Question: A while ago I read in the Bible that God does not answer prayers from those who are not saved [but] if you have accepted Him as your Lord and Savior, He will give you anything you ask. I have searched and cannot seem to find the “very clear” answer I found once before. I found a few other references, but not the exact statement I was looking for. Can you help me?
Response: Concerning the Lord answering prayers of unbelievers, we know that He inspired the writer of Psalm:66:18 to state, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.” After declaring that His power and ability has no limit, the Lord in Isaiah:59:2 declared to a sinful and disobedient Israel, “But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear.”
Nevertheless, Scripture does on occasion speak of God both hearing and answering the prayers of unbelievers. Concerning these passages, prayer was clearly involved. For some, God answered the heart cry of the individual. Hagar lifted up “her voice and wept” as she considered the imminent death of Ishmael (Genesis:21:14-19).
For others, the prayer is presented with an attitude of repentance. Those in Nineveh prayed that God might spare Nineveh (Jonah:3:5-10). God answered this prayer and did not destroy the city. But in other examples, the prayer or petition concerned an earthly need or blessing, and God responded out of compassion or in response either to the genuine seeking or the faith of the person. The Lord sent the apostle Peter to Cornelius, the Roman centurion, because Cornelius was an unsaved but “devout” man (Acts:10:2), who “prayed to God always.”
Jesus spoke of the prayer of a tax collector in contrast to that of a self-righteous Pharisee, saying “The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted” (Luke:18:11-14).
Although we can have confidence that God answers prayers, there clearly are points where the Lord exercises His sovereignty and wisdom: “And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us: And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him” (1 John:5:14-15).
Our loving Father knows what’s best for us, and His answers to prayer are given for our best interest. In John:15:7, Jesus stated, “If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.” The Lord is clearly concerned about our “abiding” in Him. Consequently, we cannot say that as believers “He will give you anything you ask....” We also need to remember that “no” or “not now” is also an answer.
In James:4:3, the inspired writer points out, “Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.” For example, the believer who is mishandling his finances cannot expect a prayer for material blessing to be answered. Rather, the Lord’s priority for believers is to be “conformed to the image of His son” (Romans:8:29). That priority will clearly affect how the Lord answers the prayers of a believer.