The Bible is clear that we cannot expect God to hear and answer our prayers when we are deliberately sinning against Him, pursuing evil, or are unrepentant for our actions. “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” (Isa 59:1,2).
God was willing to let Israel be defeated at Ai (Joshua 7) and eventually go into captivity to Babylon (2 Chronicles 36) rather than countenance willful sin. God is serious about our obedience. Our willful disobedience to God and His Word carries grave consequences, not the least of which is His ear being closed to our prayers.
When we pray, we are approaching a holy God. Because that is true, we should come humbly and honestly before His holy presence, aware that He knows everything that is in our heart. If we are “regarding iniquity” (by hiding or holding on to sin, or asking with an ungodly motive), He will not hear us.
GOD HEARS THE REPENTANT
This does not mean we have to live perfect lives in order for God to hear us in prayer. None of us is without sin in this life (Ps 53:1-3; Rom 3:23; 1 John 1:8). We will stumble and fail on occasion. God has compassion on those who are trying their best to live as true Christ-followers, but who might occasionally stumble into sin and then repent. However, that is very different than those who love and pursue sin without repentance, or those who obey only some of God’s Word and yet willfully ignore the rest.
“For 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” (1Pet 3:12).
WE HAVE AN ADVOCATE
As Christians, we do occasionally stumble and fail. We might choose to sin and even sometimes rebel against God and His Word. Then how can we ever be effective in prayer? How will God ever hear us?
Even Jesus’ own disciples – who walked with Jesus and were taught by Him for years – struggled with failure and wrong attitudes. On the very night before Jesus was to die on the cross, the prideful and selfish concern of the disciples was who among them was the greatest! (Luke 22:24).
Jesus had taught his disciples about love and humility; yet they acted carnal and proud. Jesus told His disciples that they would be known by their love for each other (John 13:35; 1John 3:1-18); yet they could not even show love enough to watch with Him one hour (Matt 26:40-41). Jesus prayed for loving unity; yet that night they united only in fear and abandoning Christ (Matt 26:56).
Jesus’ disciples seemed deaf and blind to all that Jesus had taught them. But it was to these very men that Jesus said, “…He who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do…” (John 14:12). Jesus – fully aware of their (and our) immaturity, selfishness and envy – still prayed His highest prayer on that night: that Believers would be one (John 17:11). Jesus even prayed that they would become a dwelling place for the Godhead! (John 14:16,17,23).