Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Prayers of the Righteous

One of the biggest questions about prayer is if God answers ALL prayers, from EVERYONE, everywhere. But is that Biblical? Does God answer the prayers of those who have turned from Him? Let's take a look at what the Bible says about this.

In John 9:31, it clearly states this, "Now we know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does His will, He hears him." 

However, let's first start off by qualifying some of the prayers God WON'T answer from those:
1) Who forsake God - Jeremiah 14:10-12, "Thus says the Lord to this people: Thus they have loved to wander; They have not restrained their feet. Therefore the Lord does not accept them; He will remember their iniquity now, Then the Lord said to me, “Do not pray for this people, for their good. 12 When they fast, I will not hear their cry; and when they offer burnt offering and grain offering, I will not accept them. But I will consume them by the sword, by the famine, and by the pestilence.”
2) Who reject God's call - Proverbs 1:24-25, 28, "Because I have called and you refused, I have stretched out My hand and no one regarded, v25) Because you disdained all My counsel, And would have none of My rebuke" V28) “Then they will call on Me, but I will not answer; They will seek me diligently, but they will not find Me."
3) Who remain in sin - Isaiah 59:2, "But your iniquities have separated you from your God; And your sins have hidden His face from you, So that He will not hear." 
4) Who regard iniquity in their hearts - Psalm 66:18, "If I regard iniquity in my heart, The Lord will not hear."
5) Who have no faith - James 1:6-7, "But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord;"
6) Who worship idols - Jeremiah 11:11-14, "Therefore thus says the Lord: “Behold, I will surely bring calamity on them which they will not be able to escape; and though they cry out to Me, I will not listen to them. v12) Then the cities of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem will go and cry out to the gods to whom they offer incense, but they will not save them at all in the time of their trouble. v13) For according to the number of your cities were your gods, O Judah; and according to the number of the streets of Jerusalem you have set up altars to that shameful thing, altars to burn incense to Baal. v14) “So do not pray for this people, or lift up a cry or prayer for them; for I will not hear them in the time that they cry out to Me because of their trouble."
7) Who are violent - Isaiah 1:15, "When you spread out your hands, I will hide My eyes from you; Even though you make many prayers, I will not hear. Your hands are full of blood." Also in Isaiah 59:2-3, "But your iniquities have separated you from your God; And your sins have hidden His face from you, So that He will not hear. v3) For your hands are defiled with blood, And your fingers with iniquity; Your lips have spoken lies, Your tongue has muttered perversity."
8) The unrighteous - Psalm 34:15, "The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, And His ears are open to their cry." 

The Bible teaches us that prayer is the privilege of those who have become the children of God (John 1:12). This is also implied in the Gospel of John, chapter 9. Jesus healed a man who had been blind since his birth. The religious leaders of that day challenged the man's healing and sought to discredit Jesus by implying that he acted outside of God's will. To this accusation, the healed man replied in John 9:28-33, "Then they reviled him and said, “You are His disciple, but we are Moses’ disciples. v29) We know that God spoke to Moses; as for this fellow, we do not know where He is from. v30) The man answered and said to them, “Why, this is a marvelous thing, that you do not know where He is from; yet He has opened my eyes! v31) Now we know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does His will, He hears him. v32) Since the world began it has been unheard of that anyone opened the eyes of one who was born blind. v33) If this Man were not from God, He could do nothing.” But if those prayers are not said in His will, or requested in line with what He is willing for our lives, then those will not be answered. Even our Savior in the garden, praying in perfect and sinless devotion to his Father, submitted himself to his Father's will: "not my will, but yours be done." Scripture clearly indicates that God does not listen to, or answer, every prayer.

And let me say that God will always hear AND answer the prayer of salvation! That is the sweetest prayer God can hear! He will never turn from the lost who cry out for Him, who repents, confesses their sins, and receives Jesus Christ as their personal Savior! Those sinners who humble themselves before the Lord, confessing their sin and their total dependence on His grace in Jesus Christ, may be sure that He does hear their prayers—for Jesus' sake and because of his merits and atoning work. He is our great high priest, interceding for us at the Father's right hand (Hebrews 7:25, 10:19-22, 4:14-16). Those who reject the living God to worship false gods and those who profess some kind of faith in Christ but are actually unbelieving and hypocritical (Isaiah 29:13) should not convince themselves that their worship or prayers are received and accepted by God. Jesus once said, " All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out." (John 6:37). However, one who has never trusted in Jesus as his personal Savior needs to be reminded that if his only point in prayer is to relieve his mind of problems and secure benefits, it is extremely doubtful that such praying would attain the desired objective.

I think that God responds to the cries of anyone with a sincere heart despite their position. In fact, He uses their position and His Grace to bring them closer to Himself. GOD KNOWS OUR HEARTS! Period! Only He knows the prayers we will be praying, why we pray them and with what kind of a heart we pray them with! There are examples of prayers of the unbelievers being answered in Scripture, and as I've said before, God is ALWAYS the same yesterday, today and tomorrow! Here are a few examples of those prayers.... However, to me, one of the most powerful examples of God hearing the lost is in the case of King Ahab. We all remember how wicked Ahab was, and he was WICKED. 1 Kings 21:25 states, "But there was none like unto Ahab, which did sell himself to work wickedness in the sight of the LORD, whom Jezebel his wife stirred up." He obviously lived in wickedness and would end up falling under those who would not be heard by God. But, when Ahab found out about the judgment that had been assigned to him and his household, "he rent his clothes, and put sackcloth upon his flesh, and fasted, and lay in sackcloth, and went softly" (1 Kings 21:27). And as a result of this, God told Elijah, "“See how Ahab has humbled himself before Me? Because he has humbled himself before Me, I will not bring the calamity in his days. In the days of his son I will bring the calamity on his house.” (1 Kings 21:29). When Ahab humbled himself and sought reprieve from judgment, the Lord heard him. Does this mean that Ahab became a righteous man? No, not at all. There isn't a hint that his repentance stuck. According to the judgment of God, he is then later killed in battle and his name continued, to this day, to be associated with evil. Even though he didn't become a righteous man, the Lord heard his sincere prayer for deliverance.

Then there's Cornelius. The angel of the Lord appeared to him and said, "Cornelius, thy prayer is heard" (Acts 10:31). Then, the angel sent him to Peter, "Who shall tell thee words, whereby thou and all thy house shall be saved" (Acts 11:14). It is true that he was seeking the Lord, but there is no doubt that that those were the prayers of a man who was not yet saved and were heard. Luke 7:1-10 tells of a centurion who requested of Jesus the healing of a servant. He was a good man, but was probably wasn't saved. The Lord Jesus heard his prayer and healed the servant. This would be the case of numerous miracles by the Lord.

The saved and the righteous have special promises of God's response to their prayers. Proverbs 15:29states, "The LORD is far from the wicked: but he heareth the prayer of the righteous." In this passage, we can especially see that the Lord hears the prayer of the righteous. Jesus made this promise to the disciples, "And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son" (John 14:13). There are many promises that are made to the saints in the Bible. We have the boldness to personally walk into God's throne room and ask of the Lord in time of need (Hebrews 4:16). "Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need." What a blessing this is to believers! Only the saved who live for God can reside in the midst of God's hearing and have exceptional promises of answered prayer. Yet, God will also answer the prayers of the lost on rare occasions simply because He is such a merciful and loving God. And even those answered prayers will be lifted up in glory to the Lord! This, however, I'm sure is the exception to the rule. John 14:6, "Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me." 

But outside of seeking fellowship with God on His terms, vain prayers of the ungodly seeking deliverance from oppression don't typically reach the Throne simply because they aren't seeking the throne, they're only seeking relief of their problems. They don't desire a relationship, they desire relief. I'm reminded of all the prayers of the crying hearts during the many natural disasters of late. There have been unbelievers who said they cried out to be saved from death and they are alive today to prove this. Whether or not they have been saved spiritually is not the issue, because just their proclamation may be a seed planted in the soul of another who hears! God can, will and DOES use all testimonies, miracles, situations and circumstances to bring glory to His Kingdom!

Jesus taught that prayer may be characterized by:
1) importunity - a laying hold of God's willingness to bless (Luke 11:5-8)
2) tenacity - a persistence and certainty in praying (Luke 18:1-8)
3) humility — penitence and a sense of unworthiness (Luke 18:10-14)
4) compassion (Matt 18:21-35)
5) simplicity (Matt 6:5-6; Mark 12:38-40)
6) intensity and watchfulness (Mark 13:33; 14:38)
7) unity of heart and mind in the community of prayer (Matt 18:19)
8) expectancy (Mark 11:24)

Think for a moment: Can a non-Christian even for one moment pray in obedience to these traits? Or can he pray in the "name of Jesus" other than a perfunctory fashion? In the above characteristics of Jesus' lessons on prayer, God typically does not answer the prayers of non-believers because they pray wrong prayers for the wrong reason. But WILL He? Yes. Because He is God. He is the All Powerful, All Knowing, All Loving and All Merciful! In closing, does God answer the prayers of unbelievers? A firm yes or no answer is hard to give without qualifying the answer in many different ways. It's only His call because ONLY He knows the heart of the one crying out! Only HE knows what will come from His answering a prayer.

However, it's interesting to note that the principles examples mentioned in the beginning of this post represents some of the key characteristics of an unbeliever. So, in essence, we can safely say that, in general, God does not answer the prayers of an unbeliever. He HEARS all prayers....He isn't deaf! But those He answers, those He regards highest, and those that are sweet music to His ears, are those from His privileged children! But BECAUSE He IS God, He can do whatever HE wants, for HIS OWN PURPOSE!

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