I recently overheard a conversation wherein two people were discussing prayer. One was a prayer advocate and the other more of a scoffer. The scoffer asked the advocate, “So, you really believe in the power of prayer, huh?” The advocate responded, “No, but I believe very much in the power of God to whom I pray.”
I do so admire a quick wit, and particularly so when that quick wit expresses such profound truths as the above. The key is not prayer as some magical, obligating incantation. The key is an omnipotent God to whom I make petition!
Prayers Heard and Unheard
But the reality is, I believe, even deeper than that. What is it that results in some prayers being “heard” and others not heard? And note that the core of the question is not regarding prayers answered to my liking. It is prayers being heard.
Were you aware that God does not “hear” all prayers – that God chooses to turn a deaf ear to some prayers? How could that be?
If one turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination. – Proverbs 28:9, ESV
One may accurately object, “But that’s Old Covenant, right? That doesn’t apply today. We are no longer under obligation to follow the Law.”
That’s all true. But consider this – we are talking about Yahweh, the I AM, who said, “For I, Yahweh, do not change” (Malachi 3:6a, NASB). I’m not looking at the verse above for an edict regarding prayer, but rather to learn something about the heart of God toward us and toward our prayer life.
When we detest and rebel against the things of God, even our prayers become an abomination. David even went so far as to suggest that some prayer might be outright sin! (See Psalm 109:1-7).
When we deliberately turn a deaf ear and blind eye to the precepts of God taught in his Word, preferring our own way over God’s revealed will, our prayers become presumptuous at best.
Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save,
nor his ear too dull to hear.
But your iniquities have separated
you from your God;
your sins have hidden his face from you,
so that he will not hear. – Isaiah 59:1-2, NIV-1978
An Issue of the Heart
It is not that we must be sinless to be heard. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8, ESV).
What is at issue, here, is what we love, what we are passionate for. Do we love God’s precepts, even though we fail to fulfill them, or do we love ourselves and rebel against a holy God?
It is the former that will ask God for a microscopic examination of the heart.
See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. – Psalm 139:24, NIV-1978
If we will do that, and if we will respond in confession and repentance when God actually does convict us of our unclean ways, the results are glorious!
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. – 1 John 1:9, ESV
When we are purified, cleansed of our unrighteousness the doors of our prayer life are thrown open!
Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man has great power to prevail. – James 5:16, BSB
Brothers and sisters, it is crucial for us to love God, and to love his precepts. “Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day,” David said (Psalm 119:97). Dedicate your heart to the relentless pursuit of God, of wisdom that comes from him, of doing all you can to align your heart with God’s heart.
For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil. – 1 Peter 3:12, ESV