August 23, 2015
By John Ulrich, Senior Pastor
1 Kings 18: 16-39
Does God hear the prayers of Jewish people? Hindus? Buddhists? Muslims? Does he hear and respond to all of these prayers?
We are told in the New Testament to pray in the name of Jesus and it will be given to you.
But what does He do when people pray to the wrong god? What about when we are on “the edge,” or when we don’t really believe in him or believe in him “rightly”?
Today we will talk about the issue of praying to the wrong god. We will look at a situation where prayer was answered and not answered in the Old Testament.
Background to our story: A king named Ahab was an evil dude and wanted to kill all of God’s prophets. He conspired with his wife Jezebel to kill the Lord’s prophets. Elijah comes to him and tells him that God is very angry with Ahab and there will be a drought. Ahab is looking for Elijah, and plans to kill him.
In 1 Kings 18: 16-39 – the story of Elijah vs. the prophets of Baal – God ignores the prayers prayed to the wrong God, but the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice and the wood.
- Does God answer the prayers of those who don’t believe in him?
On the one hand: No!
Much of the Bible seems to indicate that God does not hear or ignores the prayers of those who do not believe in Him. The Baal prophets put on a show and nothing happened. Not only does God not answer their prayers, but neither does Baal.
Elijah rebuilds the altar and states a simple prayer and it is immediately answered.
God makes it very clear and simple – do not pray to false idols. Scripture seems to indicate that there is only one God who can answer prayers and He does not answer those who are not right with Him.
It’s so hard these days with our culture, we want to be inclusive and allow everyone to win! We want our friends who are not Christians to be “ok.” But we have to have a “faith that makes sense” moment. These religions and beliefs can’t all be true! Some are diametrically opposed. And some believe things that are opposite.
We believe in one God, but He exists in three persons. God is distinct from his creation, but He is also relational, and that is very different from Hinduism and Islam. Hinduism is about becoming one with the higher power, and Islam is about submission.
Christianity is about reconciliation, to be put in a good relationship with God. He took on my sins to give me life. That is so completely different!
All religions are not the same. The Bible teaches there is only one true God who answers prayers. And note that it’s not just about believing, but believing the right things. The prophets of Baal – they really, really believed, but not the right things.
So at first the answer seems to be “no” – God does not hear the prayers of those who do not believe in Him.
In fact, some say that the first prayer God hears from us is the sinner’s prayer – that of reconciliation.
On the other hand: Yes!
It’s not like God can’t hear the words of these others, or that He doesn’t care – He loves the whole world even though we are sinners – or that people who are non-believers can’t ask for the right things.
God can do whatever he wants. He can answer the prayers of anyone he wants.
The story of Cornelius proves this. He wasn’t a Christian or fully a Jew – he was a Roman soldier. He had no official connection to the God of the Bible. In Acts 10:31, one day Cornelius is hanging out at this house and an angel of the Lord just shows up and tells him that God has heard his prayers for God’s people.
I recently met a man named Muhammad, who was born in a Muslim country. He met a Christian girl, fell in love and got married. He began to wrestle with his faith – which religion is true, Islam or Christianity? He asked God to truly “reveal” Himself. Amazingly, God spoke to him in a series of four dreams.
- Dream #1 – Huge statue of Jesus and it speaks to him and says, “I’m alive!”
- Dream #2: He finds himself in jail, behind bars. And Jesus comes to him and asks, “Do you want to be free?”
- Dream #3: He finds himself face to face with Jesus. Jesus says “Follow Me” and takes Muhammad into a river and baptizes Him.
- Dream #4: He is preaching the gospel and men start to chase him with spears. And he knew God was in him.
Muhammad saw how wonderful other Christians were to him and others and that this God was real.
On one hand God says “no” and on the other God says “yes.” How does that tie together?
The two concepts come together with one statement.
- The resolution: family
He is inviting you and me to be together as a family. Relate to him and others like a true family. Christian prayer is that of a family relationship. We even say ”Our Father” in the Lord’s Prayer. Remember The Sermon on the Mount? He says, Seek, find and knock. And then speaks about the Son and Children and Father in relationship. Jesus speaks about and to God as “Abba” or “Daddy.”
God does care for those who are not in His family. But by identifying himself as our Father, he obligates himself to answer us. To care for us and meet our needs, He sometimes says “no.”
Imagine you are coming off of 540 on Creedmoor. And there are several homeless men. One guy has a sign that says, “Homeless, hungry, will work for food.” So you start thinking about your plan: Avoid eye contact? Smile? Hand him a bottle of water? Or maybe if you are feeling really generous, you may give him some cash, and then you feel really good about yourself.
What would happen if, as you get closer, you realize that the man standing there is your son. What would you do? You would jump out of your car and hug him and take him home with you!
If we are inside the family, God feels that way about us!
The resolution is that we are family!
Two questions for our lives:
- Are you in the family? Are you really with Him? Do you really trust Jesus with your past sins, your future eternity and your present conditions? Do you want to turn your life over completely to God, do you want Him to be your Father? Do you want to become part of the family?
- Do you pray like you are in the family? If He is your Father, what is your prayer life like? Is it formal or a list of things you want, or is it like you are talking to your Father? We would miss so much if we talked to God like a boss, or just gave him our list and walked away, or never really connected with Him in a meaningful way.