The 3rd objection is that prayer is unwarranted from answers witheld.
This objection might be stated thus: ‘In the very instances where we might have antecedently anticipated the divine interposition we are often disappointed; leaving the alternative, either that God was unrighteous in his denial, or that his providence did not cover the case, and the prayer was unwarranted and gratuitous.’
1. We may err in assuming the request to be right, and that God was under obligation to hear and grant the request. Now,
There are two classes of objects which may be covered in prayer: The first embraces all things about which the divine will is clearly ascertained; in reference to which nothing remains but to believe the promise and to pray in constant expectation of the answer…But there are other things falling into the second class, in regard to which the will of God is not antecedently known; perfectly certain as to God, but contingent as to man, to whom the disclosure comes only through the issue. Here the prayer is to be offered with entire submission to the sovereign pleasure of him who will give or withhold at his own discretion.
2. ‘The matter of the prayer may be right, while its spirit may be wrong; and thus lacking the first element of prayer, it is discounted as worthless.’
In man’s present sinful estate, the opportunities for mistake are fearfully multiplied. The prayer may be insolent, dictating to the Almighty rather than supplicating his favor. It may be arrogant, claiming as a right what can only be accorded as a privilege. It may be presumptuous, disregarding, like that of Cain, the appointed way of approach to the mercy-seat. It may be intensely selfish, having regard only to the creature’s advantage rather than to the honor of him who is supreme. It may be impertinent, robbing God of all discretion in the time and mode of the answer.
3. ‘The prayer may have been unexeptionable, both in its substance and it its spirit, whilst the providence of God may have been misconstrued in relation to the answer.’
(a) ‘God’s providence is projected upon a scale too large for us to measure: and for aught we can tell, the precise answer to our request might derange the wider plans known only to himself.’
‘In a scheme so vast and complex as this, can we place the finger on this or that spot and say, antecedently, what it is proper for the Deity to do just there, unless we know its relation to the grand whole?’
(b) ‘The answer may be only postponed as a means of moral discipline. The key to the interpretation of this earthly life is, that it is a state of discipline. It is rendered such by the intervention of grace, which provides and offers a redemption from the curse and punishment of sin. “We are here to be educated for a higher and holier sphere, and each life is ordered, in all its details, to develope and cultivate the virtues which shall fit us for that higher state.’
So it is that God develops patience in us, along with humility and hope.
(c) ‘The present denial may be ordered for the purpose of securing the answer which is desired.’
‘The benefit we ask may be his will to confer; but the jewel must have its own setting.’
An example is found in the delayed fulfilment of the promise made to Abraham.
(d) ‘God may answer prayer, not in form but in substance, by the substitution of higher blessings than those asked for.’ See Eph 3:20.
B.M Palmer, Theology of Prayer