Q&A: God's Deaf Ear

God's Deaf Ear

Question

Does God answer the prayers of unbelievers? Does he answer the prayers of those who believe there is a God but are not saved?

Answer

You've chosen the words of your question well. Some people begin by asking, "Can God hear the prayers of the unrighteous?" to which I respond humorously, "God can hear anything. He's not deaf."

The question really is, "Does God give regard to (or answer) the prayers of those who are not of his people?"

Oddly, sometimes God does not regard the prayers even of the righteous. Notice what God tells Jeremiah: "As for you, do not pray for this people, and do not lift up cry or prayer for them, and do not intercede with Me; for I do not hear you" (7:16); and "Therefore do not pray for this people, nor lift up a cry or prayer for them; for I will not listen when they call to Me because of their disaster" (11:14). And in the New Testament, "If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that does not lead to death, he should pray and God will give him life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that he should pray about that" (1 John 5:16). In other words, don't bother praying about certain things, for I won't even listen. I won't answer your prayer in the way you wish, so don't bother.

According to Psalm 51, answers to prayer can be hindered by unrepented sin. Also, James 5 teaches that those who wish to be healed can have their healing hindered by unrepentant sin.

In short, if even Christians can experience a disruption in the efficacy of their prayer lives, can unbelievers pray rightly ever?

Jesus taught that prayer may be characterized by
  • importunity - a laying hold of God's willingness to bless (Luke 11:5-8)
  • tenacity - a persistence and certainty in praying (Luke 18:1-8)
  • humility — penitence and a sense of unworthiness (Luke 18:10-14)
  • compassion (Matt. 18:21-35)
  • simplicity (Matt. 6:5-6; Mark 12:38-40)
  • intensity and watchfulness (Mark 13:33; 14:38)
  • unity of heart and mind in the community of prayer (Matt 18:19 ff.)
  • expectancy (Mark 11:24)
Think for a moment: Can a non-Christian even for one moment pray in obedience to these traits? Or can he pray in the "name of Jesus" other than a perfunctory fashion? God does not answer the prayers of non-believers because they pray wrong prayers for the wrong reason.

It is only through the gospel advantages of adoption, the intercession of Christ on our behalf, the indwelling Holy Spirit, and many other sanctifying privileges, that Christians are able to come boldly into God's presence to obtain mercy in times of need.

Answer by Rev. Robert Barnes

Rev. Robert Barnes is a minister in the PCA and the Managing Editor for Bright Media.