As we continue our conversation about prayer, let’s consider the question, “Who can pray?” Anybody can pray! We just might not all get the desired response. Let’s take a step back and think about this.
Some people say God only hears the prayers of Christians. They get this idea from Bible verses that talk about God only hearing the prayers of the righteous. (Proverbs 15:29, Proverbs 28:9, Isaiah 1:15 are examples). In fact, David said that if he had cherished sin in his heart, God wouldn’t have heard his prayer (Psalm 66:18-20). These verses are true as presented in their context (the verses that surround them) or under the specified circumstances, but we run into trouble if we claim they present a hard and fast rule that God must obey all the time.
First of all, such a rule would give us the power to limit God. We don’t have that kind of power. We never will. God can hear anything He wants to hear. God can hear everything everyone on the planet is saying all at once. He may choose not to hear, or to ignore or disregard, some prayers, but He does so at His discretion, not ours.
Second, if God only heard the prayers of the saved, no one could be saved. God wants everyone to be saved (2 Peter 3:9), therefore, He hears the prayers of those yet-to-be-saved—especially when their hearts are turning to Him. He welcomes these prayers—maybe most of all! If someone is seeking Him, He hears and responds (Deuteronomy 4:29, 1 Chronicles 28:9, Jeremiah 29:13).
Imagine your three-year-old has been on a rampage all day. You served him breakfast; he told you it was yucky and refused to eat. You served him lunch; he yelled, “Yucky! Yucky! Yucky! I want ice cream.” You served him dinner; he leaned over to his sister and said, “Mommy only makes yucky food.” To your frustration, she joined his game and dumped her food on the floor.
When the last mealtime battle of the day is over, your son comes to you all sweetness and sunshine. “Mommy, I love you. Will you bake me some cookies for dessert?”
You think: “I have had enough of this child for this day.” You say, “Guess what, Kiddo! It’s bedtime. Go get your pajamas on.” Another battle ensues, but you are not baking cookies. You don’t even respond to the request.
Admittedly, that’s a very simplistic, very human example. God is neither simplistic nor human. Yet, if someone is constantly calling him unfaithful, unable, or non-existent, encouraging others to do the same, He’s not going to pay attention to that person’s self-centered prayers. He will respond with loving discipline (note: loving discipline, never petty vengeance). He will continue to woo that person toward a loving and mature relationship with Him. He will not take away that person’s freedom to choose nor compromise what’s right to make a deal. He acts in accordance with His child’s behavior, teaching with the kind of patience mothers everywhere wish they had.
So anybody can pray. But God does not receive all prayers in the same way.
Let’s consider the flip side:
You and your three-year-old are enjoying a great day together. He eats the food you serve and asks for more. He even helps you feed his sister. Then he plays with her while you do the dishes. He folds washcloths and matches socks while you’re folding laundry. He cuddles close and listens attentively during story time. When he asks for cookies, you bake them joyfully. In fact, you make up your mind to bake him cookies before he even thinks to ask. Sharing cookies is the perfect end to this fantastic day.
Again, very simplistic, very human, but with a level of truth we can grasp. God created us to love and enjoy Him. When we do so by spending regular time with Him in prayer, He enjoys our company and enjoys answering our prayers—within the scope of His plans—for us, for others, for His Kingdom, for eternity.
- Will He always give us the cookies if we’re living His way? No.
- Does He only give us what we want if we’re living His way? No.
That’s not how the analogy works. (And for the record, if ever you think you’ve found a formula for getting God to give you what you want every time, you need to rethink it. You have thunk something wrong.)
God loves each person He has made and longs to enjoy a relationship with each one. He sees what we can’t, though, and answers our prayers according to His Will, for the good of His Kingdom and the glory of His name. Prayer is a conversation with Him about this relationship, about the business of His Kingdom. We pray to develop this relationship, to more deeply understand our loving God and His plans for us. That’s why anyone can pray; God wants relationship with everyone! But self-centered prayers with no regard for God are meaningless and likely to be ignored.
When we delight in God, He delights in us. Our prayers become more effective as the relationship grows. Anybody can pray. But if we want to be sure that God’s hearing our prayers, we have to want God.