Q - Does God ever ignore our prayers? I was at a conference this past weekend where one of the speakers noted that God doesn't listen to our prayers sometimes. He referenced Isaiah 58:4, Amos 5, and James 1:6-8. Those passages talk about how if we don't pray in sincerity and belief, it's not worth praying. IS that a correct interpretation?
A - Thanks for the questions. Here are the passages you mentioned, some context:
""Why do we fast, and you do not see it? afflict ourselves, and you take no note of it?" Lo, on your fast day you carry out your own pursuits, and drive all your laborers. Yes, your fast ends in quarreling and fighting, striking with wicked claw. Would that today you might fast so as to make your voice heard on high! Is this the manner of fasting I wish, of keeping a day of penance: That a man bow his head like a reed, and lie in sackcloth and ashes? Do you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD?" - Isaiah 58:3-5
"I hate, I spurn your feasts, I take no pleasure in your solemnities; Your cereal offerings I will not accept, nor consider your stall-fed peace offerings. Away with your noisy songs! I will not listen to the melodies of your harps. But if you would offer me holocausts, then let justice surge like water, and goodness like an unfailing stream. Did you bring me sacrifices and offerings for forty years in the desert, O house of Israel? You will carry away Sakkuth, your king, and Kaiwan, your star god, the images that you have made for yourselves; For I will exile you beyond Damascus, say I, the LORD, the God of hosts by name." - Amos 5: 21-27
"Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you encounter various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. And let perseverance be perfect, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. But if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and he will be given it. But he should ask in faith, not doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed about by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord, since he is a man of two minds, unstable in all his ways." - James 1: 2-8In the first two Old Testament verses the people of God are being warned to turn away from their sin. They are acting as hypocrites do by not allowing their prayers and fasting to change their hearts, thus they continue in their sinful ways.
James is telling the people to pray, but to make sure it is done in a faithful way. Without faith, prayer is neutered.
Certainly these verses warn against prayers that rely on our own strength or prayers that are faithless, which is why the Catechism echoes these sentiments:
2609 Once committed to conversion, the heart learns to pray in faith. Faith is a filial adherence to God beyond what we feel and understand. It is possible because the beloved Son gives us access to the Father. He can ask us to "seek" and to "knock," since he himself is the door and the wayIt then says:
2732 The most common yet most hidden temptation is our lack of faith. It expresses itself less by declared incredulity than by our actual preferences. When we begin to pray, a thousand labors or cares thought to be urgent vie for priority; once again, it is the moment of truth for the heart: what is its real love? Sometimes we turn to the Lord as a last resort, but do we really believe he is? Sometimes we enlist the Lord as an ally, but our heart remains presumptuous. In each case, our lack of faith reveals that we do not yet share in the disposition of a humble heart: "Apart from me, you can do nothing."So, the problem is never on God's end. He wants us to pray, but not just out of desperation, but out of faith and love - seeking His faith constantly.
You can rest assured that God does NOT ignore our prayers. In fact, He cannot do any such thing. He knows and desires a relationship with you through prayer. But, you must also do your part in building up your faith, hope, and love, which are gifts from Him. Without praying with these three virtues, our prayer will be of no use - because our hearts do not seek Him, but ourselves.
Sometimes it is for our own good that our prayers are not answered in the way we want. But, they are always answered - just sometimes with yes / sometimes with no / sometimes with not now.
The Catechism says:
2737 "You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions." If we ask with a divided heart, we are "adulterers"; God cannot answer us, for he desires our well-being, our life. "Or do you suppose that it is in vain that the scripture says, 'He yearns jealously over the spirit which he has made to dwell in us?'" That our God is "jealous" for us is the sign of how true his love is. If we enter into the desire of his Spirit, we shall be heard.I hope this helps.
Do not be troubled if you do not immediately receive from God what you ask him; for he desires to do something even greater for you, while you cling to him in prayer.
God wills that our desire should be exercised in prayer, that we may be able to receive what he is prepared to give.