"Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened" (Matthew 7:7-11)

The above verse offers encouragement that truth does exist, and not only does it exists, but it can and will be found by those who honestly seek after it. This site is dedicated to this quest. We hope it will help you in your personal Search of Truth.

This question has been debated among Christians in the past. My goal is not to “strike with the fist of wickedness ... for strife and debate” (Isaiah 58:4), rather I hope that this will help Christians properly characterize God, avoid the extension of false hope to the lost, and accentuate one of the strongest motivating factors for being a faithful Christian — assurance of heeded prayers.

Does God Hear the Prayer of Sinners?

The short answer is, “It depends”. The title of this article represents an overly simplified but commonly asked question, which glosses over several critical details assumed by both the questioner and the questioned. Depending on the context, the question may be rightly answered with seemingly opposing answers. Please think with me about the more detailed questions that could be intended by the above question.

Is God Aware of the Prayer of Sinners?

Yes, God literally hears the prayers of sinners. He is omniscient and omnipresent (Psalm 139:1-24). There is nothing that escapes His awareness or knowledge. That He might somehow be ignorant of the prayer offered to Him by sinners, underestimates the God who sees all and judges sinners — even in their secret sins (Psalm 94:7-11; Jeremiah 23:23-24; 1 Samuel 16:7; Job 31:4).

Behold, the LORD’s hand is not shortened, That it cannot save; Nor His ear heavy, That it cannot hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; And your sins have hidden His face from you, So that He will not hear. (Isaiah 59:1-2)

Therefore, we must not misunderstand this question to relate to God’s power or capacity, but rather it figuratively relates to His willingness to receive and respond favorably to prayers. Even the righteous used the language of God “not hearing” them, when their prayers had not yet moved God to desirable action, although their prayers were literally heard and eventually resolved positively:

O My God, I cry in the daytime, but You do not hear; And in the night season, and am not silent. ... But You, O LORD, do not be far from Me; O My Strength, hasten to help Me! Deliver Me from the sword, My precious life from the power of the dog. Save Me from the lion's mouth And from the horns of the wild oxen! You have answered Me. I will declare Your name to My brethren; In the midst of the assembly I will praise You. (Psalm 22:2, 19-22)

Although the Psalmist may have initially felt abandoned in the moment, God ultimately delivered him “in the acceptable time” (Psalm 69:13; Isaiah 49:8).

The question that ultimately concerns us relates to God’s figuratively “hearing” by literally accepting and reacting favorably to the prayer of sinners (I Samuel 8:18; Isaiah 1:11-15). Does God never positively respond to the prayers of sinners?

Does God Help Sinners Seeking Him?

We have previously shown that God is a forgiving God, who desires that no sinner be lost. He is “longsuffering”, and He wants that “all should come to repentance” (II Peter 3:9).

“And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us;” (Acts 17:26-27)

Would God go to such great extents, offering His only Son as a sacrifice to sins (John 3:16), and then fall deaf to the pleas for help unto salvation from the very people He sought to save? Is it not “self-evident” (I Corinthians 15:27) that the means of reconciliation - prayer and baptism (Romans 10:10-13; 1 John 1:9; 1 Peter 3:21) are exempt from the penalty of alienation? It is hard to imagine how He would not do so little, after having already done so much (Romans 8:32).

Cornelius stands as a testament to God’s willingness to consider the prayers of the lost and benevolently act towards their redemption:

There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment, a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always. About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God coming in and saying to him, “Cornelius!” And when he observed him, he was afraid, and said, “What is it, lord?” So he said to him, “Your prayers and your alms have come up for a memorial before God. Now send men to Joppa, and send for Simon whose surname is Peter. He is lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea. He will tell you what you must do." (Acts 10:1-6)

Before we read too much into this example, please notice a few limitations. First, there is no indication that Cornelius was saved by his prayer alone. To the contrary, it was Peter who would proclaim words by which you and all your household will be saved” (Acts 11:14). Likewise today, prayers for help are no substitution for repentance and obedience (Acts 2:37-38). Second, there is no indication that Cornelius’ prayers were generally received and answered with the same level of acceptance, fellowship and favor enjoyed by the children of God. His prayers arose as “a memorial before God”, as a reminder and call to action. What was the action? Regardless of Cornelius’ expressed wishes, God’s response was to send a preacher, Peter, who would “tell you what you must do”. Presumably, this matched Cornelius’ desire, because he immediately sent for Peter according to this revealed directive (Acts 10:7-8, 22, 24, 29-33). There was no confusion, no hesitation, and no questioning on Cornelius’ part; therefore, it seems safest to assume his prayers were obviously being addressed by sending for Peter.

Based on Cornelius’ example alone, no person should ever feel so lost, so defiled or so discouraged to think that God does not hear their pleas for help, for restoration, for salvation, for fellowship with Him. Beyond Cornelius and as further proof, the conversions of Saul of Tarsus (the apostle Paul) and King Manasseh, both known for wickedly murdering innocents, stand as tremendous examples of God’s love for all and His willingness to forgive the darkest of sins (I Timothy 1:12-16; II Chronicles 33:1-16). If they could be saved, we should never feel that our sins are so extreme that God would not save us or hear our prayers of repentance, requesting help unto salvation.

However, we must also be careful of the other extreme. Stubborn disobedience can also masquerade itself as overwhelming hopelessness and inconsolable discouragement:

“The instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, to pull down, and to destroy it, if that nation against whom I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I thought to bring upon it."And the instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it, if it does evil in My sight so that it does not obey My voice, then I will relent concerning the good with which I said I would benefit it. Now therefore, speak to the men of Judah and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, saying, ‘Thus says the LORD: “Behold, I am fashioning a disaster and devising a plan against you. Return now every one from his evil way, and make your ways and your doings good.”’” And they said, “That is hopeless! So we will walk according to our own plans, and we will every one obey the dictates of his evil heart.” (Jeremiah 18:7-12)

Therefore, we must neither be too easily discouraged ourselves nor fall prey and cater to those who insincerely feign discouragement as a tool to manipulate and conceal. (The wicked King Ahaz stands as example of one who hypocritically pretended to take the high moral ground and faked pious humility to cover his rebellion, when he turned to Assyria for help instead of the Lord, refusing to “test the Lord”, II Chronicles 28:1-6, 16-22; Isaiah 7:10-13.) Those who truly understand their plight will ultimately be overcome with desperation, not discouragement, and turn to God because there is simply nowhere else to go. Like Jacob who wrestled with Lord and would not let go until he was blessed (Genesis 32:7-13, 24-30; Hosea 12:3-4), or the inhabitants of Nineveh who fasted and repented when there was no hope but doom for their sins (Jonah 3:1-10), or the Gentile woman who would not accept initial rejection from Jesus to heal her daughter (Matthew 15:22-28; Mark 7:26-30), sincere belief will manifest itself as desperation and overcome any discouragement because the stakes are too high. There is no other acceptable alternative. Where else can we go, if not to the Lord (John 6:66-68)? “Who can tell if God will turn and relent, and turn away from His fierce anger, so that we may not perish” (Jonah 3:9)? This sincere contrition is what God seeks (Jonah 3:10; Psalm 51:1-3, 6-10, 16-17; Joel 2:12-14). But, does this genuine humility and submission represent the nature of all the prayers that all sinners may offer? Might some make a different kind of request from a different heart? Will God respond favorably to such a people?

Does God Respond Favorably to the General Wishes of Sinners?

At the opposite extreme of the broken-hearted, discouraged sinner, desperate for salvation stands another type of person: one who is merely desperate to escape the earthly consequences of their sins, one who seeks physical blessing without spiritual commitment, one who is willing to serve the Lord only after their will is first satisfied (Luke 9:57-62), one who seeks foolishly to manipulate God and game their Creator (Galatians 6:7-8). Maybe through prayer they promise repentance, hoping to negotiate a deal with God to return to the path of righteousness just as soon as God helps them get a better job, a bigger house, or away from temporal trouble. For such a person the Scriptures answers, no, God will not hear such prayers. Consider this warning issued to those who long spurn wisdom:

“How long, you simple ones, will you love simplicity? For scorners delight in their scorning, And fools hate knowledge. Turn at my rebuke; Surely I will pour out my spirit on you; I will make my words known to you. Because I have called and you refused, I have stretched out my hand and no one regarded, Because you disdained all my counsel, And would have none of my rebuke, I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your terror comes, When your terror comes like a storm, And your destruction comes like a whirlwind, When distress and anguish come upon you. Then they will call on me, but I will not answer; They will seek me diligently, but they will not find me. Because they hated knowledge And did not choose the fear of the LORD, They would have none of my counsel And despised my every rebuke. Therefore they shall eat the fruit of their own way, And be filled to the full with their own fancies. (Proverbs 1:22-31)

Generally, our sins sever our fellowship with God, where He will not hear our general prayers:

Behold, the LORD’s hand is not shortened, That it cannot save; Nor His ear heavy, That it cannot hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; And your sins have hidden His face from you, So that He will not hear. (Isaiah 59:1-2)

This is the general rule, expressed without qualification. Sin separates man from God (Habakkuk 1:13; Amos 3:2-3). Other proof texts where inspired writers testify to God not hearing sinners’s prayers include: I Peter 3:7, 12; Proverbs 28:9; Psalm 34:15-18; 66:18-20. The only exception to this general rule are those that repent and seek salvation from their sins above all else (Psalm 34:15-18), even if it means they must suffer earthly consequences for their now forgiven sins (II Samuel 12:5-13; 16:5-13). The Lord will gladly hear and help such a people. Those that have turned to God have always needed to first repent before He would favorably respond to their prayers requesting help beyond salvation itself (Judges 20:11-35; 1 Samuel 7:3-13). Without such contrition and humility, the unrepentant have no promise, no hope of being heard (Proverbs 3:34; James 4:6-7; II Chronicles 33:10-13).

Might God positively respond to the prayer of the lost, when the prayer is unrelated to spiritual salvation? He might, but what assurance or Scripture can be offered that He will? What is the only assurance we can truly offer, except that God always hear the prayers of His people?

Answering Objections

Other mechanisms have been suggested for reconciling God hearing Cornelius’ prayer against the general rule of sinner’s prayers being ignored. Some have suggested that this prohibition, this deaf ear only applied to Jews, who were already God’s people. By this observation it is assumed that most contrary proof texts do not apply, since they were originally written to rebellious individuals of God’s people, not alien sinners such as the Gentiles. However, it should first be noted that this represents a non-sequitur assertion, a distinction without justification, a conclusion without merit. Where is the proof that limits the general principle of God ignoring sinners’ prayers to those already in a covenant relation with God? Have we made the same mistake as Calvinists who dismiss God’s desire for all to be saved as applying only to Christians, since the epistle was written to Christians, and ignored the broader underlying general principle (II Peter 3:9; I Timothy 2:1-4)?

Furthermore, how could God look past the sins of those unregenerated but be unable to look past the sins of His own children? Is one person’s sins less “sinful” than the other? Is one not accountable, so their sins are not really sins? This distinction not only casts shade on God’s character, but it also either minimizes the sins of the lost or blows out of proportion the sins of the saints. Pick your poison. Neither will sit well for those holding to an equitable God without prejudice (Acts 10:33-34).

Some have pointed to the “sinner” and “publican” whose prayer was heard and returned to his house “justified” (Luke 18:9-14). However, given that he went to the temple to pray alongside the Pharisee, and given that the Pharisee thought him worthy of comparison, this publican was almost assuredly a Jew, as was Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10). If he was a Jew and a sinner, and if those proof-texts applied only to Jews who were sinners, why was his prayer acceptable? His humility and repentance made his prayer acceptable (Luke 18:9, 14), even though he was both a Jew and previously lived as a “sinner”! Therefore, dismissing passages as applying only to sinning Jews is not only inconsistent with Scripture, it misses the underlying general principle applied specifically to the original recipients of the above proof-texts.

Some have suggested that if God listens to the prayers of saints but dismisses the prayers of the rebellious, that He is somehow demonstrating inequity and prejudice. However, this accusation overlooks the difference in response based on the nature of the prayer itself. (Is the sinner seeking salvation or a bigger house? Is the sinner willing to repent first or only after he receives his bigger house?) Also, this objection ignores the plain fact that God shows favor to His children without apology (Matthew 17:24-27; Ephesians 1:3-6). Is He wrong in doing so? Do you give all children of the world equal share in your inheritance? Can any child on the street ask you for money, resources or time and expect help on the same level you give to your own child?


Brethren, let us be careful in dealing with apparent contradictions that we do not create even greater, deeper contradictions by hastily oversimplifying a question when it deserves a more detailed answer. Furthermore, in our efforts to speak “with grace, seasoned with salt” and not unnecessarily offend (Colossians 4:6; Matthew 12:19-20), let us not offer an “uncertain sound” (I Corinthians 14:7-12) that offers a misleading and false hope to sinners, where there is none promised. If Christians too easily waste their prayers on their carnal desires, will those spiritually lost generally do better (James 4:1-10)? Let us not encourage this misunderstanding, inevitable disappointment, and resulting bitterness.

Unless otherwise noted, all quotations are from the New King James Version, copyright © 1994 by Thomas Nelson Publishers.

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