When Is God Not Listening?
When Is God Not Listening?
In John 9:31, a beggar healed of blindness from birth makes an intriguing statement as he argues the case for Jesus being a legitimate man of God and prophet. (He does not yet understand Jesus’ true identity.) The formerly-blind man says, “We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him.” This affirmation has provided fodder for many sermons, Bible class discussions, and speculations on valid prayer. It is important that we not apply this sentiment carelessly, in ways not substantiated by scripture. This man was not an inspired witness, and as such, his words need to be carefully evaluated. Some thoughts for us to consider regarding this theological argument made by a passionate recipient of Jesus’ healing power.
It is true that God reveals there are times he does not listen to some prayers. This goes back to the time of the Old Testament, which incidentally, was the ONLY scripture the blind man had to draw conclusions from in John 9:31. There were multiple times in which God said to the chosen people of Israel, “I will not listen to your prayers anymore.” His reasoning is very specific. God’s ears turned away from their prayers when their hearts and actions turned away from sincere pursuit of God’s will. Consider Isaiah 1:12-17 and Zechariah 7:8-13 in which a lack of basic morality, justice, mercy, and human decency trumped Israel’s acts of worship (sacrifices, songs, festivals, etc.). Furthermore, we read in Proverbs 28:9, “If one turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination.” Psalm 66:18 adds, “If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.” Peter will say that a man’s prayers can be “hindered” if he fails to live in an understanding way with his wife (1 Peter 3:7).
Contrast this with the multiple accounts of men and women whose prayers were heeded, even though they were not part of the Jewish covenant with God. Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 4), Naaman (2 Kings 5), and Cornelius (Acts 10-11) are a few examples. Clearly, they did not have all their theology and understanding about God correct, yet their hearts were diligently searching Him…and God heard their prayers.
I think we need to use a great deal of caution in assuming whose prayers God does and does not hear. It seems rather plain that God’s criteria do not require having all the intellectual pieces and understandings in place for Him to hear. If so, He would have never turned His ear away from Israel, and would never have heard these gentile believers. Rather, it seems that God is searching the sincerity of the heart to know if there is genuine pursuit of Him or not. And that is simply something I cannot see the way God does.
When we hit our knees in prayer this week, it may be most prudent to focus on our own situations, instead of assuming about others’. Let us closely search our own hearts to make sure we have an authentic pursuit of what God wants in our lives.