Whoever closes his ear to the cry of the poor will himself call out and not be answered (Proverbs 21:13, esv).
God is not hard of hearing. In fact, when we don’t know what to pray—when we’re in such distress that we can’t even construct a sentence to describe it—the Holy Spirit “intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:26). And God is able to hear even that.
But He does sometimes choose not to hear. The Bible points out several areas in life where our actions affect our access to the Father, where our horizontal behavior impacts our vertical prayer experience. We can’t come to God expecting immediate help at the same time we’re being cold, indifferent, and calloused toward Him. It just doesn’t work that way—any more than it works with any relationship, like with your spouse or parents. Yes, they still love you and are inclined to show kindness to you, but if you were to come asking a favor after being arrogantly dismissive of them, they’d say, “There’s something we need to talk about first,” right?
“Taking care of the things that are on God’s heart gets God’s attention.”
Because actions affect access.
Like unconfessed sin, for example (Isaiah 59:2). Like the self-centered cherishing of idolatry (Ezekiel 14:3). Like the refusal to hear God’s Word and stay underneath its authority (Proverbs 28:9). Or like being unkind and insensitive to your husband or wife (1 Peter 3:7), or maintaining an ongoing unwillingness to forgive (Mark 11:25).
Or like lacking compassion.
Scripture emphasizes over and over that this, too, will cause God not to hear you.
Compassion means allowing your heart to care about or be moved by things you wouldn’t naturally care about or that don’t directly affect you. It’s not really magnanimous of you, for instance, to get worked up over things that everybody else on your street is already concerned about. But to care about the things that are on God’s heart—things that are not easy to care about, and that involve people who are living very different lives than the one you’re living . . .
That’s awesome. And that gets God’s attention.
I’ll use an example from the modern American landscape. How compassionate are you toward today’s police officers, going off to work every day, having no idea what they’re liable to face, not knowing if someone with an axe to grind will choose to take out their frustrations today on anyone in uniform? Do you care about that?
But on the other hand, how compassionate are you especially for the urban African American who’s terrified when pulled over by a policeman? I don’t like being pulled over either, but I’m not afraid that this officer’s personal feelings or experiences might cause him to bear down unjustly on me.
Most churches in America today care about one of those things but not both of those things. Yet God wants us to care about it all. God is not a respecter of persons. God doesn’t play favorites. “God shows no partiality” (Romans 2:11). His compassion runs to both extremes, in all directions, all the time.
And when you and I come to God, truly able to say, “Lord, You know I care about the things You care about, so could you care about . . . this? Of mine?” He is moved to hear you and act for you because He knows your heart.
It’s a heart of compassion, and it’s a heart that gets heard.
Father, forgive my selfish praying. Forgive my obsession with my own needs, hurts, and inconveniences, and for not caring to any sacrificial extent about the lives and plights of others. Thank You for calling me to compassion. Thank You for drawing me out of myself. Thank You for showing such rich, undeserved compassion to me, though I had nothing to offer You in return. Begin growing in me a new heart of empathy and concern for others, as well as a desire to serve them in practical ways, that my prayers in turn would be heard. In the name of Jesus, amen.