Regarding “Number 1,” it has been stated emphatically that “God does NOT hear the prayers of unbelievers.” John 9:31 is usually quoted to support this view, “Now we know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does His will, He hears him” (NKJV). I believe this is true GENERALLY, but there are some special cases in the Bible where God did hear the prayers of the unsaved. Here are two examples:

1) In the book of Jonah God had proclaimed to the people of Nineveh that He was going to judge them for their wickedness (1:1-2 and 3:1-4) and the people believed God and began to show signs of repentance. One of those signs is seen in the King of Nineveh telling the people to “be covered with sackcloth, and CRY MIGHTILY TO GOD; yes, let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. WHO CAN TELL IF GOD WILL TURN AND RELENT, and turn away from His fierce anger, so that we may not perish” (3:8-9). These people were not yet saved, but they were repenting of their sins and God did indeed HEAR THEIR PRAYERS and spared them from His judgment (3:10).

2) Another example of God hearing the prayer of an unsaved person is found in Luke 18:13-14 where we read, “And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, BE MERCIFUL TO ME A SINNER!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Here too it was a “prayer of repentance” that God heard which led to him being “justified.” It should be noted that no one is actually saved or justified by saying a prayer; they are saved and justified through faith in the death and blood-shedding of the Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 3:24-25 states, “Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as propitiation by His blood, through faith.” Yet REPENTANCE (acknowledging one’s sin and their need for forgiveness/justification) must precede FAITH IN CHRIST, as we see in Acts 20:21, “Testifying to Jews, and also to Greeks, REPENTANCE towards God, and FAITH toward the Lord Jesus Christ.” And repentance is often expressed in one praying to God, a prayer which He surely hears!

It should be noted that God will NOT hear the prayers of a true believer if he/she is living in unjudged sin. King David said, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord WILL NOT HEAR ME.” In those cases a believer too must “repent of his sins” in order for God to hear him.

We have seen that for God to hear the prayers of the unsaved, there must be repentance, so in regard to Number 2 an unbeliever’s prayer is not effective at all until there is a true confession of their sinful condition. A believer’s prayer can be very effective, but it MUST be accompanied by a godly life. This is borne out in James 5:16, “Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The EFFECTIVE, FERVENT PRAYER of a RIGHTEOUS MAN avails much.” Here the word “righteous” includes not just the thought of a man being “justified by faith in Christ,” but also a man “living a righteous life,” a life characterized by doing what is good and RIGHT. Notice, this verse begins with the thought of “confessing your trespasses” so once again there is the thought of a believer repenting of their sins. Repentance MUST precede living a righteous life and then, and only then, will a believer’s prayer be EFFECTUAL.  (390.5)  (DO)