The following article was originally published on the Place for Truth blog of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals at placefortruth.org.
A few years back, there was a clever trend afoot that brought light amusement to some and great annoyance to others. Friends and family members would record a voicemail greeting that began with a cheery “hello,” only to pause for a few seconds before launching into the rest of the greeting, “I can’t come to the phone right now.” That brief interlude was just long enough to prompt many of us – myself included – to launch into conversation. Having been greeted by a familiar voice, you could reasonably assume to be speaking with (and heard by) your loved one on the other end of the call. But instead you had fallen prey to cheap trickery. What few words passed your lips dissipated in futility, left unheard like the crash of a tree in an uninhabited rainforest. The promise of a friendly hearing was broken as the rest of the voicemail greeting bombarded your unsuspecting ears. With thanks to God and confidence in His promises, we can be grateful that such is never the case when we call upon His Name in prayer.
God in His Word speaks of an unbreakable promise of what we might call “a friendly hearing” at His throne of grace. Christians in the midst of spiritual warfare are counseled, “draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (Jas. 4:8). This assurance of God’s readiness to commune with us in our acts of devotion flows out of the very nature and character of God, whom David addresses with the salutation, “O You who hear prayer” (Ps. 65:2). We might render David’s words as “O Hearer of Prayer” or “O Prayer-Hearer.” This is rightly to be regarded as a divine title, for it is our Triune God who guides us in prayer by the Spirit, perfects our prayers in and through Christ, and receives – or hears – our prayers before the Father’s throne. He promises to hear the prayers of His people, for He cannot deny Himself.
However, God’s Word does confront us with solemn warnings and threats against impenitent prayer. Christ cautioned His disciples not to pray like the hypocrites do, for social advancement and the esteem of men (Matt. 6:5). Neither should we pray like heathens, with vain multiplication of words and phrases (Matt. 6:7), divorced from any kind of intelligible meaning or spiritual efficacy. To call upon the Name of the Lord as a godless hypocrite or as a superstitious unbeliever is powerless. This sobering reality finds expression in Job’s rhetorical questions, “What is the hope of the godless (KJV: hypocrite) when he is cut off, when God requires his life? Will God hear his cry when distress comes upon him? Will he take delight in the Almighty? Will he call on God at all times?” (Job 27:8-10).
Reflect for a moment on the infinite distance that separates God in His perfect holiness and each of us in our sins. There is no fellowship between light and darkness, and there exists no partnership between righteousness and lawlessness (2 Cor. 6:14). Apart from some change in us and our status – for God is unchangeable – we are shut out from God. The utterances of an unrepentant and unregenerate sinner are akin to blocked calls shut out from heaven’s hotline. Does the threat of being denied a hearing before God terrify you? It should. With unthinkable spiritual anguish, Job himself exclaimed, “Oh that I knew where I might find Him, that I might come to His seat!” (Job 23:3).
What hope do we have? David testifies, “Come and hear, all who fear God, and I will tell of what He has done for my soul. I cried to Him with my mouth, and He was extolled with my tongue. If I regard wickedness in my heart, the Lord will not hear; but certainly God has heard; He has given heed to the voice of my prayer. Blessed be God, who has not turned away my prayer nor His lovingkindness from me” (Psalm 66:16-20). The implication here is that God will receive all those who call upon Him in faith, extolling His excellencies and despising that which His Word condemns as sin. Thus, the promise of God to hear prayers is for all those who come confessing their sins and seeking divine pardon in and through Christ alone, who made atonement for our sins on Calvary’s tree where He hung despised and rejected for our sakes. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn. 1:9).
God’s pardoning grace in Christ reconciles us to God. Thereby He promises to hear us when we pray. Apply the following call to worship as a call to confident prayer grounded in God’s purpose and promise to receive us: “since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Heb. 10:19-22). We have a promise from God Himself that He will receive all those who approach Him through Christ His Son. God is a generous God intent upon blessing the nations with life in Him through His Son – life given by His regenerating and indwelling Spirit – and He hears the prayer of all those who call out to Him in faith because He is, and He is a hearer of prayers. We might then ask, “what kind of hearer of prayers is our God?” He is a merciful God, quick to hear, forgive, and receive the penitent sinner.