Tue April 17th, 2018
Does God only listen to the prayers of His people, the righteous (those who have right standing with God) or does He hear everyone? If He hears everyone, does he answer?
These are reasonable questions and we will try to give a Biblical answer to them!
As Christians we believe that God is relational and wants to hear from us and speak to us. We see therefore that prayer is a natural behaviour for Christians and one that we shouldn’t ignore, because as those who have the right to stand before God our prayers are life changing and world changing. Therefore, I don’t think I need to substantiate the fact that God listens to the prayers of his people, - but that isn’t the question. One must ask, how does anyone become a child of God – and that of course involves our praying to the Father in the name of Jesus.
whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. Acts 2:21
So, God is always listening out for the prayers of people who want to know him, He hears those prayers and they are saved! What about the prayers of those who are not seeking salvation but are seeking some other benefit? What if they do not know about God and do not understand?
Mark 7:26 Now the woman was Greek, a Syrophoenician by birth, and she kept asking Him to drive the demon out of her daughter. 27 He said to her, "Allow the children to be satisfied first, because it isn't right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs."
28 But she replied to Him, "Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs."
29 Then He told her, "Because of this reply, you may go. The demon has gone out of your daughter." 30 When she went back to her home, she found her child lying on the bed, and the demon was gone.
The Syrophoenician woman didn’t know God, wasn’t one of ‘his people’ but she wanted to see her child set free and asked. She had no relationship with the Father, but she understood that she was to the Jews ‘a dog’ and that even the dogs ate crumbs under the table. Jesus recognised that she was seeking and sincere in her ‘prayer’ and he granted her request.
I think we should always remember that Jesus was always for the marginalised and we shouldn’t write anyone off because they are not currently part of God’s people.
If people pray sincerely, they may indeed find a powerful answer:
let us draw near to God with a sincere heart Heb 10:22 NIV
Is there a difference between the prayers that a Christian can expect to be answered and a non-Christian?
Firstly, we should remember that God is not a form of vending machine. We should not consider that when we are in need should be the time to pray – God is waiting to hear from us all the time, and prayer should be the Christian’s vital breath. Christians and unbelievers can share this attitude and we all need to realise that we can’t treat God in that way. I meet a lot of people whose first thought is to describe themselves as atheists (people who don’t believe in God), but actually they are far from it – if anything they are agnostic – simply ‘not-knowing’ whether there is a God or anything about him. I am often amused when they let out in the next mouthful that they pray in times of stress or difficulty. They used to say in the first world war “There are no atheists in the trenches” and only this week I talked to a man who served in the second world war with an ‘ardent atheist’ whom he caught praying when they were under fire.
However, one represents one’s belief, there is sometimes a natural reaction to call out to God, or sometimes to lash out against him. I have met many parents over the years who have faced a cancer diagnosis in their child. These are often parents who would never go to church or even think about God but they often react to their diagnosis with “How can God allow this to happen to my child?”
The reality is that we may reach out to God in times of crisis with a simple prayer or we may push him away, but God hears us and will respond appropriately.
What about when people pray inappropriately – for example they call out to God not knowing who He is or understanding Him in anyway? Isn’t it like idolatry to pray to a god when you need one and then ignore it the rest of the year? A lot of Christians would say this and to some degree I can understand, but just like creation testifies to its creator and if they choose people can meet Him as a result, so also people can call out to God in desperation and meet the Saviour.
From the creation of the world His invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what He has made. As a result, people are without excuse. Rom 1:20-21
God is expecting us to ask, and if someone sincerely reaches out to God they may also get a fair hearing from God. Our motivation in asking must be pure though.
You do not have because you do not ask. 3 You ask and don't receive because you ask wrongly, so that you may spend it on your desires for pleasure. James 4:2-3
When I was a little boy, long before I entered into relationship with Jesus, an elderly near-neighbour was dying. She was in her eighties and in an oxygen tent at hospital. My dad told me to pray for her and I did. Her family expected her to die, but it never occurred to me that she would. Although it was one of the first prayers I ever uttered God healed her and she came back home. Now, I would say that I wasn’t a believer, but that God answered that prayer!
There are lots of other stories like that – probably you have some too, but what I am sure of is that God is good and kind too. If non-believers sincerely call out to Him, then God will listen and act – just as much as God will ignore those prayers that are uttered in selfishness or bitterness from those who do believe.
The Power of Prayer
Someone famously said that "Prayer is like the dove that Noah sent forth, which blessed him not only when it returned with an olive-leaf in its mouth, but when it never returned at all.”
How does God work in places where the good news has never been preached? I think that God is merciful and will respond to all who call out to Him in sincerity and with pure heart. I also know that you can be sincerely wrong, but the Father wants to engage with all who reach out to him and I believe that God will help those along the way who are not quite sure how to do it.