when you want something done, he does it at his own time, and when he knows it’s right. Just keep in mind… “GOD! IS ALWAYS ON TIME”. I learn this the heard way, I need god in life for so many things that I couldnt fix, and with the consistent praying and calling god to take my problems away and fix my problems, My pryers were answered, it wasnt answered when I wanted it to be, it took time, but he fixed it. Until this day, I seldomly go to church, only because, the timing of service doesnt fit right with my schedule for work, (it’s still no excuse) but I ask god everyday for forgiveness that I wasnt able to make it to his house. And another things is, I pray at home, in my car, at work, anywhere I’m at, I will talk to god, and thats either regular conversations or just asking him to continue helping me out with my life and to continue blessing me with a great life I have now, that he provided me and my family with.

    Dont only pray when you need help, and get upset when it doesnt turn out the way you wanted it to. Pray to Jesus as a daily routine, make time each day for god and yourself. Dont make praying to god be chore, make it as if he was everything that you do, NEVER FORGET GOD!. HE SHOULD BE NUMBER ONE ON YOUR LIST EVERYDAY AND NIGHT.

    and without god in your life, you are still incomplete, irregardless if your married and have kids, if you dont have god, you are still incomplete.

    “God is listening and is just waiting for you to call him, call him and let him know that you choose to give him your life, and from there, you dont have to worry about anything, He will take care of you, protect you, and provide you.”

  11. …………..provide you with what you are in need of,


    I have god in my life, and I fell into Satans gutter once, I regret doing it, and I renounce that I stomp on satan, and will NEVER, EVER, let Satan pull me in again. My marriage almost ended because of that, Now!……… in less than 1 week of fighting with my husband, I prayed and prayed to god to take my marriage back into his hands and fix it, I wanted it fix there and then, but god did it at the perfect time. Like I said, Believe in him, have faith in him, and just TRUST him, and he will not let you down.

    “I Love you God!”

    I praise the Lord above, the almighty one, in Jesus name.


  12. I`ve read all your responses and I appreciate your suppositions but we should rely on the Word for answers.

    Jesus provided a model prayer which we call The Lord`s Prayer. (Matthew 6:5-13) This prayer encompasses the well known acronym ACTS, which models the order of a prayer pleasing to the Lord:

    Adoration (for who God is, what He does, how we love Him)
    Confession (and repentance of our sins)
    Thanksgiving (for blessings, answered prayers, anything you are grateful for)
    Supplication (also known as prayer requests)

    In John 14:12-14, Jesus tells the disciples that whatever we ask in His name, that He will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. And if we ask anything in His name, He will do it.

    Praying in Jesus` name means identifying the content and motive of our prayers with Jesus` character and purposes (the work of His Father, God`s will). When we pray in Jesus` name, truly identified with His will, we can be confident that ours is a prayer God will delight to answer.

  13. Most importantly 1 John 5:14-15 says (all caps are mine):
    “Now this is the confidence that we have in Him that if we ask ANYTHING ACCORDING TO HIS WILL, He hears us. And id we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him.”

    So the question is how do you pray according to His will? By studying the Word of God, by reading the Bible.

    But just reading it is not sufficient. You have to let the Word make its home in your heart. You have to get into the Word to get the Word into you. Then through the power of the Holy Spirit He will bring scripture to your mind and you will be able to and delight to pray for His will.

    Love in Christ.

  14. I completely disagree with this post. I believe that God answers ALL our prayers. it just isnt always the answer we want. I think we pray for discernment and for God’s will to be done. We pray and ask for specific things, we name it and claim it. we believe that God HAS answered our prayers, and we wait on him to disclose the answer to us. We thank him for answereing ALL our prayers.. whether the answer be yes, no or wait. He will guide us always.

  15. “And whatsoever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive” (Matthew 21:22).

    The problem is, there isn’t room for a “no” answer here, only a lack of belief.

  16. My husband and I are currently seperated, he is pushing for divorce, and I am totally against it. I have given it to God, and praying like crazy, letting God change me and show me how to be the wife and mother he chooses me to be.

    The night my husband surprised me with his “I want a divorce!”. He also said he had asked/prayed for me to change and I never did. Well, God indeed heard his prayers, and He waited patiently for me to ask Him to change me. My husbands prayers were answered, they were answered in His time not his time.

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