Summary: I've had many people that are no more saved than the man in the moon tell me "I pray all the time!" Is this right? Can God hear the prayers of the unsaved? I'd say the answer is no...for the most part.
Can God Hear The Prayers Of The Unsaved?
Back in April, I had the opportunity to witness to a young woman who was not saved. She had been influenced by different religions, including the Jehovah's Witnesses.
I conveyed to her that to get to heaven, a person had to have a saving relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, and that, according to Him, he is "the way, the Truth and the Life; no man comes to the Father but by me."
She then mentioned to me that she prayed each night and that she felt that helped. At that point, I told her this: "God doesn't hear the prayers of the unsaved.". Later, I found out that this young woman was very stormed at me. "The gall of that preacher! How could he say that God doesn't listen to me?"
Does God hear the prayers of the unsaved? Let's find out--but first let's go to the Lord in prayer.
Does God hear the prayers of the unsaved? We need to look into the Scriptures to find the answer; any other answer, by means of speculation or by the old "that's the way I was taught when I grew up" just doesn't cut the mustard, does it?
First, we must look at some of God's attributes, most specifically, his righteousness:
17 The LORD is righteous in all His ways, gracious in all His works.
The word righteous in the Hebrew is tsaddiyq (tsad-deek'); and according to Strongs it means just, lawful, righteous
a) just, righteous (in government)
b) just, right (in one's cause)
c) just, righteous (in conduct and character)
d) righteous (as justified and vindicated by God)
e) right, correct, lawful
Spiros Zodihates, in the Word Study Old Testament, demonstrates the usage of the word tsaddeek when applied to God as being that "God Himself is the standard of ethics and morality; it is part of His very nature and will."
So, first we can see that God is without sin, is morally upright and is, in fact the standard by which all are judged. If we can't hit the standard of God's perfection, we are outside the realm of relationship with Him.
Before we are saved, we sin--sin is anything that you think, say or do that does not please the Lord. Because of this sin that we are born into--and we all are born into a sinful state (Rom 3:23--all have sinned and fall short of the glory (righteousness, sinless perfection) of God), then, according to the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 2:1, we were dead in trespasses and sins. So we can see that we have a basic inherent inability to call out to God.
Now when we are called to salvation, which is solely the work of God, we are elevated to a position where we are then, as Paul also wrote in Ephesians 2:1
Eph 2:1 And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, (NKJ)
We were able to call out to Jesus Christ and be saved because he called out to us first.
I Jn 4:19
19 We love Him because He first loved us.
Our response is based upon his stirring in our hearts for salvation.
At this point, do we have the ability to pray directly to God? Is there an intermediary? Let's look at:
I Jn 2:1 My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. (NKJ)
Rom 8:34 Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. (NKJ)
1 Tim 2:5 For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, (NKJ)
Heb 9:24 For Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; (NKJ)
John Bunyan, the author of the Christian classic novel "A Pilgrim's Progress" once wrote that there is enough sin in any Christian's prayer to send all of mankind to hell. Sounds pretty strong, now doesn't it? But without an intercessor, we haven't got a chance of getting a prayer through because of the sin that is a part of our existence each day. First, we see that the Holy Spirit takes our prayers--each one--and molds them and makes them acceptable:
26 Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.