DOES GOD HEAR THE PRAYERS OF A SINNER?

John 9:31 declares, “We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly man who does his will.” It has also been said that “the only prayer that God hears from a sinner is the prayer for salvation.” As a result, some believe that God does not hear and/or will never answer the prayers of an unbeliever. In context, though, John 9:31 is saying that God does not perform miracles through an unbeliever. First John 5:14-15 tells us that God answers prayers based on whether they are asked according to His will. This principle, perhaps, applies to unbelievers. If an unbeliever asks a prayer of God that is according to His will, nothing prevents God from answering such a prayer—according to His will.

Some Scriptures describe God hearing and answering the prayers of unbelievers. In most of these cases, prayer was involved. In one or two, God responded to the cry of the heart (it is not stated whether that cry was directed toward God). In some of these cases, the prayer seems to be combined with repentance. But in other cases, the prayer was simply for an earthly need or blessing, and God responded either out of compassion or in response to the genuine seeking or the faith of the person. Here are some passages dealing with prayer by an unbeliever:

The people of Nineveh prayed that Nineveh might be spared (Jonah 3:5-10). God answered this prayer and did not destroy the city of Nineveh as He had threatened.

Hagar asked God to protect her son Ishmael (Genesis 21:14-19). God not only protected Ishmael, God blessed him exceedingly.

In 1 Kings 21:17-29, especially verses 27-29, Ahab fasts and mourns over Elijah’s prophecy concerning his posterity. God responds by not bringing about the calamity in Ahab’s time.

The Gentile woman from the Tyre and Sidon area prayed that Jesus would deliver her daughter from a demon (Mark 7:24-30). Jesus cast the demon out of the woman’s daughter.

Cornelius, the Roman centurion in Acts 10, had the apostle Peter sent to him in response to Cornelius being a righteous man. Acts 10:2 tells us that Cornelius “prayed to God regularly.”

God does make promises that are applicable to all (saved and unsaved alike) such as Jeremiah 29:13: “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” This was the case for Cornelius in Acts 10:1-6. But there are many promises that, according to the context of the passages, are for Christians alone. Because Christians have received Jesus as the Savior, they are encouraged to come boldly to the throne of grace to find help in time of need (Hebrews 4:14-16). We are told that when we ask for anything according to God’s will, He hears and gives us what we ask for (1 John 5:14-15). There are many other promises for Christians concerning prayer (Matthew 21:22John 14:1315:7). So, yes, there are instances in which God does not answer the prayers of an unbeliever. At the same time, in His grace and mercy, God can intervene in the lives of unbelievers in response to their prayers.

Prophet Nathan’s Sermon

overcoming the pain of betrayal:

Betrayal is a gross violation of trust and can be one of the most devastating forms of pain inflicted upon a human being. The suffering of betrayal is often magnified by a sense of vulnerability and exposure. For many, the pain of betrayal is worse than physical violence, deceit, or prejudice. Betrayal destroys the foundation of trust.

David was no stranger to betrayal: “If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it; if a foe were raising himself against me, I could hide from him. But it is you, a man like myself, my companion, my close friend, with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship as we walked with the throng at the house of God” (Psalm 55:12-14). The closer the relationship, the greater the pain of betrayal.

Jesus knew the pain of betrayal firsthand. The worst, most treacherous betrayal of all time was Judas’s betrayal of Jesus for thirty pieces of silver (Matthew 26:15). “Even my own familiar friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted up his heel against me” (Psalm 41:9,; cf. John 13:18). But Jesus did not become vindictive, bitter, or angry. Just the opposite. After receiving the traitor’s kiss, Jesus addressed Judas as “friend” (Matthew 26:50).

Despite the pain, there is a way we can overcome betrayal. The power comes directly from God and the strength of forgiveness.

After David laments a broken trust in Psalm 55, he hints at how to overcome the pain. He says, “But I call to God, and the LORD saves me. Evening, morning and noon I cry out in distress, and He hears my voice” (Psalm 55:16-17).

The first key is to cry out to God. Though we may want to strike out at the betrayer, we need to take our cause to the Lord. “Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing” (1 Peter 3:9).

Another key in overcoming the pain of betrayal is to remember Jesus’ example. Our sinful nature impels us to “repay evil with evil,” but Jesus taught us otherwise: “Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. . . . Pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:3944). When Jesus “was abused, he did not return abuse” (1 Peter 2:23). We should conform to His example by not repaying abuse for abuse, including the abuse of betrayal. Believers are to do good even to those who harm them. [Please note that this does not mean proper criminal justice in cases of abuse, business violations, etc. should not be sought. However, seeking of such justice should not be motivated for a desire for vengeance.]

Another powerful key in overcoming the bitterness of betrayal is our God-given ability to forgive the betrayer. The word forgiveness includes the word give. When we choose to forgive someone, we actually give that person a gift—the freedom from personal retaliation. But you are also giving yourself a gift—a “grudge-free life.” Trading our bitterness and anger for the love of God is a wonderful, life-giving exchange.

Jesus taught that “loving our neighbor as ourselves” should be proactive: “But I tell you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). Without question, it is enormously difficult to forgive a person who’s betrayed our trust. It is only possible with God (see Luke 18:27).

Those who have experienced God’s love understand what it means to be loved unconditionally and undeservedly. Only with the help of God’s Spirit can we love and pray for those who seek to do us harm (Romans 12:14-21).

Prophet Nathan’s Sermon

commit your ways to the lord:

In the 37th Psalm, David writes that God sustains the righteous (Psalm 37:17) and that their inheritance will be everlasting (Psalm 37:18). The salvation of the righteous is from the Lord (Psalm 37:39). It is a psalm of God’s faithfulness and an encouragement that the righteous do not trust Him in vain. Psalm 37:5 challenges the reader or listener to “commit your way to the Lord; trust in Him.”

In a perfect world, we wouldn’t need God to be our refuge, because there would be no threats. But in this fallen and broken world, we desperately need Him to be our refuge. The psalmist instructs that we not fret or be envious because of those who do evil (Psalm 37:1) because they will fade away quickly like the grass (Psalm 37:2). Evil has no staying power. Even though evil gains a foothold in the short term and may even appear to win the day, the reality is that it will not last. Because of that truth, we are encouraged to put our trust in the Lord and to do what He prescribes, which includes living faithfully (Psalm 37:3).

Our delight should not be in our circumstances; rather, our delight should be in the Lord. We should take pleasure in Him, and when we do that—when our desire is for Him—He provides that our desires are met (Psalm 37:4). The closer we get to Him, the more our desires begin to change from our own selfish wants to wanting what He wants for us. After presenting these thoughts, the psalmist exhorts that we commit our way to the Lord and trust in Him (Psalm 37:5). That commitment and trust does not come without reward, as God is faithful, “and He will do it” (NASB)—but what is it that He will do?

When we commit our way to the Lord and trust in Him, God is faithful to “bring forth [our] righteousness” (Psalm 37:6, ESV). When our way is committed to Him, He shapes us and grows us in His righteousness. Paul explained many years after the psalmist wrote that a person who is walking in the Spirit of God will see the fruit of the Holy Spirit in his life (Galatians 5:22–23). God will accomplish His work in our lives—He will transform us by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:1–2) if we will simply be committed to allowing Him to do that.

Elsewhere, Paul reminds believers to set their minds on things above (Colossians 3:1–4). The mindset of the believer is important, and it involves commitment to allowing God to do His work in us. Paul provides another example in Ephesians 5:18. He says we should not be drunk with wine, but, instead, we should be filled with the Holy Spirit. When a person drinks wine excessively, that person is submitting to a process that will end in his having little or no control over his body. Instead of submitting our bodies to wine in that way, we should be submitting ourselves to the Holy Spirit of God—immersing ourselves in His Word so that we are controlled by Him and our desires are shaped by Him. When we are doing that, we are filled with His Spirit or are walking in His Spirit, and He is faithful to bear His fruit in us. When we commit our way to the Lord (Psalm 37:5), He will make sure that way is fruitful.

Prophet Nathan’s Sermon

how does sin separate us from god?

A simple way to define sin is, “the act of going against God and His ways” (Romans 3:23). It makes sense that, when we are going against something, we are separate from it. By definition, then, sin separates us from God.

Since God is the creator and giver of life, to be separate from Him means to be experiencing death (Romans 6:23Ephesians 2:1). The Bible describes the unrepentant: “They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts” (Ephesians 4:18). Sin hardens us. Ongoing sin is a series of decisions, each one choosing against God’s authority in our lives and substituting our own. Those decisions create a wall between us and our Creator because we cannot have two masters. Jesus said we “will hate the one and love the other” (Matthew 6:24). Not only are we separate from God when we are ruled by sin; we are His enemies (Colossians 1:21). This separation from God created by sin dooms us to an eternity away from Him—except for one thing: Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners (1 Timothy 1:15).

The separation exists because God is perfect and we are not. The universe He created was perfect. The human beings He made in His own image were perfect until sin messed it all up (Genesis 1:27313:1–24). The moment Adam and Eve sinned, their “eyes were opened” (Genesis 3:7), and they knew that a separation had occurred; something had come between them and God. They became aware of sin and its consequences. Part of God’s perfection is His perfect justice, and justice demands that sin be reckoned with. To overlook the sin would not be just, so the sin stood between humanity and the righteous Judge.

In an act that foreshadowed God’s ultimate plan, He killed a perfect animal in the Garden of Eden and covered Adam and Eve’s nakedness with its skin (Genesis 3:21). God counted the blood of that substitute as payment for the man’s sin. Without the shedding of innocent blood, there could be no forgiveness, and mankind would be eternally separated from God (Hebrews 9:22). Jesus Christ’s shedding of His blood on the cross was an intentional act that would forever bridge the separation between mankind and God. “Whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16; cf. John 3:17–18). God counts the blood of His Son as sufficient payment for the debt we owe. When we trust in Jesus as our personal Lord and Savior, God closes the gap that yawned between us (2 Corinthians 5:21Colossians 2:13–15).

However, even as Christians, our sin can continue to separate us from God’s fellowship. Sin is like a dark curtain pulled over a sunny window. The sun is still there, but the curtain creates a separation from its warmth and light. Repentance lifts the curtain and restores the relationship we once enjoyed (1 John 1:9). Any unconfessed sin in the life of a follower of Jesus can create a sense of separation from God. God does not leave us, but the light and warmth of fellowship was cut off when we chose sin. We do not lose our salvation, because Jesus paid our debt in full. But we can lose the love, joy, and peace of the Holy Spirit when we persist in living apart from God.

King David felt such a separation when he sinned. He lusted after another man’s wife, slept with her, and then had her husband killed to cover up his sin (2 Samuel 11). God was displeased with David’s actions and sent Nathan the prophet to confront him (2 Samuel 12). Although David sinned greatly, he repented thoroughly. Psalm 51 is David’s cry of repentance to the Lord. He suffered consequences because of his sin. The infant conceived in that adulterous union died as a part of David’s judgment (2 Samuel 12:15–25). But when David repented, the separation his sin had created was gone. When we sin and God confronts us, we should not defend, justify, or excuse our transgression. We must repent of it and let the forgiveness of God restore us to fellowship with Him.

For every human problem, God has a solution. Even though we created the problem, God rescues us when we call on His name (Proverbs 18:10Romans 8:28–30). Separation from God does not have to define our relationship with Him. We can confess our sin, trust in His offer of salvation through faith in His Son, and accept the full pardon Jesus’ sacrifice provides (Isaiah 43:25Psalm 103:12John 1:29Hebrews 8:12). Sin separates us from God, but the grace and mercy of Jesus restores anyone who will receive Him as Lord of their lives.

Prophet Nathan’s Sermon

think on whatever is pure:

The apostle Paul recognized the incredible power of our thought life. He understood that the way we think determines how we feel and how we live. When we guard our hearts with right thinking, we develop healthier attitudes that lead to righteous living. For this reason, in Philippians 4:8, Paul prescribed an inventory of virtues to occupy the believer’s mind: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

What does it mean to think on whatever is pure? According to one commentary, the words think on or think about mean “to ponder, to give proper weight and value to, and to allow the resultant appraisal to influence the way life is to be lived” (Motyer, J. A., The Message of Philippians, InterVarsity Press, 1984, p. 212. The word pure here means “holy” in the sense of “moral purity.”

Thinking on whatever is pure entails filling our minds with thoughts that are innocent, virtuous, clean, not contaminated by anything evil, and free from every defilement. Pure thinking should infuse every area of our lives, including what we watch, read, and do. Our thoughts of a sensual nature, morality, ethics, spirituality, and worship all need to be characterized as pure. Thinking about whatever is pure will lead us away from sin, guilt, and shame and closer to God.

Jesus said it’s not exterior things that make us impure but what’s on the inside—that which comes out of the heart: “It’s not what goes into your body that defiles you; you are defiled by what comes from your heart” (Mark 7:15). We must hide the pureness of God’s Word securely in our hearts to keep from sinning against God (Psalm 119:11). We do this by reading His Word, memorizing it, and meditating on it day and night.

The psalmist declared, “The words of the LORD are pure words, like silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times” (Psalm 12:6, ESV; cf. 119:140). Psalm 119:9 asks and answers, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word” (ESV). Continually reflecting on the Word of God is one of the most valuable ways we can guard our hearts and ensure we are thinking on whatever is pure (Psalm 19:8).

To consistently think on whatever is pure, believers must “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (Corinthians 10:5). James teaches, “To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted” (James 3:17, ESV).

Paul taught the Ephesians that, before salvation, their thoughts were “full of darkness” (Ephesians 5:8). The unsaved wander far from God because their minds are hardened and closed to Him (Ephesians 4:18). Unbelievers have “no sense of shame. They live for lustful pleasure and eagerly practice every kind of impurity” (Ephesians 4:19, NLT). But Christians “throw off the old sinful nature and former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception” and allow the Holy Spirit to renew their thoughts and attitudes (Ephesians 4:22–23, NLT).

Paul’s encouragement to think on whatever is pure has the goal of producing purity of thought, purpose, words, and actions. To the spiritual leader, Paul said, “Keep yourself pure” (1 Timothy 5:22). The apostle desired to present his spiritual children “as a pure bride to one husband—Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:2, NLT).

The apostle John also urged God’s children—those who longed to see Jesus face to face—to “keep themselves pure, just as he is pure” (1 John 3:3, NLT). Whenever we find ourselves drifting from God, we ought to pray like David, “Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. . . . Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Psalm 51:7–10). The Christian’s entire way of life ought to be a never-ending quest to stay pure, “for he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight” (Ephesians 1:4).

Prophet Nathan’s Sermon