God Answers Prayer because He is Good

by Mary E. Stephens
Sept. 2018

"God answers our prayers not because we are good,
but because He is good." - A. W. Tozer

This is something a lot of people have more or less trouble with. As humans we tend to think that we need to earn things, that if we just strive hard enough the good things we want in life will come to us. Sometimes we are even mistaken enough to think that they are owed to us if we've put in "enough" effort in our own estimation.

James 1:17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.
Getting satisfactory answers to prayer is an area where it is sometimes easy to make this mistake. Even when we know we are not saved by works, it's common to think we earn our blessings -- answered prayers, marriage, ministry, children, financial success, etc.

This idea has likely been encouraged by certain teachings that either imply or outright declare that our blessings are earned. Some Christian songs or hymns encourage this type of thinking, and I'll use one for an example of what I'm talking about. The one that comes to mind which has bothered me for years is the song "Is Your All On the Altar?" The chorus tells us this:

"Is your all on the altar of sacrifice laid?
Your heart does the Spirit control?
You can only be blessed,
And have peace and sweet rest,
As you yield him your body and soul."

Once when we were singing this years ago I realized that I knew Christians who were blessed whose all was not "on the altar," so to speak. They had things in their lives that were not yielded to God, and yet God blessed them in spite of themselves. It dawned on me then that our blessings are not earned.

The idea that we must earn our blessings (and peace and rest) through our own efforts can be a real problem in our relationship with God because this isn't how He works. None of us can work hard enough to earn our blessings or our answers to prayer. The truth is that not one of us deserves it. We could not earn our salvation, and we cannot earn the blessing of God. We cannot earn the "right" to have our prayers answered favorably to our ideas.

God answers our prayers because He is good, not because we are. It's all of grace and the goodness of God. If we could earn any of it, we would have to earn all of it -- including our salvation. This is the very thing that leads the heathen to the vain repetitions that Jesus talked about.

Matthew 6:7-8 But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.

The heathen often think that by often repeating their prayers that their gods will hear them. This is a form of works. Prayer wheels and prayer flags are examples of this. The people who use them believe that for every rotation of the wheel or flap of the flag a prayer is going to the god's ears on their behalf.

This has been brought into Christendom and we see examples of it among the Roman Catholics in the way they pray the rosary and do the stations of the cross and light candles before shrines. By their often coming and repetitions, they imagine that they are more likely to be heard. My dad, who tuned pianos as a "tent mending" trade while pastoring, was tuning a piano once in a Roman Catholic church and had the opportunity to see this in action. There was a woman who came in to pray every half hour or so the entire time that he was tuning. It was very sad and his heart hurt for her.

There are a couple verses that may be used to imply that we can earn the privilege of having our prayers heard by "living right."

Psalm 66:18 says, "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me:" This is sometimes used to threaten us about getting answers to prayer, so to speak. However, the Psalm continues in verses 19-20, "But verily God hath heard me; he hath attended to the voice of my prayer. Blessed be God, which hath not turned away my prayer, nor his mercy from me."

Yes, we need to confess our sin and keep short accounts with the Lord. But, God is merciful. He knows if the desire of our heart is to honor Him and to walk in His ways.

Another one that I've heard mentioned is Proverbs 28:9, He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be abomination.

In the New Testament context we are "hearing" God's word (not the O.T. law specifically), when we are born again and believe the gospel. There are unsaved people who believe that God will just automatically hear them because He is God and that's "His job," yet they have no conscience about how they live their wicked lives. I doubt that God hears those prayer unless there is some trace of humility and seeking of Him.

However, I have known of cases where God did answer an unsaved person's prayer. Not surprisingly these people were headed toward salvation and looking to obey God when they prayed them. And, God, because He is good and merciful, answered their prayers.

One lady was seeking true salvation and she went out into the desert alone and prayed for God's help in that. He answered that prayer and brought her to a saving understanding of the Gospel.

Another lady I knew had gotten pregnant right at the end of high school. She was not saved at that time either, and she knew that she was not in a good place to care for a baby. Her dad had told her at some point that if she prayed anything in Jesus' name that God would answer it. So, she prayed that if God wanted her to keep the baby that He would give her a husband, otherwise she was going to have an abortion and join the military. She didn't think she was going to get an answer, so she went to enlist, but in the parking lot she met a young man who had also come to enlist and the outcome was that she did not join and they eventually got married before the baby was born. Eventually all three of them came to know Jesus Christ as their Saviour. Although she was still in her sins when she prayed, she was on her way to Christ even though she didn't realize it yet, and she wanted to do what was right even then. In His foreknowledge, God heard her prayer because He is good and He had mercy on her and her baby.

We do need to remember what James wrote about requests, however. James 4:2-6 Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts. Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God. Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy? But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.

Asking for things with lustful motives will not bring the response we hope for. Notice that this is connected in the context with friendship with the world. If you pray for things for selfish desires, if you pray for ungodly things, don't be surprised if God won't answer your prayers. God knows the difference between outward appearances and what you are really wanting in your heart. When you pray for a new dress, a spouse, a nicer house, another baby, a sports car, a bigger T.V., a better cell phone, etc. the Lord know what motivates those requests. Sometimes He gives us things that aren't good for us to teach us an important lesson, but don't be surprised if He doesn't give you what you ask for when your reasons are based on lust and worldliness.

Always Good

Perhaps one of the hardest things to do in relation to prayer is to "let" God be good even when He doesn't answer our prayers, or when He answers us in a way that we didn't want. It may be hard to realize that He answers our prayers because He is good. I think it is harder to accept that He is good because He doesn't answer them, and that it isn't necessarily because of our lack of goodness that He doesn't answer.

In the book of Job we read about Job's extreme care for his children's safety before God. Job 1:5 And it was so, when the days of their feasting were gone about, that Job sent and sanctified them, and rose up early in the morning, and offered burnt offerings according to the number of them all: for Job said, It may be that my sons have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts. Thus did Job continually. After the days of their feasting he made sacrifices and entreated God on their behalf in case they had sinned. Also, God clearly said that Job was a good man. Job 1:8 And the LORD said unto Satan, Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil? 

Yet in spite of all that, God did not "answer his prayer." He allowed all of Job's children to die in a tragic event. Furthermore, He allowed all of Job's possessions to be taken from him.

What was Job's response?

Job 1:20-22 Then Job arose, and rent his mantle, and shaved his head, and fell down upon the ground, and worshipped, And said, Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD. In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly.

Before his own bodily suffering and the attacks of his wife and friends, Job accepted all this tragedy and "unanswered prayer" from the Lord with worship and without complaint. He still considered God good, even when his prayers were not answered. Also, it does not tell us that he blamed himself or his own lack of goodness.

You see, when we think that God answers our prayers because we are "good," we will also naturally think that God didn't answer them because we were "bad." If we think that we have to earn God's blessings we will automatically think that we failed when we don't get the blessings we particularly wanted. And yet we are clearly told in scripture that God gives good things to both the just and the unjust.

Matthew 5:44-45 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.

This one hits very close to home for me. We live in a place where rain is highly variable. We may get abundance for awhile and then we may have serious drought. In 2011 the drought in Texas was severe resulting in terrible wild fires. This year (2018) we had some pretty bad drought during part of the summer. Both times our well began to fade, and now we are going to have to drill a new one in order to have a steady water supply.

Numerous times we have prayed for rain. In fact, it is a daily request on our prayer list because we are lacking so much of the time. And then there have been so many times when the storm came and it was so close that we could hear the thunder and maybe even smell the rain, and yet we got nothing. Upon occasion it has turned just before reaching us and gone another way or simply skirted us. Let me tell you, it is a great temptation to think that God is withholding rain as a punishment - because we are not "good." I have felt this way more than once!

When we have plenty of whatever we have been praying for it's easy to get complacent and feel like all is well between us and God and we almost deserve these blessings. When God doesn't answer our prayers and our need is pressing or the tragedies are piling up it is also easy to imagine that we aren't "right with God" and are therefore not seeing our prayers answered.

There is a saying, "God is good all the time. All the time God is good." Often when this is quoted the person is referring to their blessings or answered prayers. It can become trite and almost meaningless really. If we can say it with sincerity even when our prayers "weren't answered" that is something more worthwhile.

 I am reminded of this poem by Annie Johnson Flint:

A Thanksgiving

For all Thy blessings given there are many to thank Thee, Lord,
But for the gifts withholden I fain would add my word.

For good things I desired that barred me from the best,
The peace at the price of honour, the sloth of a shameful rest;

The poisonous sweets I longed for to my hungering heart denied,
The staff that broke and failed me when I walked in the way of pride;

The tinsel joys withheld that so content might still be mine,
The help refused that might have made me loose my hand from Thine;

The light withdrawn that I might not see the dangers of my way;
For what Thou hast not given, I thank Thee, Lord today.


God is good when He answers our prayers. He is good when He doesn't answer our prayers. He is good when we are "living right" and He is good when we are "not living right." He is good always, all of the time, and in every way. Sometimes His goodness leads Him to withdraw things we see as necessary "blessings." Other times He denies us answers - also because He is good. We cannot by our works make Him perform on our schedule and according to our whimsical desires. God will not be coerced into obeying our requests. We can't bribe Him with promises or good behavior. It is all about His goodness and His mercy, not ours.

Psalm 23:6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

He also does not give us what we deserve and He does not withhold His goodness because we are unworthy.

Psalm 103:10-11 He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him.

In Time of Need

Not by my need alone I ask this token
That Thou, O Lord, dost hear and heed my cry;
But by Thy promise that cannot be broken,
That all my need in Christ Thou wilt supply;
Not by my love for Thee, so oft disproved,
Not by my gifts to Thee, so poor and small,
But by Thy love that gave Thy best-beloved,
And with that one great Gift included all.

Not by my faith I plead, for that can falter,
Aye, and has faltered in the days gone by;
But by Thy faithfulness that cannot alter,
And by Thine ordered covenants on high,
Set safe and sure above Time's brief duration,
Beyond all change, eternally the same;
By these I dare my fervent supplication,
By Thy great mercies and Thy holy name.

Annie Johnson Flint


Photos and graphics by Mary Stephens.
Vintage graphics source unknown.
Mountains painting: original watercolor by Mary E. Stephens