When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood; wash and make yourselves clean.
Isaiah lived at a time when God’s people had turned from and rebelled against Him. He prophesied about the judgment that God planned to bring upon his people and of their eventual restoration. Chapter one starts with accusations against the nation of Israel and ends with the consequences of their rejection of God.
Verse 15 is found right in the middle of this chapter, and clearly states that because of their rebellion God will not listen to the prayers of his people, but what does this verse mean for Christians today? Furthermore, what does this mean for unbelievers today? Does the cross change things or does this verse still stand true today? If we turn from God is he still listening? And what about those who don’t know God yet? Is He listening?
My initial gut reaction was yes. God is a loving God, so why wouldn’t he listen to the prayers of everyone? I don’t like the idea that God isn’t listening to me when I pray. Or really, that there is anyone out there that He does not listen to. His not listening doesn’t sit right with me, but unfortunately that doesn’t make it untrue.
Fortunately, the Bible is clear that as long as believers are praying in accordance with God’s will He is listening. He tells his disciples in Luke 11:9-10 that if they ask they will receive and if they seek they will find. Additionally, 1 John 5:14-15 says that if believers can have confidence that if we ask according to His will God hears and answers our prayers.
What’s not clear based on this verse is whether the reverse is true. If we don’t pray according to His will, is God not listening? I’m honestly not sure, but I do know that God’s plan is perfect. So, does it really matter if He listens when we pray for things against His will? I for one am glad that there are prayers that He hasn’t listened to. I really don’t want to even think about what my life would be like if He listened to all of my prayer. So if you think about it, it’s probably better if he doesn’t listen to some of our prayers.
It gets a lot trickier when you consider whether God listens to the prayers of unbelievers. 1 Peter 3:12 which says that God is “attentive to the prayers of the righteous but his face is against those who do evil”, and John 9:31 which says that “God does not listen to sinners”, make it seem as if God doesn’t listen to nonbelievers. However, in Acts 10 before Cornelius is a believer God hears his prayer (verse 31). Additionally, the Old Testament includes example of nonbelievers whom God listened to (the people of Nineveh, Ahab, etc.)
So, what does any of this actually mean? Does God listen to all nonbelievers, some of them, none of them? In all honesty I have no idea. I guess the best answer I can give is that we aren’t given a simple or straight-forward answer. All we can do is learn as much as we can, and then trust Jesus for the rest.