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Does God Hear the Prayer of an Unbeliever?

In order to properly answer the question of this article, we must begin by addressing some qualifiers. First, we need to define what prayer is. If we aren't on the same page of what it is to pray, this article may be misconstrued. After defining prayer, we must lay out a rigid definition of what an unbeliever is. After that we may answer the question as stated in the article title, where we will then have to work out some questions that arise. Let us begin!

Define Prayer

You may have heard at some point in your life that prayer is simply talking to God. We speak to a God who listens and is willing to give us His ear. This is a comprehensive, straight-forward definition that I do not personally have an issue with. However, we need not leave it there. Prayer is so much more than talking to God. Talking to God is the action we perform. We must also understand prayer from the angle of what it represents and what it does for us. John Calvin calls prayer "the chief exercise of faith" in his institutes. In his short, excellent "book", Enjoy Your Prayer Life, Michael Reeves explains that "..prayer is the primary way true faith expresses itself. This also means that prayerlessness is practical atheism, demonstrating a lack of belief in God." (p.12) This statement should rock us. I remember an old church sign I read when I was younger. It simply said, "One week without prayer makes one weak." How true! How can we call ourselves followers of Christ, worshipers of the triune God when the thought of speaking to him may only occur in a time of need? You don't worship God, you have a genie in a bottle, and God does not respond to being a genie in a bottle (at least not by your intention).

Prayer brings our will in alignment with God's will. When the wheels on your whip fall out of alignment, it won't hold a straight path. Praying to God is like taking your will to the mechanic. When we pray for something and it doesn't come to pass, we understand that this was not in the will of God. When we begin to see how he operates through answered and unanswered prayer, we come closer to him and begin to grow in wisdom. "And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us." (1 John 5:14) When we go to God in prayer and present practical requests to God that are in line with his will of command (the scriptures) you can take it to the bank that he is faithful to answer. For example, it is the will of God for all believers to grow in grace, to leave spiritual milk and go on to solid food (Hebrews 5:12-14). If we ask God for growth, He will absolutely give you growth. However, it may not be at the pace you desire.

There is much to be said concerning prayer and countless volumes written on the subject dating back to the earliest church. What has been laid out above is sufficient to move forward with our thought progression.

Define Unbeliever

An unbeliever is simply someone who does not put their faith in Christ. This statement can be taken as is and we could move on with our thought progression, however, I would like to linger on it for a few paragraphs so that we are as clear as possible on unbelief.

I live in the bible belt and one of the bad things about being in the bible belt is that everyone believes they are saved based off of a prayer they said, their baptism, or their church attendance growing up. What we fail to understand is that clinging to these alone is no different from many of the world religions. We are depending on an act we did for our salvation. Many people in the area will tell you they are saved because of their faith in Jesus, which is absolutely the only requirement for salvation. We are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. However, many of these people have zero fruit in their life and zero desire to follow the command of scripture. John 14:15 says, "If you love me you will keep my commandments." Do you claim to be a Christian saved by grace? Then you will love Christ with your whole being. If you love Him, your heart will desire to live for Him, which entails obeying His Lordship over our lives.

Sometimes the best way to define a term is to define what it is not. In this case, an unbeliever is not a believer. So what is a believer? When we obey, and submit to, Christ's Lordship over our lives we become a new person from the one we were when Christ redeemed us. This begins with faith, or belief in Jesus Christ as Lord. And if you believe in Christ as Lord this isn't simply believing that he was a real person that walked the earth. Believing in Christ means knowing that you are a sinner in need of grace, and that you trust that the work of Christ in His life and on the cross was more than sufficient to save you from the wrath of God. When we truly understand what Christ saved us from, and it isn't just lip service by saying "I believe", you can't help but to want to strive to serve him.

"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come." (2 Corinthians 5:17)

"Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him." (Romans 6:8)

What does it mean to live with Christ? It means crucifying the old self (Romans 6:6), taking up your cross daily (Luke 9:23), and setting the mind on the things of the Spirit (Romans 8:2-8). You are not doing these things if you are still setting your mind on the things of the flesh, i.e. dwelling in the life you once walked. When your heart has no new desires, desires that are rooted in love for Christ and service for His kingdom, you are not a believer. This is all that will be said concerning unbelief in this article.

The Answer

It's complicated.

We serve a sovereign, omniscient God. He knows the words that will leave our mouth before they ever become a thought (Psalm 139:4, 1 Chronicles 28:9). All things are orchestrated according to the counsel of His perfect will. God knows the thoughts and intentions of the unbeliever just like the believer. So yes, God does hear the prayer of an unbeliever. However, he does not answer them. In our sub-God lingo, he pays no mind to them. Might I offer some scripture? You bet:

Proverbs 15:8

The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD,

but the prayer of the upright is acceptable to him.

Proverbs 28:9

If one turns away his ear from hearing the law,

even his prayer is an abomination.

Isaiah 59:1-2

Behold, the LORD’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save,

or his ear dull, that it cannot hear;

2  but your iniquities have made a separation

between you and your God,

and your sins have hidden his face from you

so that he does not hear.

1 Peter 3:12

For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,

and his ears are open to their prayer.

But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil

Last but not least, and certainly the most straightforward:

John 9:31

We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him.

If you pray to God as an unbeliever and it isn't a plea for salvation from a broken spirit, God refuses to hear you. If you are not in Christ right now, do not leave this article and pray for your grandmother to get better. Do not pray for an easy week of work. Do not pray for that raise. Do not pray to make a good grade on your test tomorrow. If you are not in Christ right now, realize your need for a savior. Realize your broken and contrite spirit and call out to your savior and He will save you. Do not linger!

"If you are a lingerer, you must just go to Christ at once and be cured. You must use the old remedy; you must bathe in the old fountain. You must turn again to Christ and be healed. The way to do a thing is to do it. Do this at once!" -J.C. Ryle, Holiness p.158

Salvation Dilemma

If God does not hear the call of an unbeliever, how then are we saved by crying out to the Lord? Regeneration precedes the faith that causes us to cry out. (Romans 8:7-8) You cannot cry out to God except by His spirit. (Titus 3:5-6) God, in His infinite mercy, Has called you out of the darkness, He has pulled your feet from the miry bog and set them on solid rock. (Psalm 40:2) Praise Him for that, and submit to His Lordship over your life.

But what about...?




OT Saints

All Listed above were some immediate problems that came to mind when I was proceeding through the "Define Unbeliever" section. These are people who cried out to God before they had saving faith in Christ and God heard and answered their prayers. So why did God accept their prayer when they did not have faith in Christ? Easy. They did have faith in Christ. Everyone that was saved in the Old Testament was saved by faith in Christ. They looked forward to the cross and we look back to it. If there were a different way to be saved in the Old Testament, we would be presenting two gospels. However, Jesus says "I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6) Jesus also says in John 8:58, "Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad." Abraham looked forward to Christ.

I heard Steve Lawson discussing this topic once and he pointed out an incredible detail in the book of Romans. First, in Romans 1:17-18 he says that the righteous shall live by faith. Later on as Paul is working out his argument, he doesn't use himself or any of the other New Testament examples that he would have known about in order to make his case for salvation by faith alone. No, he uses Abraham and David. "Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness." (Romans 4:3) So, those listed at the beginning of this section had faith that God was their only means of salvation, not their works. And they looked forward to the coming Messiah who would wash away their sins.

Thanks for reading! God bless your family.

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