Optional page text here. The Beast's Lair: The Tough Truth About Prayer

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The Tough Truth About Prayer

So much of our theology, in particular our Doctrine of God, stems from what we as humans understand to be reasonable. At any point in our theological construct if we find ourselves replacing Scripture with human intuition then we can be rest assured that our conclusions will be faulty, and perhaps even damaging. That is not to say that we should avoid harmonizing Scripture or allow proper rational thinking to fill in the gaps when Scripture is unclear or simply void. Obviously, the practice of interpretation is extremely important and varies. But even interpretation needs to be kept in check by Scripture. In other words, we cannot rationalize an interpretation of a passage that makes complete sense to human standards and yet compromises a clear teaching found elsewhere in Scripture.

The examples of how this happens are endless.

The one I want to discuss today is prayer, specifically, God's answering of prayer. This post will offend some and simply make others mad. The theology represented here goes completely against what "feels right" to us as humans. The question is this: Does God hear and then answer the prayers of unbelievers?

The question goes directly to the heart of what I consider to be one of the most deadly misconceptions about God and religion. The scenario is that a person who recklessly avoids the Truth of Christ and His redemptive blood finds himself in a hopeless situation. After admitting to himself that he is trapped in a corner, he turns with a sincere heart to seek help from God by praying. He knows that since he has got to the place in his life where he has no where else to turn that God will surely listen and answer. His assumption is incorrect.

There are so many Scriptural problems with this scenario that I can't go into full detail here. But here are a couple of points that need to be emphasized:

First, all prayers come through Jesus Christ and his redemptive work on the cross. Hebrews 10:19 discusses our confidence to enter into the Holy Places by the blood of Jesus. That confidence is not assured by earnest prayers. Psalm 24 asks the question, who is permitted to enter into God's Holy presence? The answer is given in verse 4, "he who has clean hands and a pure heart." So, who has clean hands and a pure heart? No one, except the Son of God who came to redeem. Romans clearly teaches we are all in the same dirty state of sin, but provides a way to have that righteousness, those clean hands and feet imputed to us. And that way is Jesus Christ. Jesus set the record straight in John 14:6 when he says that "no one comes to the Father but through me." We typically read that with the understanding of salvation, which it is, but the same verse is true for prayer. There is no un-mediated access to God.

Secondly, what is the unbeliever actually saying to God through his prayer? He is saying, without full realization, that they are in need of God's miraculous hand during this hour, but not in need of the greatest work God has ever done, the sending of His son to die. The prayers of unbelievers are a way to remind God that they don't need His Son for the majority of their lives, a Son that he watched die for them, but that they could sure use some help in the next couple days. This is why God says in Revelation 3:16 that He spews out the luke warm. God has more patience for those who completely reject Him than those who call on Him only in times of need, with no concern for Christ or submission to Him.

Thirdly, the Bible is clear about what these kinds of prayers are to God. Proverbs 28:9 says that "He who turns away his ear from listening to the Law, even his prayer is an abomination." Of course, Christ is the fulfillment of the Law. But even in OT Scripture, we find very clearly the notion that God will only answer the prayers of those who are united with Him.

So why does this matter? First of all, I would say that we have to be very careful when discussing this issue. If an unbeliever is praying over their mom in the hospital, you shouldn't just bust out with "ya know, that prayer is worthless." The one prayer God will hear, as Scripture teaches time and again, is the prayer of salvation from the repentant sinner. Our hearts as believers should be bent to those who need to come to the Truth and who need to avoid the sole observance of religious activities that deludes and keeps them from seeing their need of Jesus Christ.

This, of course, should all be qualified with the fact that God is God. I dare not assume on God that He has never answered the cries of those who are unbelievers. But from what I have briefly mentioned above, along with countless other Scriptures and scenarios, we can safely say that, in general, God does not answer the prayers of unbelievers.

If you are reading this post and are concerned that your prayers are not being answered by God, I would love to talk with you about that. Email me or leave me a comment and we'll chat.


Anonymous Paul, in South Park said...

Thank you for the analysis.

I agree that we should not openly tell an unbeliever that his/her prayer is not valid. However, it brings up an important point.

In this age where the current trend is for many religions to come together for group prayers (national crisis, disaster, etc.),
we must be careful. We are NOT all praying to the same God. This activity is clearly not based in Scripture.

October 11, 2006 6:05 PM  
Anonymous Tim Kuehn said...

"The one prayer God will hear, as Scripture teaches time and again, is the prayer of salvation from the repentant sinner."

I'm curious - where does scripture teach this? God hears the prayers of such people because by the time they're praying it, the Holy Spirit's already changed them from unbelievers to believers, so He's still only listening to the prayers of believers.

October 12, 2006 7:12 AM  

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