The issue rests on what is meant by the word “hear.” There is no question that God knows and hears all things within His creation. Proverbs 15:3 declares, “The eyes of the LORD are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good” (NKJV). David declared, “There is not a word on my tongue, but behold, O LORD, You know it altogether” (Psalms 139:4). However, Scripture speaks of those whom God “hears” and “does not hear” because of their separation from Him because of sin. Isaiah 59:1-2 tells us, “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.” When it comes to prayer, this means that God does not accept the prayers of one in sin. Peter taught, “The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their prayers; but the face of the LORD is against those who do evil” (1 Peter 3:12). Husbands are warned to treat their wives properly, “that your prayers may not be hindered” (1 Peter 3:7). When one is separated from God because of sin, as the Wise man said, “even his prayer is an abomination” (Proverbs 28:9). So we may say generally that God does not “hear” the prayers of non-Christians in the sense that He does those of Christians.
With that said, what does Scripture teach us about prayers which are offered by those who are seeking the Lord? God knows when people are of the disposition that they will be obedient to the Gospel when given the chance. God told Paul when the Jews of Corinth rejected him, “I have many people in this city” (Acts 18:10). Philip was taken by the Spirit to the Ethiopian Eunuch, who then obeyed the Gospel (Acts 8:26-40). How does God know the disposition of such potential converts? As noted earlier, the Lord knows all things. Jesus is often described as knowing the thoughts of men (cf. Luke 5:22; 6:8; 11:17). So, God knows man’s disposition whether prayer is offered or not. However, Acts 10:1-6 gives us an example of just such a man, named Cornelius, who is described as one who “prayed to God always” (v. 2). Did God hear him in the same what that He heard the prayers of Christians? Was he acceptable to God in that condition? From the text we can answer both questions—no! An angel of the Lord revealed to him, “Your prayers and your alms have come up for a memorial before God” (v. 4). The word translated “memorial” is defined as “reminder (memorandum), that is a record, memorial” (Strong’s ). God “heard” his prayers as a remembrance, but not in the same way that He did those of His people. How do we know this? He was told to go to Peter, of whom if was promised, “He will tell you what you must do” (v. 6). This helps us answer our question. When non-Christians pray, their prayers, like those of Cornelius may be heard by God as “a memorial” but not in the same what as those of Christians. There is more they need to do—they need to obey the Gospel and become a Christian. When that happens, the Christian has a great assurance. John wrote, “Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him” (1 John 5:14-15).
Kyle Pope, August 2010