God is a prayer-hearing God. He hears the prayers of His people (1 Jn. 5:14). And that does not mean that He has an ability to audibly comprehend the sounds being made by our voices. For God to hear our prayers means that God responds to our prayers with action. He is favorable to us, interested in listening to our needs, inclined to give us the desires of our hearts (when we find our supreme joy in Him, Ps. 37:4), and always doing what is best for us in what we ask.
In itself, that is a most remarkable truth, as Jonathan Edwards noted:
“God in his word manifests himself ready at all times to allow us this privilege. He sits on a throne of grace; and there is no veil to hide this throne, and keep us from it. The veil is rent from the top to the bottom; the way is open at all times, and we may go to God as often as we please.…The voice of the saints in prayer is sweet unto Christ; he delights to hear it. He allows them to be earnest and importunate [persistent]…” [Jonathan Edwards, “The Most High a Prayer-Hearing God.”]
Yet as we think about this truth that God hears us and responds to us, we must also ask, “why?” Why does God listen to us? He doesn’t listen for our requests because He wants to know what we need (Mt. 6:8). And He doesn’t hear us because He wants to know what is best for us, so He is listening for our wisdom so He knows what to do (Mt. 6:10, 25ff). He doesn’t listen to us because we are inherently righteous and always desire everything that is right and true and good (Js. 4:1ff).
So I ask again, “why does God listen to our prayers?” There are two answers suggested by 1 John 5, both in the immediate and broader context.
First, God hears our prayers because He is a God of infinite grace and mercy (not because we deserve to have our prayers heard because we are so worthy). God’s grace is seen throughout the book of John, and particularly in chapter five as the book is being summarized and brought to a conclusion. If anyone believes that Jesus is the Christ (Messiah), then he has been born (regenerated) of God (5:1). It is God’s grace that regenerates a believer with a new life in Christ. We do not generate ourselves physically or spiritually; it is God who generates physical life and regenerates spiritual life (cf. also v. 4). Further, God has given us spiritual life (v. 11) and we may know that we possess the life that He has given us (v. 13). This is all of God’s grace. And if God has given us the greater grace (spiritual, eternal life), then John says, He also gives us the “lesser” grace of hearing our prayers (v. 14). It is solely because of His kindness, compassion, mercy, and grace that He hears our prayers.
Jonathan Edwards again is helpful:
“This is very wonderful, when we consider the distance between God and us, and how we have provoked him by our sins, and how unworthy we are of the least gracious notice. It cannot be from any need that God stands in of us, for our goodness extends not to him. Neither can it be from anything in us to incline the heart of God to us. It cannot be from any worthiness in our prayers, which are in themselves polluted things. But it is because God delights in mercy and condescension. He is herein infinitely distinguished from all other Gods. He is the great fountain of all good, from whom goodness flows as light from the sun.” [“The Most High a Prayer-Hearing God.”]
And John gives a second reason why God hears our prayers: because we have a Mediator and Intercessor acting on our behalf (2:1). While we have no righteousness of our own and God will not and cannot listen to those prayers; because we are in Christ, He will and must listen to those prayers. When we are identified with Christ’s death, His blood is applied to our sins, and those sins can never again be an impediment to our fellowship and communion with God. “He has… removed the obstacle to our prayers.” [Edwards]
And with His death, Christ has also “merited a hearing of our prayers.” [Edwards] God hears our prayers as surely as He does the ones that come from Christ, because our prayers are given to Him through the advocating work of Christ (cf. also 1 Tim. 2:5; Rom. 8:26-27).
God hears our prayers because that is the kind of gracious God He is. And God hears our prayers because we are in Christ and being in Christ and having Christ’s righteousness imputed to us, He must hear our prayers.
He is, indeed, a prayer-hearing and gracious God.