18 If I had cherished iniquity in my heart,
the Lord would not have listened.
19 But truly God has listened;
he has attended to the voice of my prayer.
20 Blessed be God,
because he has not rejected my prayer
or removed his steadfast love from me! (Ps 66:18-20)
A friend recently was troubled over the statement “God does not hear the prayers of the unbeliever.” It is enough to ask, are there prayers that God will not hear? The psalmist gives us one in this psalm, “If I had cherished iniquity in my heart,
the Lord would not have listened.” (We find the flipside to that in James, “the prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.”)
The idea that God would not hear someone’s prayer is a difficult concept to grasp without also understanding the holiness of God and true condition of man. We tend to think of ourselves as not that bad, and like to think the best of others too. How could God turn a deaf ear to anyone’s prayers? But the fault is not with God, but rather with us. We are not good, not any of us – not on our own. The Bible explains that there is none who seek after God, no not one (Ps 14:1, Romans 3). He tells us that “the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick” (Jer 17:9) and that “the thoughts of men’s hearts is only evil all the time.” (Gen 6:5; 8:21) The natural condition of man is wicked (which is NOT to say that every man is as wicked as he can be, just simply that all ARE wicked) and does not seek God. He may seem to seek after God. After all, the natural man is seeking desperately for something to fill the void in his heart, and it may appear at times that he is seeking after the God of the Bible, but he is not. At least not unless God is drawing him. Jesus explains that “no man can come to the Father unless the Father himself draws him.” (Jn 6:44)
It is this doctrine, the doctrine of “Total depravity” (the first of the five points of Calvinism) that helps us understand how it is that God would refuse to listen to the prayers of the wicked.
On the flip side, God DOES listen to the prayers of the not-wicked. That’s really the amazing part of the verse – that God listens to anyone at all! Given that all are wicked before God, none have the right to demand a hearing from God. And yet, God demonstrates his love by sending Christ in order that he might save some. These are called righteous because the righteousness of Christ is credited to them. God declares them righteous on the basis of Christ! That’s the amazing part!!
Does God hear your prayers?
Chronological Reading Plan plus Psalms: Num 28-30, Ps 66