The New Testament stories of Cornelius (Acts 10:1-48) and the tax collector (Luke 18:9-14) shouldn’t surprise us because the fact is, even in the Old Testament we find examples of God responding to the cries of repentant lost people. Israel’s wicked king Ahab probably didn’t get saved, but God did grant him a degree of mercy after he humbled himself before the Lord (1 Kings 21:17-29). God did the same for the citizens of Nineveh after they fasted, put on sackcloth, and repented of their sins (Jonah 3:1-10).
One Old Testament character who we can say with some certainty did get saved was Manasseh, Judah’s most notorious king. His sins were so great that God caused the Assyrians to capture him as a prisoner of war. They put a hook in his nose, bound him with bronze shackles, and transported him to Babylon (2 Chronicles 33:10-11). There in captivity, he humbled himself before God and prayed (v.12-13). And did God hear his prayers? Yes. 2 Chronicles 33:13 says that God “received his entreaty, heard his supplication, and brought him back to Jerusalem into his kingdom.” Manasseh then evidenced his newfound salvation by removing all the false idols from Jerusalem, repairing the altar of the Lord, offering up sacrifices, and commanding all Judah to serve the Lord God (2 Chronicles 33:15-16).
In addition to the passages in which God hears the prayers of lost people, there are some other passages that speak of His general hearing of all of mankind. Consider the following verses:
For He hears the cry of the afflicted. (Job 34:28)
For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive, And abundant in mercy to all those who call upon You. (Psalm 86:5)
He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. (Matthew 5:45)
Oh, and here’s something else to consider in this whole debate: the prayers of children who are under the age of accountability. Are we going to say that God doesn’t hear those prayers simply because those kids aren’t old enough to understand what it is to be “born again”? Is every child who prays the words, “Now I lay me down to sleep…” just mouthing meaningless words? Do the words “God is great, God is good, let us thank Him for our food…” fall on deaf ears? You see, when you get dogmatic and say, “God only hears the prayers of born-again Christians,” you take in more territory than you realize. Are you prepared to take in such a colossal territory? I’m not.
So, where does all this leave us? Well, it leaves me with four statements. By heeding each of these, I feel that we can keep a God-approved balance on this whole subject.
1. It is undeniable that only a born-again Christian can pray in God’s ideal way.
2. Since God the Father is completely sovereign over all creation, He can choose to hear prayers even if they aren’t prayed by born-again Christians.
3. Whether the individual be a lost person or a child under the age of accountability, God will choose to hear the prayer of one who is genuinely seeking Him in a humble, especially repentant, way.
4. Even with the first three statements in mind, we would be foolish to emphasize the exceptions over the rule, and the rule is: By and large, prayer is the privilege of the person who has a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.