At best we can conclude that God indeed HEARS all prayers of all people just as he knows all things, but he only ANSWERS prayers according to his own will, and that is mainly the prayers of those who seek to do his will.
So what happens when you live your entire life as if God does not exist, but then you get into a real jam? You do not believe in God, you want nothing to do with God, and you actually dislike the very idea of God existing and interfering with your selfish lifestyle. But then crunch time comes.
Folks like this can very quickly change their tune and start praying fast and furiously. As the old saying goes, there are no atheists in foxholes. When all hell breaks out, when some massive crisis comes along, then all of a sudden plenty of Joe and Josephine Pagans will burst out into prayer – as if there actually is a God who is there.
So what are we to make of such prayers? Does God in fact hear them? Does he answer them? Let me seek to flesh out some thoughts on this. These questions arise from a few brief things I happened to see on the television the other night. Both involved those who seemed to clearly be non-Christians who were speaking about God and prayer.
One was all rather trivial, while the other was quite serious. As to the former, some gal on a food cooking contest program said something about praying to God that the food comes out OK. But just moments prior she had uttered a string of swear words because of problems she had in her cooking. I immediately thought, ‘Hmm, and what God is this that she is praying to?’
These superficial and usually meaningless prayers are of course heard all the time: ‘God, please let the judges like my food.’ ‘God, help me get that parking spot.’ (Christians often pray that one too!) ‘God, help me get that dress that is on sale.’ Sam and Samantha Secular can pray prayers like this all the time. They may not even believe in God, but they are happy to now and then throw up prayers nonetheless to get something they want or crave.
Contrary to the beliefs of many people – pagans and Christians alike – God is not a divine Santa Claus whose only purpose for existing is to give us goodies and nice things whenever and wherever we seek them. He does not exist to serve us. We exist to serve, love and obey him.
But the second TV example was indeed much more important. A show about missing persons featured a 4-year-old girl who went missing in remote Tasmania. When I heard what the panicked mother said, I actually wrote it down: “I never prayed in my life, but I am now.” Hmm…
Thankfully the girl was found on the third day. And then the mum spoke of what ‘a blessing it was that she was found.’ Hmm again. To speak about “blessings” means there must be someone who gives out such blessings. Nature does not bless us in this sense – but a personal God can and does.
Now, does God care about children in strife, and does he care about grieving and panicking parents?