As we are continuing in our 30 Days of Prayer season, many of us may be starting to pray for the very first time. And some of us are thinking that God doesn’t seem to be hearing or accepting our prayers; he seems distant—cold. You may be thinking, “Why would God be listening to me when I haven’t been living in a way that’s pleasing to him? He’s obviously disgusted with me.” Or what about those who are not Christians? Does he hear their prayers?
The answers to all of these questions are not simple, but when we look at God’s word, we can thread together some responses.
1. Who Does God Hear?
In one sense, God hears all prayers—even the ones not directed to him. It’s a fundamental Christian belief that God is all-knowing (omniscient). So, when we ask the question Who is the person that God hears?, we are asking Who is the person that God pays attention to when they pray? The answer to that question can be found in a couple of different verses.
The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their cry for help (Psalm 34:15).
The Lord is near all who call out to him, all who call out to him with integrity (Psalm 145:18).
Indeed, the Lord’s arm is not too weak to save, and his ear is not too deaf to hear. But your iniquities are separating you from your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not listen (Isaiah 59:1-2)
. . . I will look favorably on this kind of person: one who is humble, submissive in spirit, and trembles at my word (Isaiah 66:2).
So, it is the prayers of the righteous, those with integrity, those who are without sin, and those who are humble and submissive to his will that God listens to. This is a problem for us. Why? In Romans 3, Paul quotes the psalmist: “as it is written: ‘There is no one righteous, not even one. There is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away; all alike have become worthless. There is no one who does what is good, not even one’” (Romans 3:10-12).
We all, on our own merits, are not worthy to have our prayers heard by God. Yet, there is one who is worthy. Jesus Christ, the very Son of God, is without sin, and the Father listens to his every word. And Jesus was righteous (1 John 2:1), had complete integrity because of his sinlessness (1 Peter 2:22), and was completely humble and submissive to God’s will during his time on earth (Philippians 2:8-9). And when we turn to him in faith, he becomes our mediator (1 Timothy 2:5) because he lives constantly at the throne of God, interceding for us (Hebrews 7:25). And the author of Hebrews says that since we have Jesus as our mediator, “let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in time of need” (4:16). Because of what Jesus has done, God listens to every one of our prayers when we place our faith in him.
2. So, Does God Hear the Unbeliever
On the basis of this biblical evidence, I think the answer is that God hears the prayer of the unbeliever, but he chooses not to listen to them. One pastor said that it’s like someone who is sitting behind a couple on a park bench. He can hear their conversation, but he isn’t paying attention. Now, there are instances in the Bible when God listened to the unrighteous when they humbled themselves and sought him out fervently, and this is the prayer and heart posture of one who is becoming a Christian. But, it’s a true posture of humility and a true seeking after the God of the Bible that captures his attention (Luke 18:9-14).
3. What Is the Type of Prayer that God Answers?
Many of us tend to forget that God can answer with a no. Receiving a no is an answered prayer. But which are the prayers that God is inclined to answer with a yes?
The apostle John says, “This is the confidence we have before him: If we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears whatever we ask, we know that we have what we have asked of him” (1 John 5:14-15). The logic of this is followable. God has revealed his will in scripture. And the things he has declared and promised are in line with this will, and so, if we pray according to these things, we can be assured that he will say yes.
This truth should push us more and more to study God’s word, because the more we know God’s word, the more we know his will. And if we love God, our desires will begin to conform to his desires, which he has revealed in the Bible, and we will begin to pray more for the things that God longs to answer with a yes.
So, a very simple summary, we are only heard because of the righteousness of our mediator. When we pray “in Jesus Christ name,” and our prayers our in accordance with his will, we can both be assured that we will be heard and answered with a yes.
-Alex Nolette (Equip Coordinator/Community Groups)