God hears everything, including prayers. He is God. Nothing gets by Him (Psalm 139:1–4). He is sovereign over everything He created (Isaiah 46:9–11). So the question is not whether God is aware of every prayer (He is), but whether God is tuning in to our prayers with an intent to answer them.
God wants us to pray. He has created prayer as a means by which we can enjoy Him (Revelation 3:20), confess our sin (1 John 1:9), ask Him to meet our needs (Psalm 50:15), and align our wills with His (Jeremiah 29:11–12; Luke 22:42). One kind of prayer is guaranteed to be granted. Luke 18:13–14 describes the prayer of repentance. When we call upon the Lord in humble repentance, He is eager to justify and forgive us.
However, when considering prayer, it is important to remember that most promises of God in Scripture were written to His people. In the Old Testament, those promises were for Israel and all who united with them. In the New Testament, those promises were written to the followers of Jesus. It is a misuse of Scripture to pull out isolated verses and try to apply them to any situation we want, including prayer. Even though the Lord knows and hears all, He has given some circumstances in which He will not listen to our prayers:
1. When we are choosing to hold on to sin, rather than repent and change, God will not hear our prayers. In Isaiah 1:15, the Lord says, “When you spread out your hands in prayer, I hide my eyes from you; even when you offer many prayers, I am not listening. Your hands are full of blood!” Proverbs 28:9 says, “If anyone turns a deaf ear to my instruction, even their prayers are detestable.”
Example: A young couple are living together in sexual sin, yet they pray for God’s blessing on their home.
2. When we ask according to our own selfish desires, God will not hear our prayers. James 4:3 says, “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”
Example: A man is dissatisfied with his three-year-old Toyota, so he prays for a brand-new Mercedes.
3. When what we ask is not in accordance with His will for us. First John 5:14 says, “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.”
Example: We pray fervently for a new job, but God’s plan requires that we stay where we are and be a witness to our coworkers.
4. When we do not ask in faith. In Mark 11:24 Jesus said, “I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” However, faith is not believing for something; it is believing in Someone. Our faith is in the character of God and His desire to bless and comfort us. When we pray, we should have faith that He hears us and will grant every request that is in line with His will for us (1 John 5:14–15).
Example: We ask God to supply a financial need but continue to worry and make faithless comments to our families and coworkers, such as “I’m probably going to go to the poorhouse. I’ll never get that money.”
God is holy and desires us to be holy as He is (Leviticus 22:32; 1 Peter 1:16). When He knows that we are seeking that holiness as well, He is delighted to answer our prayers in ways that continue our spiritual growth. Jesus said, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (John 15:7). The secret to prayer is abiding in Christ so that whatever we ask is in accordance with His heart (Psalm 37:4). Only then can we have the confidence that God does hear our prayers with an intent to answer them.