A reader asks:
How does God hear the prayers of people who aren’t Christians? Growing up, I was taught that He only heard the prayers of His children, but I know that He hears the sinner’s prayer of salvation, so this can’t be entirely accurate. I know that pop culture would have us believe that anyone could and can turn to God at any time with a prayer and He will listen. What does the Bible say?
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God hears the prayers of non-Christians when GOD CHOOSES to hear the prayers of non-Christians.
Unlike God’s children who have been PROMISED access to the Throne (Heb 4.16) and PROMISED the Spirit as an Intercessor (Rom 8.26), non-Christians have no such promise. While not universally true, generally speaking God does not “hear” the prayers of the unrepentant.
Now, of course God does “hear” in the sense that He knows all, sees all, hears all. But He does not “hear” in the sense of accepting and answering… except when it pleases Him to do so and brings Him glory.
It is a generally true statement that God only hears the prayers of His children, but even then it is conditional:
- Sin must be confessed (2Chron 6.26; Psa 66.18; James 5.1; Prov 1.28)
- Unforgiveness must not be present (Mark 11.25)
- We must be asking for the right reasons (1John 5.13-15; James 4.3)
- We have to have faith in Christ (John 15.7)
- We ask in Jesus name for His glory (John 14.14)
- We have to be obedient (1John 3.22)
- We must ask God in belief (Mark 11.24)
- You must be treating your spouse in a Godly manner (1Pet 3.7)
Let me comment on two of your statements. First, Biblically speaking there is no “sinner’s prayer” that God is obliged to listen to. The “sinners prayer” has been an invention of the modern evangelism movement. Don’t get me wrong, there is certainly nothing wrong with a sinner praying and asking God to save him. But we need to be careful about instituting and accepting as “Biblical” things that have simply become tradition. The sinner’s prayer has developed from evangelistic methods, not from a Bible example or command.
Further, if a person has reached a point of praying for salvation, then God has already turned His face towards them and is actively involved in the process:
- John 6.44 – No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. (NKJV)
God has already drawn anyone who responds in faith, moreover, it is impossible to respond to God unless He has drawn that person to Himself. So of course if God draws someone, He will be inclined and ready to hear and respond to any prayer of faith or repentance that is offered.
No one can turn to God “anytime, anywhere” and have God unconditionally be obligated to hear prayer, whether saved or unsaved. As well, God hears the prayers of the unsaved when it suits His purpose, pleases Him or glorifies Himself.
We must be careful not to ever box God in and say what He can and can’t do, will or won’t do… unless God Himself has specifically declared it in His Word.
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