The New Testament stories of God hearing the prayers of Cornelius (Acts 10:1-48) and the tax collector from Christ’s parable (Luke 18:9-14) shouldn’t surprise us. I say that because even in the Old Testament we find examples of God showing varying degrees of mercy to repentant lost people. For example, He did so for Israel’s wicked king, Ahab, (1 Kings 21:17-29) and for the citizens of Nineveh (Jonah 3:1-10). Admittedly, no mention is made in those stories about either Ahab or those Ninevites actually praying, but the point is that in both cases God was quick to show mercy. In the case of the Ninevites, a good argument can even be made that they actually got saved.
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). But there, in captivity, Manasseh humbled himself before God and prayed (v.12-13).
And did God hear those prayers? Yes. 2 Chronicles 33:13 says that God “…received his entreaty, heard his supplication, and brought him back to Jerusalem into his kingdom” (N.K.J.V.). Furthermore, that verse concludes by saying: “Then Manasseh knew that the Lord was God.” Once he was back in Jerusalem, Manasseh then evidenced his newfound salvation by removing all the false idols from the city, 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 Bible’s 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 (all from the N.K.J.V.):
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 there’s something else that we should consider in this whole debate about whether or not God hears the prayers of people who aren’t Christians: 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, I pray the Lord my soul to keep…” 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.
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.