BOUNDARIES IN PRAYER - 1
God has not given us a blank cheque in regard to prayer. Embedded in the Scripture are boundaries which put a fence around both who can pray expecting to be heard and what we can pray for. These boundaries explain why some prayer is ineffective, for much of what we or others assume to be prayer, is not valid biblical prayer.
Boundary #1: Prayer must be directed to the one true God
The Scripture states: 'there is no one who seeks God' (Romans 3:11). It also says: 'anyone who comes to God must believe that he exists' (Hebrews 11:6).
In one way this boundary is quite obvious: of course prayer must be directed to the one, true God - for there is no other God there to answer prayer. What is not so obvious is that many people assume that they are praying to the one true God when in reality they are praying to their personal idea of ‘god’, rather than the God revealed in the Scripture, and seen definitively in Jesus Christ. Consider:
Matthew 11:27: ‘No one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.’
John 5:37ff: ‘You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent. ... you refuse to come to me to have life.’
John 8:19: ‘You do not know me or my Father ... if you knew me, you would know my Father also.’
John 10:30: ‘I and the Father are one.’
John 12:44ff: ‘When a man believes in me, he does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me. When he looks at me, he sees the one who sent me.’
John 14:6: ‘No one comes to the Father except through me.’
Colossians 2:9: ‘In Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form.’
Hebrews 1:3: ‘The Son is ... the exact representation of his being ...’
1John 5:20,21: ‘He is the true God and eternal life. Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.’
Prayer to any other 'god' than the God revealed in and by Jesus Christ is simply not prayer to God. The references above teach that those who do not know that Jesus Christ is God, do not know God. As Paul points in Romans 10:14, 'how can they call on the one they have not believed in?'
Does this mean that no prayers of people who do not know God by knowing Jesus are heard?
No, it doesn't. But it does mean that we cannot give unbelievers any guarantee that God will listen to their prayers. It does mean that when the prayers of unbelievers are heard by the one true God it is an act of sheer mercy on his part, and totally on the basis of his sovereign will and purpose.
We must never here fall into the error of blaming God. Humans have chosen to reject God and God's self-revelation, and to put their own idea of ‘god’ in his place:
The whole world has the knowledge of God in full view in creation, but has chosen to suppress, corrupt and/or discard that knowledge (Psalm 19; Romans 1:18-32).
The nation of Israel was given awesome historic evidence of the presence and power of God, but they rejected that knowledge and replaced worship of the true God with the worship of idols (Exodus 32, and right through to the exile).
The nation of Israel was given the written word of God - 'the Law and the Prophets', but these they had so twisted and supplemented until the truth was lost, that when Jesus came they did not recognize him.
To the Jews living at the time of Christ, God, in Christ, gave his final self-revelation - again to be misunderstood and rejected, crucified as a blasphemer. This was their choice.
In choosing to reject the one true God, humans have also chosen not to be heard by God.
Why then are some prayers of people who do not know God heard?
God is full of compassion. He knows our human pain. He knows our human grief. He wants to make himself known to people. He wants people to come to repentance and faith. Because of this, he, in his amazing grace, sometimes answers the prayers of unbelievers who address their prayers to their own idea of ‘god’ rather than to the true God. This is demonstrated by Jesus healing and helping people who had no genuine belief in him, and in Jesus' statement that God sends his rain and sun to the just and the unjust alike (Matthew 5:45).
© Rosemary Bardsley 2017