Whose Prayers Does God Hear?
Q: I’m a Southern Baptist. I’ve been told by some that God doesn’t hear the prayer of sinners. I assume this means God doesn’t answer prayers of sinners. Some of the Scriptures given to support this are as follows: Proverbs 28:9; Proverbs 15:29; John 9:31; Isaiah 56:6-7.
A: This is hardly a Southern Baptist-only understanding of the Bible. Many passages of Scripture speak of God choosing not to hear the prayers (or receive the offerings and sacrifices) of unbelievers. Your understanding of God’s “hearing” of prayers is Biblical: When God “hears,” He listens with intent to answer. Only the prayers of the righteous are guaranteed to be heard and answered. The Father hears because of a relationship with His children.
We might use the earthly illustration of opening the mail box and sorting it into different piles. We choose to read and respond to those senders with whom we have a relationship, whether they be family, friends, creditors, brokers, or whomever. Those we don’t know are likely to have their messages dropped in the trash.
We must be careful to not exclude all “sinners” because we also know from Scripture that “all have sinned” and “there is no one who is righteous, no, not one.” It would be better if we said that “God does not answer the prayers of unbelievers.”
Christians — sinners though we may be — still pray, trusting that God will hear and answer out of love. That is because we are clothed in Christ’s righteousness. God hears us for Jesus’ sake when we pray “in Jesus’ Name.” This doesn’t mean that we close each prayer with the words, “in Jesus Name”; the prayer He taught us doesn’t even mention His Name! The Lord’s Prayer is prayer in Jesus’ Name when believing, baptized Christians pray in confidence that their sins are forgiven and that they are adopted as the Father’s children for the sake of Christ.
When we come in Jesus’ Name, we are confident that the Father knows us, since He knows all his children. It’s as if the “return address” of what we’ve sent God bears not our own names (and the stain of our sins) but rather the holy and perfect Name of Jesus Christ.
The Lord’s Prayer also reminds us that much of what we call “prayer” may not be such, even if we do end it “in Jesus’ Name,” if the content is not what we are told to pray about or if we attempt to impose our human desires and will upon the will of the Father.
The Christian can safely “demand” forgiveness and eternal life from God and can also pray unconditionally for the spiritual well-being of other Christians and Christ’s whole church. He or she may, without reservation, praise God according to His Word and say those things about God that God says about Himself. As for earthly (temporal) blessings, the Christian must submit to the will of God and ask knowing that God may have different plans, since He knows what is best for us here in time as well as in all eternity.
Send email to Ask the Pastor.
Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.