When John, in his first letter, reveals explicitly that one of the privileges of belonging to God is shameless and confident access to him in prayer (5:14-15), it is implicit that those who don’t belong to God don’t have such benefits. Which begs this question: Does God hear the prayers of unbelievers?
No doubt my comments regarding this implication last Sunday generated a good bit of discussion. That’s good! Yet, as a pastor and communicator still learning both skills, I’m sure I could have done a better job of relaying this truth to our body. So in an effort to bring more clarity (which, as you know, I value highly), here’s an excerpt from one of my favorite authors, Wayne Grudem, regarding this very question.
“…if Jesus is the only mediator between God and man, will God hear the prayers of those who do not trust in Jesus? The answer depends on what we mean by ‘hear.’ Since God is omniscient, he always ‘hears’ in the sense that he is aware of the prayers made by unbelievers who do not come to him through Christ. God may even, from time to time, answer their prayers out of his mercy and in a desire to bring them to salvation through Christ. However, God has nowhere promised to respond to the prayers of unbelievers. The only prayers that he has promised to ‘hear’ in the sense of listening with a sympathetic ear and undertaking to answer when they are made according to his will, are the prayers of Christians offered through the one mediator, Jesus Christ (cf. John 14:6).” (Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem, 1994. pg. 378)
Remember — when experience and Scripture collide, Scripture must take precedence. God’s Word is primary, our experience secondary. And while we should never use the privilege of prayer to gloat in our position as children of God, let’s not minimize it either, reducing it to some universal right all people have when a crisis occurs or a need is evident, regardless of their spiritual identity. Truly, confident prayer and complete access to God comes with being a child of God; they’re the ones who have the Father’s ear.