Dr. Couch, I have always thought that God did not hear the prayers of unbelievers unless the lost is calling out to God for salvation. How can we explain that the prayers of Cornelius were heard?
Cornelius was "saved" in OT terminology, though he nor his family had yet heard of Christ. Many true believers may never have heard of the salvation in Christ but they were godly and righteous in the way of the OT. Cornelius was one in the transition from OT thinking to the message concerning Christ. We will see him and others from the OT economy in glory! Acts 10:22 says of Cornelius: "He was a centurion, a righteous and God-fearing man well spoken of by the entire nation of the Jews, was divinely directed by a holy angel to send for you (Peter) to come to his house and hear a message from you."
Because he had seen the angel (v. 30), Cornelius assumed that Peter was another angel from God and fell before him thinking he was other worldly! (vv. 25-26).
Peter makes it clear that Cornelius' prayers were heard and answered (vv. 31-32). Because of Cornelius' spirituality and Peter's message, everyone who heard the message were baptized by the Holy Spirit. While I believe Cornelius was already saved (in OT terms) he too received the Spirit.
Thanks for asking.
Dr. Mal Couch