In the Youth Group we are going through a video series called BASIC by Francis Chan. In the 6th video, Chan talks about prayer and he makes the following statement: “As I studied Scripture more and more, I realized very few people taught me how to pray in church, and very few people warned me, and they didn’t even explain to me that God doesn’t always listen.” You can watch the video in its entirety here: Basic: Prayer. I asked the students if they agreed or disagreed with the statement. The overwhelming majority disagreed. I was initially surprised, but I was also glad. Most people would agree with Francis Chan on everything, because he is Francis Chan. His name carries a lot of validity among the different evangelical churches in this country. I give a lot of kudos to our students for thinking on their own. However, is Chan right? Are there times where God does not listen to our prayers? Scripture does in fact seem to give credence to the idea that sometimes God does not listen to us. Here are a few examples:
In Deuteronomy 1:43-45, Moses is recapping the story of how the Hebrew people would not enter the promised land, but their children would. Moses writes, “Then you answered me, ‘We have sinned against the Lord. We ourselves will go up and fight, just as the Lord our God commanded us.’ And every one of you fastened on his weapons of war and thought it easy to go up into the hill country.And the Lord said to me, ‘Say to them, Do not go up or fight, for I am not in your midst, lest you be defeated before your enemies.’So I spoke to you, and you would not listen; but you rebelled against the command of the Lord and presumptuously went up into the hill country.Then the Amorites who lived in that hill country came out against you and chased you as bees do and beat you down in Seir as far as Hormah.And you returned and wept before the Lord, but the Lord did not listen to your voice or give ear to you.”
David writes in Psalm 66:17-18, “I cried to him with my mouth, and high praise was on my tongue.If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.
Solomon writes in Proverbs 28:9, “If one turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination.”
The prophet Isaiah is rather stern with Israel when he writes in chapter 1 verse 15, “When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood.”
A blind man, who was healed by Jesus, said in 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.”
James and John seem to give conditions to prayer. James 4:3 says, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your own passions.” 1 John 3:21-22 says, “Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God;and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.”What do we do with these passages? How can we know God is listening to us? Perhaps the simplest way is to look at our STANDING before God and the SUBSTANCE of our prayers. If we have repented of our sins and trusted in God, then our standing before God is secure in the work of Jesus Christ. We can always have an audience with God. James 5:16 says, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” When we repent, God forgives us and puts the righteousness of God in the place of our sin. Our prayers are heard not because we behaved well, but because Jesus was perfect for us. However, the substance of our prayers may not always be what God wants. Sin can certainly cloud our judgement and we can ask for things outside the will of God. John 14:13-14 says, “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.” Jesus is not saying that if we just tack on ‘in Jesus name’ to our prayers we can ask for whatever we want. To pray in Jesus’ name means to ask for the things he would ask for.
In regards to prayer, it is important to know that God is sovereign. Psalm 115:3 says, “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.” God can choose to answer any prayer – even from unbelievers. He certainly hears a prayer for salvation and he may choose to grant a request to an unbeliever in order that person find salvation. We should all be like David who said, “Blessed be God, because he has not rejected my prayer.”
Check out the following sermon by Francis Chan for more information. When God Doesn’t Listen