There are a few questions I think every pastor can count on hearing in their ministry. Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been teaching on prayer on Sunday morning, which leads to one of those questions:
“Does God answer the prayers of the ungodly?”
I know where the curiosity comes from. There are plenty of passages that talk about God not answering the prayers of sinners. And Christians are called ‘Sons and Daughters of God’, with a pretty strongly implied difference between Christian and non-Christian. Our natural inclination as people is to try to make things as simple as possible; we prefer clear cut, black and white/yes and no answers. So when we look in scripture and see that “God doesn’t listen to sinners” (John 9:21), the case is closed.
That’s like finding a pine tree in the middle of forest full of maple trees and declaring it a ‘pine forest’.
Here are a few reasons I think non-Christians should pray:
Your Christian friends are not God. God is God – Your neighbors, friends, and family might have “the answer”, but God is God. He is the same God who set the stars in motion, gave motion to your heart, and breath to speak. He will hear whatever prayers He wants too, whether you go to church or not.
He’s listened to non-Christians before – There was a thief on a cross who was being executed next to Christ, who by his own admission, was guilty and deserving of his punishment. Jesus heard him (Luke 23:39-43). There as a tax collector who had been a sinner seeking reconciliation with God, who prayed in the midst of the religious folks. He was praised by Christ for his humble prayer, and assured by Christ that he was heard (Luke 18:9-14). And even Judas was taught the Lords Prayer.
Every Christian was and is a sinner who God has listened too – “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). As St Augustine famously said: “Every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future”. The only reason someone can call themselves ‘Christian’ is because at one point in their life, God heard their prayer for redemption and salvation. Every Christian is a sinner God listened too. No one has experienced the love of God without praying AS a sinner.
Before you go – I want to encourage everyone, Christian and non-Christian, to be willing to pray to God, with full faith and confidence that He will hear you. But I need to warn you about something: God is God. He’s not a genie, lucky rabbits foot, or other good luck charm to help you get out of a tight spot. He wants a relationship with you.
Christian and non-Christian, don’t be surprised if your prayers challenge you to be in relationship with God. It may feel like God isn’t listening or hearing you, but make no mistake, He hears everything you say. He’s like a doctor who hears all of the symptoms you’re dealing with, then recommends a treatment that makes no sense.
God wants to treat your disease, while a lot of times we’re trying to treat our symptoms.