It is not unusual to have people ask me to pray for them and it is an honor and privilege to do so. However, I try to be very honest in my response to their requests and sometimes I have had to tell a few folks that I am pretty sure the Lord will not answer what they have asked me to pray for.
First, let me give you kind of a silly example to illustrate the principle. Let’s say you jumped out of an airplane, without a parachute, knowing that it was wrong and dangerous, and now you are lying in a hospital bed with many broken bones. In the midst of this stark reality, you acknowledge and confess that what you did was totally wrong then ask me to pray with you that the Lord forgive you, bring rapid healing to your body, and give you wisdom and discernment to not do that again – for this I can pray in confidence. But if you tell me, as you are stepping onto the plane, that you intend to jump without a parachute and would like me to pray that you don’t get hurt – well, I am sorry but I don’t expect a favorable response to that prayer. Asking the Lord to violate one of His universal principles, the law of gravity, so you can do what you want will probably not go well for you.
While we might laugh at that illustration, we want to be careful to remember that there are eternal principles on which the universe is founded. And not just physical ones; we are all governed by a moral code that cannot be violated without inevitable consequences. Sin always has a consequence.
So here is a more realistic example, one I sometimes hear. You tell me that you have a family gathering next weekend and your father will be there. You are really concerned because for years you have been extremely angry at your father and do not want to create a scene, so you ask me to pray that the Lord will help you keep your anger under control and that He will prevent your father from saying or doing anything that will incite that anger. “Lord, help me control my anger,” or even, “Lord, take away my anger,” may not get the answer you expect. God has told us how to deal with anger (Ephesians 4:31-32) and until we endeavor to do what he has already told us to do, nothing additional will probably happen. If you take your anger with you to the family reunion, it will affect you, and probably others, no matter how you pray. The better request, the biblical one, the one that will get an answer, is to ask me to pray with you for the discernment and courage to forgive your father from your heart and release most or all of that anger – period.
If you harbor anger, which is sin, God’s principles apply, even if you are a Christian. It is one thing to recognize and confess known sin, then ask the Lord to consider tempering the consequences; it is quite another to embrace that sin and pray, expecting Him to minimize the impact and consequence of the sin you intentionally choose to commit. Let’s not ask God to violate His own principles; that request will always lead to disappointment. Instead, let’s remember (or find out) what He has already said about dealing with some issue, then ask Him to help us go to the root of the problem and get healing – then we won’t have to worry about the consequences.