In Luke 18:8 Christ asks the rhetorical question, “Nevertheless, when the son of man comes, will he really find faith on the earth.” The answer to Christ’s question is “yes”, because Christ says elsewhere that there will be an “elect” on the earth when he returns. Christ asks this rhetorical question in the context of teaching his disciples about persistence in prayer (see Luke 17:22).

This account of Christ’s teaching is not just about persistence. It ties the parable about persistence in prayer to the faith of the one who is praying. It teaches us that we should have the faith that God will always answer our prayers, and therefore we should “always pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1). Being human though we ask ourselves, does God always hear and answer our prayers?

The whole point of the parable in Luke 18 is that God always answers the prayers of a Christian, his own elect (vs. 7). As God’s own elect we need to understand and recognize God’s answers to prayer. God only answers our prayers in a way that increases our faith, and for this to happen, we must understand His answers.

In answering our prayers God uses three basic approaches. The first is the one humans would choose for God to use every time. It is the immediate “yes”. In this situation we pray for God to deliver us from a trial and he does it speedily, in a moment. In a moment, that very day, the financial crisis fades away; or the car battery immediately returns to life so we can get home. Humanly, that is how we like prayers to be answered. As humans we like things settled, wrapped up in a nice neat package with God’s obvious “yes”; however, we know that will not always be the case.

To be realistic, we know that immediate answers seldom come, and we know in our hearts why. If God answered every prayer with an immediate “yes”, there would be no need for faith. One of the most basic purposes of prayer is to build faith, lasting faith, and that means being resolute in prayer. The parable of the persistent woman in Luke 18 teaches that if our prayer is not answered quickly, we must exercise faith by continuing to seek God’s answer. This scenario describes God’s second approach.

God’s second approach to answering is “when the time is right for you.” God doesn’t have preprogrammed or boilerplate answers to prayer. God has specific answers to our specific prayers that are perfectly prepared for us as individuals. God knows our strengths, our weaknesses, our needs, and our hearts. And there are no two individuals exactly alike. God’s answer to an individual’s prayer is perfectly crafted for that person alone. Only God has that wisdom. He knows the right answer and timing that will build faith and develop righteous character. Therefore, comparing ourselves and the answers we receive to answers our fellow Christians receive is wrong. While hearing about a fellow Christian’s answered prayer is inspiring and it can teach us lessons about God’s blessings, it does not necessarily apply to our situation or to us.

If we are not ready to receive God’s perfect answer to our prayer, isn’t it God’s wisdom to delay the answer until we are ready. God knows when and where the answer will have the desired effect of strengthening our faith. That may mean that God will continue to work with us to prepare us for the answer. Preparing for the answer equates to God working with us through more prayer and experience until one day we realize we have come to the answer of the original prayer. Such a situation will increase faith if we stop to consider the perfect path God has brought us down in answering the prayer.

There is a third basic answer to prayer that we need to recognize. That answer is “no”. The “no” may be immediate and clear. Or it may not come until you and God have explored the entire subject over a period of time through prayer. That means God hears and listens to your reasoning concerning the matter during the time that you persist in prayer. It is not wrong to try to convince God that your view on the matter is correct.

“Put me in remembrance; let us contend together; state your case, that you may be acquitted.” (Isaiah 43:26)

But when the final decision is made, we need to recognize and accept the answer, even when it is “no”. Paul discusses his own experience with such a situation in 2nd Corinthians 12:7.

God always hears and answers the prayers of His people. We should never doubt that He will answer, and therefore we must always continue in prayer. However, as Christians and His children, we need to build faith by recognizing God’s answers to our prayers; and that His answers are specifically and perfectly crafted for us.