In discussions about whether God answers prayer, we sometimes hear someone say that he always answers prayer. “Sometimes the answer is yes; sometimes it is no; and sometimes it is wait a while.” This statement is usually accompanied by the qualification that God answers prayer in the way that is best for his people. Did God not give you something you wanted? It must have been bad for you, so he withheld it. The idea is that God only gives good gifts to his people. Whether that is true or not is open to debate.
Certainly “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.” (Jas 1:17Certainly God wants the best for his people. “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28) The question is whether God sometimes gives things that are not necessarily good for people.
God blesses everyone, whether they follow him or not. Since all that exists comes from God, some of God’s blessings are universal. “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.” (Matt 5:44-45) Here Jesus even says that God’s example of providing good things for all people is one justification for praying for and forgiving those that abuse us. If people can reject God and he still sends rain and sun to them, then God’s followers ought also to give good to those who reject them.
While some blessings may be universal, God has also provided less than a blessing for some who choose to reject him. Paul argues this at length in his introduction to the book of Romans.
Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things. Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves: Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen. For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections. (Rom 1:22-26)
More than this, though, God sometimes gives his own people what they ask for, whether it is good for them or not. What kind of God would do this? The kind of God who stands in the place of a parent to his people. Sometimes our children are going to be rebellious. (At least, children other than me.) Sometimes a parent has to give in and allow a child to have or do whatever the child wants, not out of frustration but out of love. Provided it will teach a lesson without lasting harm, there are times we must let them learn the hard way. God has been known to treat his people like this. “So they did eat, and were well filled: for he gave them their own desire.” (Ps 78:29) So whether we ask for good or ill, we might do well to remember the old saying. “Be careful what you pray for. You just might get it.”