I remember someone once asking me, “What if a prayer I offer to God conflicts with a prayer someone else is offering? I mean, what if answering my prayer will mean not answering another person’s prayer? What then?” I think that’s an excellent, interesting question—and one I won’t pretend to know the answer to. I do know that, whichever prayer conforms most fully to the will and purpose of God, will be the one that he grants (1 John 5:14). Of course, he may not answer affirmatively to either.
The idea of competing prayers is an interesting one, yet there is one competition that the Christian doesn’t have to worry about: God answering the prayer of the wicked over the prayer of the righteous.
The Psalmist writes in Psalm 5:
“Give ear to my words, O Lord;
consider my groaning.
Give attention to the sound of my cry,
my King and my God,
for to you do I pray.
O Lord, in the morning you hear my voice;
in the morning I prepare a sacrifice for you and watch.
For you are not a God who delights in wickedness;
evil may not dwell with you.
The boastful shall not stand before your eyes;
you hate all evildoers.
You destroy those who speak lies;
the Lord abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man.” (1-6)
First, notice how the writer frames prayer: it is a petition to the king. That needs to be remembered when we come to God in prayer. No prayer is “guaranteed” in the sense that we have a “right” to it being answered. We plea to God and wait for him to respond (notice the language of preparing a sacrifice and waiting to see if God accepts it). This sense of reverence is sometimes lost in our day of casual, quick prayers. Modern Christianity makes God seem like a cosmic coke machine: you put your prayer quarter in, and your request is granted. This psalm reminds us how twisted this view is.
After this, the psalmist also recognizes that his prayer isn’t competing with the wicked. In fact, he is a God who hates wickedness; he doesn’t enjoy it and he doesn’t promote it. This should grant the righteous some comfort. As we look at the evil in the world, we may wonder why God allows certain things to happen, yet we can be sure it isn’t because he desires evil to rule and reign. In fact, he is working in his majestic wisdom to work out an unconquerable righteousness that will fill the entire earth. In this, we place our hope.