Is God obligated to answer our prayers? Yes…and no.
Let’s start with no. God is not obligated to answer any number of prayers. For example, he is neither obligated nor able to answer impossible requests, such as squaring a circle or revoking the law of non-contradiction. Furthermore, he is not obligated to grant immoral requests. He will not – and morally cannot – help you cheat on your high school geometry test, your spouse, or your taxes. Finally, although he is able, he will not answer immodest requests, such as praying for the winning lottery numbers or getting a date with a supermodel. (Although when my wife agreed to marry me, I certainly felt like I’d won the lottery and gotten a supermodel thrown in to boot.)
So, with the obvious exceptions of impossible, immoral, and immodest requests, is God obligated to answer our prayers? Let me add one more qualification: There’s no such thing as unanswered prayers, as long as you remember that “No” and “Not yet” are also answers.
Now that the question has been properly qualified, I think we can provide a strong affirmative answer: God is obligated to answer our prayers. How do I know this? Because God’s word says so! Consider 1 John 5:13-15:
I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.
John makes three statements here that are important in our prayer lives:
First, the most important prayer request we can make is for the gift of eternal life. According to John’s own testimony, the entire point of this letter is to enable his readers to know that they have eternal life. And how do we know we have eternal life? We must have faith in Jesus Christ. He is God’s Son, the atoning sacrifice for our sins, the means by which God saves us and welcomes us into eternity. This most important prayer request puts all our other requests into proper perspective. If we don’t have eternal life, nothing else we ask for matters. If we do have eternal life, nothing else we ask for matters that much.
Second, we can approach God confidently in prayer because we know he listens to us. The gift of Jesus Christ is the greatest gift that can be given or received by anyone. If God gives us that gift, then he truly cares for us, and if he cares, then he also listens.
Finally, if God listens, he answers. John makes a bold declaration on God’s behalf. Any prayer request offered “according to God’s will” is answered affirmatively. The key thing, then, is to pray like Jesus whenever we pray: “yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).