In short, my answer was no — God does not answer prayer from an unsaved person. Here’s why.
Access to God is only possible through Jesus Christ our high priest and mediator (1 Tim. 2:5). Hebrews 4:15-16 says “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
No high priest, no access to God. No access to God, no answered prayer. Those who do not know Christ or possess His Spirit cannot possibly fellowship with God in prayer (Eph. 6:18).
Even for believers, when there is unconfessed sin or selfish motives, prayer becomes powerless. The psalmist writes, “If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened” (Ps. 66:18; cf. 1 Pet. 3:7; James 4:3). If that is true of a believer, how much more for an unbeliever who is still under God’s wrath (John 3:36).
So I believe the first prayer God hears and answers is when a person “calls upon the name of the Lord” in repentance and faith (Acts 2:21). He delights to hear the bleating of a lost sheep and is swift to come to our rescue.
In times of crisis (such as this very day thirteen years ago on 9/11) people do seem to have an instinct to cry out to a higher power for help. Perhaps this is due to God’s law written on our hearts (Romans 2:14) mixed with a bit of superstition. But these prayers only make it to God when they are made humbly in the name of His Son Jesus, beginning with a cry for forgiveness and eternal life.
Sadly, all other prayer — no matter how sincere — is just idolatry to a god of their own imagination (Ps. 115:3-8).
Photo credit: Curtis Perry