I am praying — will you join me in this? — that 2021 will be a year in which we know in fresh and deep ways the goodness of Almighty God, a year in which we love him more deeply and trust him more firmly.
That’s quite a thing to pray, and I would like to return to the theme of these letters over recent times and reflect further with you on the wonder of Christian prayer.
The Christian claim that God hears our prayers is, of course, astonishing in the extreme. I wonder whether we sometimes take this wonder for granted. Do you actually believe that God listens to your prayers?
One of the Bible’s most solemn warnings is that God does not always listen to people’s prayers. Israel was warned, “And in that day you will cry out … but the Lord will not answer you in that day” (1Samuel 8:18; see also Proverbs 1:28; Isaiah 1:15; Jeremiah 11:11; Micah 3:4). Those who refuse to hear the word of God cannot expect that God will hear their prayers. “If one turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination” (Proverbs 28:9). Those who attempt to approach God with their lips while their hearts are far from him (Isaiah 29:13) cannot expect him to hear them. Jesus taught the terrible truth that “God does not listen to sinners” (John 9:31).
We ought not to assume, therefore, that God will hear our prayers, simply because we pray. Many prayers are not heard!
Only by God’s grace can we hope for our prayers to be heard. We cannot expect the Lord to hear us except as recipients of grace. If I may put it like this, God hears our prayers only because of the death of Jesus for us (see Ephesians 2:18).
Those whose hearts are hardened towards God will not find God responsive to their petitions. Such persons pray only out of self-interest, and do not receive what they ask for. “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions” (James 4:3).
Therefore humble repentance and seeking God’s forgiveness is essential for true prayer. This is not only how our prayers should begin, it is the spirit in which we should always pray. “When you seek me with all your heart, I will be found by you, declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 29:13-14).
As forgiven sinners we know that God hears our prayers! What a wonder of grace! Let us make 2021 a year in which we pray!
Acting Senior Minister