Conversations with Angie: Angie on prayer
I've heard all of these arguments before. Actually, I'm sure I've presented/discussed them with others before. But I agree with you: they are very unsatisfactory.
1. Lack of faith
This I don't buy at all. The Bible says that if we have the faith of a mustard seed, we can move mountains. I'm thinking that if someone has enough faith to pray, then they have faith the size of a mustard seed, at least.
2. Sin in our lives
No human is completely without sin. So, if sin prevents the answer of prayers, no one's prayers would be answered. Some people argue that it's not that one commits a sin that prevents the prayer being answered, but it's a sinful lifestyle and/or a lack of submission that result in the prayer going unanswered. I suppose this is the argument that could be made regarding the friend you mentioned. She was living with her boyfriend, and because of her sinful lifestyle and failure to submit that area of her life to God, her prayers were not being answered. But is her sin really any worse than the person who thinks lustful thoughts, and whose prayers are being answered? No, because even the lustful thought makes one guilty of fornication.
Also, many people who are not walking with God claim that he answers their prayers, and is always faithful to do so. They have some faith in God, but no conviction. Yet, they will claim that he answers their prayers. If it is true that living a sinful life prevents your prayers being answered, then many who claim that their prayers are always answered shouldn't be receiving those responses, right?
I think that whether one perceives their prayers as being answered or going unanswered depends almost solely on the way that they believe.
3. God's will
Obviously, if you ask something that is contrary to God's moral law, He will not grant it. It would be a violation of His character.
Regarding God's sovereign will -- I suppose people often pray for things that are not in line with His plan. But at the same time, many people pray to ask that he reveal his will to them so that they'll know how to pray/act, and this prayer often goes unanswered.
I've found that when the possible explanations have been exhausted in this type of discussion, people will simply end by saying, "Well, it is beyond us to understand God or His ways. We're just humans. His understanding and wisdom is far beyond us, etc., etc..." Once I could rest in that, but not anymore.
Above all, the lack of response to prayer bothered me b/c it didn't correspond to what I had been taught regarding the human relationship with God. Paul said in Romans that we received the Spirit of Adoption, that we may call him Father. And in many other places, it says that we can call on him as a father and that he will care for us as a father. Ignoring prayers and needs does not sound like fatherly care to me.
I guess that's it for now...
Conversations with Angie: Answer to Angie on prayer