Does God hear the prayers of sinners?
To answer this question, let us begin with some basic passages in the Bible. Here is what John 9:31 tells us: “Now we know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does His will, He hears him.”
Psalm 34:17 also tells us the following about righteous people: “The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears, And delivers them out of all their troubles.”
How are we to understand the statement that God does not hear sinners? Is this an error since we believe that God knows and thus hears everything–even the most secret thoughts of men, as we read in Psalm 94:11: “The LORD knows the thoughts of man, That they are futile.”
The correct understanding of this question has to do with the fact that God does not act upon or respond in a positive way to the prayers of sinners. But since we have all sinned and still sin today, how is that fact to be comprehended?
Someone might be sincere and keep the commandments of God, at least in the letter, except perhaps the Sabbath, due to him not being called and given that particular understanding. Will God always reject the prayer of such a person? What does God say about this?
Romans 9:14-15 tells us: “What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not! For He says to Moses, ‘I WILL HAVE MERCY ON WHOMEVER I WILL HAVE MERCY, AND I WILL HAVE COMPASSION ON WHOMEVER I WILL HAVE COMPASSION.’”
In our related Q&A on John 9:31, we explain what the Bible means with “sinner.” We point out that we all sin, but this does not make us sinners. Sinners are those who PRACTICE and LIVE in sin and who are unwilling to repent of their sins, even when they become aware of them. It is they whom God does not, of necessity, respond to in a favourable way.
There is a link between obedience and having our prayers heard and answered. In his Autobiography, Herbert W. Armstrong, the late human leader of the Church of God, talks about a man who was not a converted Christian, but apparently, for whatever reason, God had granted him a special gift of healing. We do not know how this man lived and how much he obeyed God with the knowledge that he had been given. We do not know why God, in this very unusual and highly exceptional case, granted this still unconverted person a special gift to be able to heal people. However, when he learned from Mr. Armstrong the truth about the Sabbath, he rejected that knowledge and angrily refused to act upon it. As a consequence, God took the gift of healing away from him. It is obvious that God was revealing to this man His Way of Life, but due to his rebellion towards God’s Law, God rejected him, as it were, and he lost the gift of healing that God had given him. This is an important lesson for us because if we want God to hear our prayers and respond to them in a favourable way, we must strive to be obedient to Him in everything.
This is not to say that the man lost his salvation, but he turned down an opportunity to follow God. He will still have his opportunity, apparently in the Second Resurrection, to make the right decisions when his mind is truly being opened. However, when dealing with Mr. Armstrong, he acted similar to the ruler who had riches and turned down an opportunity to become a minister, as we read in Luke 18:18-23:
“Now a certain ruler asked Him, saying, ‘Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ So Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. You know the commandments: “DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY,” “DO NOT MURDER,” “DO NOT STEAL,” “DO NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS,” “’HONOR YOUR FATHER AND YOUR MOTHER.”’ And he said, ‘All these things I have kept from my youth.’ So when Jesus heard these things, He said to him, ‘You still lack one thing. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.’ But when he heard this, he became very sorrowful, for he was very rich.”
Little children are basically unaware of what sin is. But they may have a humble and teachable heart. When they pray to God, He might answer their prayers. Let us realize what Christ said about little children, in Matthew 18:3-4: “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
Little children don’t have an agenda. They are quick to forgive. They are open to teaching. Many times, God may respond to their prayers, if they “believe” in God in their limited way, since Christians must become “like” them to be able to enter God’s Kingdom.
God knows our innermost thoughts. Nothing escapes His attention, and in that sense, He hears the prayers of everyone. But that does not mean that He responds to the prayers of sinners. And it does not even mean that He always responds to His faithful servants in the way which they would like Him to do. Let us notice what he said to Moses, in Deuteronomy 3:26-27: “But the LORD was angry with me on your account, and would not listen to me. So the LORD said to me: ‘Enough of that! Speak no more to Me of this matter. Go up to the top of Pisgah, and lift your eyes toward the west, the north, the south, and the east; behold it with your eyes, for you shall not cross over this Jordan.’”
Even though God had worked with Moses for a long time, He did not grant Moses’ request; in fact, He told him not to mention the matter again, because Moses had sinned by not following God’s specific instructions and by taking God’s glory upon himself. There are consequences for sin, and Moses was no exception–he was able to see the Promised Land, but he was not allowed to enter it.
If we are close to God and try, as much as possible, to live a sinless life, God will hear and answer our prayers. He will respond to them according to His Will. He will provide us with our needs and many times, He will even grant us the desires of our hearts.
On the other hand, God does not “hear” approvingly the prayers of sinners—of those who PRACTICE lawlessness. He does not listen carefully to their pleas, and He will not respond to their requests in a positive way. To the contrary, He may curse them for living in rebellion against His Will. So, if we want God to answer our prayers and grant us the petitions of our hearts, we need to obey Him. After all, there is a strong connection between obedience and answered prayers, as we read in 1 John 3:22: “And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight.”
Lead Writer: Rene Messier