Not long ago I had someone ask me, what happens to the prayers of those who are not Christians? This person declared herself not to be a Christian but was seeking God out and participating in Bible studies––she was curious.
One day, she and a friend were searching the scriptures together and the thought occurred to her, “What happens to my prayers since I am not a believer?” In this blog post, I will seek to unpack this question.
Can Non-Christians pray? If you are not a genuine follower of Jesus Christ there is no guarantee that your prayers will be answered by God. The Bible promises that God will listen to his people, but never promises to respond to those who do not believe. The Bible also teaches us that people who pray for things out of corrupt motives do not receive because their hearts are filled with wrong intent when they come to the Lord.
Who Prayer Is For
Prayer is a gift from God that He has given to His people and is a special privilege for the people of God. This principle is alluded to several times in the New Testament, most notably in Matthew 6 and John 1.
In James 4:3, the brother of Jesus writes “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”
To unpack that a little bit, we need to understand that those who are not committed followers of Christ are not filled with and walking by the Holy Spirit. Because of this, they are not being transformed into the image of God, this means that unbelievers still have sinful motives.
Often times if you are not a believer in Christ you will not realize or feel that you have false motives, and you may even seem like a good person with high morals. But outside of the power of the Holy Spirit, you have no chance of being transformed into the likeness of Christ, and therefore your motives will not reflect His.
Reasons Prayers Go Unanswered
It is easy to call sin, sin, but sometimes we don’t know what that actually looks like practically. Additionally, though we know prayer is for the believer, we need to also consider that sometimes a Christian’s prayer can go unanswered because there is sin in their heart.
So let’s breakdown what sin can look like, and at just a few reasons prayers go unanswered.
“For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” Matthew 5:14-15
Unforgiveness towards others can be a major hindrance in the Christians life. God takes it very seriously and goes so far as to say you remain unforgiven until you extend forgiveness.
Unforgiveness separates us from Christ, therefore if we have an offense towards someone, we need to be sure to deal with it.
“If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.” Psalm 66:18
This verse is pretty straightforward. The psalmist is showing us that if sin is dear to us and takes the place of God, then the Lord will not hear our prayers.
How can we cherish the very things God hates, and yet go to him in prayer?
1 John 1:9 says this, however, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us [our] sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
So releasing and removing those sins from our hearts is what leads to communion with God.
An Unrepentant Heart
“But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.” Romans 2:5
While an unrepentant heart is similar to cherishing sin, it is different because this is a willful sin. If you know you are in sin and yet refuse to repent or acknowledge your sin, the Lord will not answer your prayers.
An unrepentant heart is separation from Christ, and as the verse above states, stores up wrath.
An Unbelieving Heart
“But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.” James 1:6-7
An unbeliever cannot come to Christ in faith, because they do not believe. And we know that without faith we cannot please God (Hebrews 11:6).
God Knows Who Will be Part of His Family
Though you’re not a believer yet, that doesn’t mean you won’t be in the future, and God knows exactly who is going t0 be in his family. He knows which people will become true genuine Christians.
And as I’ve read through John and James, I can’t help but think it plausible that though someone may not be a believer at the moment, God knows they will be in the future, and thus, He is attentive to their prayers.
Think of it this way, if God knows that you will be committed to Him in the future, then you are already His. He knows that you belong to Him, and He will eventually begin to draw you in.
So even if you’re not a Christian today, God has His eye on you and is attentive to your prayers.
Prayer is for the Righteous
The Bible says in Psalm 34:15, The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are attentive to their cry
Who are the righteous?
The Righteous are all the people God has declared to be in right standing with Himself. The earth is full of people who are sinful, living wicked lives, they are not in right standing with God. Basically, they are living in God’s wrath.
The righteous people, on the other hand, are in good standing with God, they have been forgiven and live in His blessing. The righteous were enemies of God and now they are friends of God, and it is through grace by Jesus sacrifice on the cross.
So again, prayer is for God’s people alone. He is attentive to the cries and pleas of His people, but, I don’t believe this necessarily means that it’s after you profess that He begins to be attentive to you.
How You Can be Heard By God
“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 59:2
In the passage above, the Prophet Isaiah lays it straight for us. Sin separates us from God, which causes our prayers to go unheard by God.
For the individual who is searching, the way to answered prayers and communion with God is an acknowledgment and repentance of your sins.
God deeply desires to incline His ear and bless us, but by partaking in sin, WE separate ourselves from Him. So, the key is repentance and making God the Lord of your life.