Contrary to common belief God hears “audibly” all prayers. For God to be omniscient (all knowing), He must be understood to have heard all things, and as such even knows of them within peoples heart prior to them ever being uttered. When we talk of God not hearing sinners pray (typically to the exclusion of the “sinner’s prayer), we more precisely mean that God is not obligated to heed, or respond favorably towards the prayer. When scripture uses “hear” in the context of prayer (asking God to hear them) it typically means wanting God to look favorably upon them, the request, and to take action.
Jay Adams states it this way;
“All Bible prayer that asks God to hear their prayer should be interpreted to mean asking God to answer or not answer their request. When God is said to not hear a prayer it must be interpreted to mean that God did not look upon it favorably. We must reject any notion of prayer that would suggest a lack in God’s power or omniscience.”
Fairly well known and discussed is to understand that to the Christian, God always answers favorably. Saying, “No,” “Not now”, or substituting what we’ve asked for something better are all a FAVORABLE answer to prayer, being God has our best interest in mind. In this manner our prayer will always be heard, but possibly not heeded or heeded in the manner we want or expect. That is part of the greatness of God to trust that like a child, we ask for some crazy stuff, and some wrong things from time to time, and yet He will grant us answers that are always considered to be in our best interest. That is hard to grasp and accept at times, partly because we think in terms of form and content, that obligates God to act, or as in the previous post we assume then, that until we get our answer, or the one we want we will hold our breath in protest, or just sit and wait, and wait and wait. Yet all these things indicate our lack of faith to really believe that God knows what’s best for us, and that we should be content to have God to talk to and ask for things at all.
Many theologians have left prayer principles for us over the years. Some outline more points than others, but I believe they all maintain about the same content in few but more inclusive points, or many broken-out and individual points. Some discuss their points in the positive or what we should do in prayer, and other state their charts in the negative, those things in prayer we should avoid. I’m combining the positive and negative below using the order provided by Adams.
Principle 1 – Prayer must not be hypocritical, but instead that which honestly flow from the heart: Ask yourself, “Did I really want what I asked for to happen”. Are we lying to God directly in prayer? A joke is that a pastor prays for a sports car to spread the gospel faster, when he knows that in his heart his real desire is to take it cruising along the beach. How often have you prayed in church to be blessed by the preaching of God’s word, yet really wanting to get home so badly to watch some show, or get to some task?
Principle 2: Prayer must not be unbelieving prayer, but instead done in faith, believing that God is able to provide. (Acts 12:1-16; Matthew 21:21-22) We are to ask in faith, not doubting. Now there is no doubting that we will get something, as if our positive thinking will somehow aid God in producing the result we want, or there is the biblical matter of not doubting that God hears you, and will favorably answer you in and with what He knows is best for you.
Principle 3: Prayer must not be resentful prayer (harboring sin in your heart) but prayers that seek to reconcile yourself to others and others to you and primarily to God as all sin is ultimately against Him. How can you pray to God when in anger over something a fellow Christian did or said? How dare we pray against fellow believers in anger that they get theirs, when God so graciously in His divine mercy spared us His wrath for our offences against Him. Certainly ask God to assist in the matter and way the way of love and reconciliation smooth. Yet even in the justice and judgment the reconciliation process must sometime take, it too glorifies God as He is present in the midst of it all (See my blog on “where two or more are gathered…”) (Mark 11:23-25, Luke 17:3) pursue the matter with the offender until resolved.
Principle 4: Prayer must not be pharisaical but that which brings glory to God. (Luke 18:9-14) the Pharisee recites his own attributes as if they were in and of himself and not as something by grace he received from God (1 Cor. 4:7). The Pharisees were known for long winded prayers and Jesus tells us directly that they prayed to be heard by men. Just prior to any prayer would should check who our audience is. I have heard many prayers uttered, that were no prayers at all but an indirect lecture for someone in the room.
Principle 5: Prayer must not be self-centered, but humble and full of contentment to have God: (James 4:3, Matt 6:33) Clearly we ask for wrong things all the time that are for nothing but to be wasted on our own lusts. We so often think of our personal kingdom and lose sight of seeking first His “Empire”. Things used to be done for “the glory of Rome”, so-to-say, but no one speaks in this way anymore. Everything is done instead for the glory of self, and the promotion of the individual. It is no wonder then that there is no glory of America, just a precept of valueless freedom that allows individuals to seek what’s right in their own eyes. Jesus teaches us in Matthew 26:39, not my will but Your will be done, in prayer to the Father about going to the cross. Oh that more people would be willing to pray such a prayer and look past their own gain.
I’d like to expound this just a bit further, because it comes up so much in conversations about prayer. Let’s say a farmer prays for rain and a mailman prays it would not rain. Can they both do so safely and correctly without being selfish? Yes, as if by James they would qualify their prayer, “if the Lord wills.” Both can and should be happy about the result of God’s answer (rain or not) because they rest that God knows best and will keep and sustain both throughout eternity and by common grace will see them through whatever the weather is. Same with, say a football game, where both teams pray, not for selfish success, but to do their best, and that God’s glory be displayed in their hard work, dedication, and treatment of one another. Each team can rest in the fact that no matter who won the game, they are God’s.
Principle 6: Prayer must not be unbiblical but instead regulated by God’s word. Prayer for that which we know He forbids is wrong and insulting (John 15:7 and Psalm 119:11). We are to hide God’s word in our heart that we might not sin, and thus also pray in non-sinful ways. God prescribes what things are and are not tolerable in the offering up of prayers and as in the case of Aaron’s sons, displayed just how serious the penalty can be.
Principle 7: Prayer must not be self-addressed prayer, but rendered in the name of Jesus Christ: Praying in Jesus name, it is quite neglected today. It is too common for us to end prayers without having to even think about the words. We think it just the proper form and context to utter, “… in Jesus name, Amen.” But we must understand that we are only safe to be offering prayer unto the Holy Creator God and Father because as Christians we are in Christ. It envelopes the understanding that Christ’s life, death, burial and resurrection are ours and we stand before God in faith that Christ died for us, thus allowing us the direct access to the Father, who is now our Father. We should have on our minds the person and work of Christ and that what we are asking in prayer would bring Him glory and honor (Hebrews 2:10, Rom. 11:36)
Prayer a significant way in which the Christ comes in contact with God. God again as environment.
Adams, Jay E. A Theology of Christian Counseling. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1979.