Jan 16, 2019
The quick answer is yes. And no. It seems to depend on the unbelief of the unbeliever.
There are different kinds of unbelief. The first kind is what you normally think of when you hear the word unbelief. This unbelief is a flat no way no how type of thinking. It gives no place to the idea of God or whatever His promises are, such as salvation, healing, deliverance, etc. This type may include the firm conviction that God does not exist.
You can see this type of belief when Jesus visited His hometown, Nazareth. In Matthew 13:54-58 and Mark 6:1-6, you are introduced to people who believed in the Father God, but refused to believe in Jesus as Messiah God.
Jesus went to Nazareth wanting to help people in whatever way they needed Him. But Matthew wrote, “And He did not do many works of power there because of their unbelief.” (Matt 13:58 LITV) Mark said, “And he could there do no mighty work, save that he laid his hands upon a few sick folk, and healed them.” (Mark 6:5 KJV)
Only a few believed in Jesus and His message. Luke tells more about the visit in Luke 4:16-30. Keep in mind, Jesus is talking to church goers. They are supposed to believe God words aren’t they? Apparently not all of them did. Jesus reminds those who did not believe Him of instances in the Old Testament when only a widow and a soldier, neither one a Hebrew, qualified for God’s miracle working power.
This did not set well with His audience. They considered non-Jews sinners, capital S.
Luke goes on to say that the unbelieving church-goers wanted to throw Jesus off a cliff. I would call that rejecting Him wouldn’t you?
There are two important things to note in this account. The first is that those who gave Jesus no honor and no credibility blocked Jesus from working among them. The second is that Jesus went there, stood there, willing to help them and wanting to help them.
The lesson in those two points? Jesus will not force Himself on you.
The second type of unbelief can be seen in various accounts in the Bible, but let’s stick to the two unbelievers Jesus pointed out in the Old Testament, the widow living in Zarephath (north of Tyre, Lebanon) and Naaman, a commander in the Syrian army under King Ben Hadad. Neither were followers of God. But they didn’t reject Him either.
In 1Kings 17:8-24, the widow recognized Elijah as a prophet of the Hebrew God. She did not really understand everything he told her to do, but she listened and did what he said. She and her son survived a famine.
When her son died, she questioned the goodness of the prophet and his God. She never asked Elijah to heal the boy. In fact, she thought God had punished her for not being one of His people. God answered Elijah’s prayer and raised the boy from the dead.
This is what the widow said, “Now I know this, that you are a man of God, and the Word of Jehovah in your mouth is truth.” (1Kings 17:24 LITV)
God answered her questions about Him, and she became a believer. He certainly did not kill her son to teach her this, but He used the situation for good. If you have questions about Jesus or know someone who does check out our book Is Jesus God?.
In 2Kings 5, you discover that Naaman was a Syrian with a skin disease. He was important because he had won a victory for his country. Some Bible scholars think he may have killed Israel’s King Ahab during a war. (1Kings 22:29-36)
Naaman had a slave who happened to be a Hebrew girl. She told him she wished he could see Elisha, God’s prophet, because God could heal his skin disease.
When Naaman heard this, he asked his king for permission to go see the Hebrew prophet. The king wrote him a letter of introduction, and Naaman arrived in Israel. After a miscommunication was resolved, Naaman in all his finery and pomp went to visit the famed prophet.
But Elisha did not greet him. He sent his butler of sorts to open the door and give Naaman a message which was to go wash in the Jordan River seven times.
Important Naaman was offended. He said he had wanted to see Elisha “stand in front of me and pray to the LORD his God, then wave his hand over my skin and cure me.” (2Kings 5:12 CEV)
Instead he was to go wash in Israel’s river. He was annoyed. He said, “Are not Abanah and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Shall I not wash in them and be clean? And he turned and went on in fury.” (2Kings 5:12 LITV)
His men persuaded him to do as Elisha said, and Naaman was healed. He was also humbled. The man who scorned Israel’s river ended up taking home Israel’s dirt to make an altar to Yaweh, the Hebrew God.
He said, “…now I know that there is not a God in all the earth except in Israel.” (2Kings 5:15 LITV) Also, he would “…not make any more burnt offering and sacrifice to other gods, only to Jehovah.” (2 Kings 5:17 LITV)
Naaman had acknowledged the God of the Hebrews among his other gods. He even expected this God to heal. What he didn’t acknowledge was God’s power and character. But he learned humility and how to respect the God over all gods. He too became an enthusiastic believer.
So back to our question, “Will God answer the prayers of unbelievers?”
Yes, if they give Him a place in their thinking to allow Him to work. They don’t need to know everything about Him; He will teach them. Just like he taught the widow and Naaman. They also don’t need to be perfect. The widow wasn’t. Naaman wasn’t. In last week’s post we learned God only asks for trust the size of a mustard seed, a speck.
But the answer is no if they reject everything about Him like the unbelievers in Nazareth.
Which brings us to another question, “If you are praying to Him, are you really firm in your unbelief?”
If you are praying to Him, you must have some slight hope He exists and is listening. Like the widow. Like Naaman.
But– what are you going to do if God answers you?
If you continue on your way in a lifestyle that rejects Him and only come calling when you are in trouble, your life is going to be chaos. Signs and wonders are for unbelievers. But at some point God is going to ask for more. More obedience. More purity. More of a relationship with Him.
Then what? The end result will be up to you.
If a person is not really sincere in their prayer or if they just want to witness a performance like that of a magician on the stage, they will probably not get an answer. Herod didn’t. (Luke 23:8-9)
The point is God is willing to meet you where you are in your level of trust if you want Him to. But His goal is to move you to a higher level.
And that is where you want to be if you are reading this. Me too. It is what we are praying for, not just for ourselves but for friends and family. I hope this study has encouraged you and helps you to minister to those you love.
Next week, I’ll tackle “Does God answer prayers…fast?” This one involves a check list!
Photo by Alex Simmons on Unsplash
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