HINDRANCES TO PRAYER
We have gone very carefully into the positive
conditions of prevailing prayer; but there are some things which
hinder prayer. These God has made very plain in His Word.
- 1. The first hindrance to prayer we will find
in James 4:3, "Ye ask and receive not BECAUSE YE ASK AMISS, THAT
YE MAY SPEND IT IN YOUR PLEASURES."
- A selfish purpose in prayer robs prayer of
power. Very many prayers are selfish. These may be prayers for
things for which it is perfectly proper to ask, for things which
it is the will of God to give, but the motive of the prayer is
entirely wrong, and so the prayer falls powerless to the ground.
The true purpose in prayer is that God may be glorified in the
answer. If we ask any petition merely that we may receive
something to use in our pleasures or in our own gratification in
one way or another, we "ask amiss" and need not expect to receive
what we ask. This explains why many prayers remain unanswered.
For example, many a woman is praying for the conversion of her
husband. That certainly is a most proper thing to ask; but many a
woman's motive in asking for the conversion of her husband is
entirely improper, it is selfish. She desires that her husband may
be converted because it would be so much more pleasant for her to
have a husband who sympathized with her; or it is so painful to
think that her husband might die and be lost forever. For some
such selfish reason as this she desires to have her husband
converted. The prayer is purely selfish. Why should a woman desire
the conversion of her husband? First of all and above all, that
God may be glorified; because she cannot bear the thought that God
the Father should be dishonored by her husband trampling underfoot
the Son of God.
Many pray for a revival. That certainly is a prayer that is
pleasing to God, it is along the line of His will; but many
prayers for revivals are purely selfish. The churches desire
revivals in order that the membership may be increased, in order
that the church may have a position of more power and influence in
the community, in order that the church treasury may be filled, in
order that a good report may be made at the presbytery or
conference or association. For such low purposes as these,
churches and ministers oftentimes are praying for a revival, and
oftentimes too God does not answer the prayer. Why should we pray
for a revival? For the glory of God, because we cannot endure it
that God should continue to be dishonored by the worldliness of
the church, by the sins of unbelievers, by the proud unbelief of
the day; because God's Word is being made void; in order that God
may be glorified by the outpouring of His Spirit on the Church of
Christ. For these reasons first of all and above all, we should
pray for a revival.
Many a prayer for the Holy Spirit is a purely selfish prayer. It
certainly is God's will to give the Holy Spirit to them that ask
Him--He has told us so plainly in His Word (Luke 11:13), but many
a prayer for the Holy Spirit is hindered by the selfishness of the
motive that lies back of the prayer. Men and women pray for the
Holy Spirit in order that they may be happy, or in order that they
may be saved from the wretchedness of defeat in their lives, or in
order that they may have power as Christian workers, or for some
other purely selfish motive. Why should we pray for the Spirit? In
order that God may no longer be dishonored by the low level of our
Christian lives and by our ineffectiveness in service, in order
that God may be glorified in the new beauty that comes into our
lives and the new power that comes into our service.
- 2. The second hindrance to prayer we find in
Is. 59:1,2: "Behold, the Lord's hand is not shortened, that it
cannot save; neither His ear heavy, that it cannot hear. But YOUR
INIQUITIES HAVE SEPARATED BETWEEN YOU AND YOUR GOD, and YOUR SINS
HAVE HID HIS FACE FROM YOU, THAT HE WILL NOT HEAR."...
- Sin hinders prayer. Many a man prays and prays
and prays, and gets absolutely no answer to his prayer. Perhaps he
is tempted to think that it is not the will of God to answer, or
he may think that the days when God answered prayer, if He ever
did, are over. So the Israelites seem to have thought. They
thought that the Lord's hand was shortened, that it could not
save, and that His ear had become heavy that it could no longer
"Not so," said Isaiah, "God's ear is just as open to hear as ever,
His hand just as mighty to save; but there is a hindrance. That
hindrance is your own sins. Your iniquities have separated between
you and your God, and your sins have hid His face from you that He
will not hear."
It is so to-day. Many and many a man is crying to God in vain,
simply because of sin in his life. It may be some sin in the past
that has been unconfessed and unjudged, it may be some sin in the
present that is cherished, very likely is not even looked upon as
sin, but there the sin is, hidden away somewhere in the heart or
in the life, and God "will not hear."
Any one who finds his prayers ineffective should not conclude that
the thing which he asks of God is not according to His will, but
should go alone with God with the Psalmist's prayer, "Search me, O
God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: and see if
there be any wicked way in me" (Ps. 139:23,24), and wait before
Him until He puts His finger upon the thing that is displeasing in
His sight. Then this sin should be confessed and put away.
I well remember a time in my life when I was praying for two
definite things that it seemed that I must have, or God would be
dishonored; but the answer did not come. I awoke in the middle of
the night in great physical suffering and great distress of soul.
I cried to God for these things, reasoned with Him as to how
necessary it was that I get them, and get them at once; but no
answer came. I asked God to show me if there was anything wrong in
my own life. Something came to my mind that had often come to it
before, something definite but which I was unwilling to confess as
sin. I said to God, "If this is wrong I will give it up"; but
still no answer came. In my innermost heart, though I had never
admitted it, I knew it was wrong.
At last I said:
"This is wrong. I have sinned. I will give it up."
I found peace. In a few moments I was sleeping like a child. In
the morning I woke well in body, and the money that was so much
needed for the honor of God's name came.
Sin is an awful thing, and one of the most awful things about it
is the way it hinders prayer, the way it severs the connection
between us and the source of all grace and power and blessing. Any
one who would have power in prayer must be merciless in dealing
with his own sins. "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord
will not hear me."(Ps. 66:18) So long as we hold on to sin or have
any controversy with God, we cannot expect Him to heed our
prayers. If there is anything that is constantly coming up in your
moments of close communion with God, that is the thing that
hinders prayer: put it away.
- 3. The third hindrance to prayer is found in
Ez. 14:3, "Son of man, these men have taken their idols into their
heart, and put the stumbling block of their iniquity before their
face: should I be inquired of at all by them?"(R.V.) IDOLS IN THE
HEART CAUSE GOD TO REFUSE TO LISTEN TO OUR PRAYERS.
- What is an idol? An idol is anything that takes
the place of God, anything that is the supreme object of our
affection. God alone has the right to the supreme place in our
hearts. Everything and
everyone else must be subordinate to Him.
Many a man makes an idol of his wife. Not that a man can love his
wife any too much, but he can put her in the wrong place, he can
put her before God; and when a man regards his wife's pleasure
before God's pleasure, when he gives her the first place and God
the second place, his wife is an idol, and God cannot hear his
Many a woman makes an idol of her children. Not that we can love
our children too much. The more dearly we love Christ, the more
dearly we love our children; but we can put our children in the
wrong place, we can put them before God, and their interests
before God's interests. When we do this our children are our
Many a man makes an idol of his reputation or his business.
Reputation or business is put before God. God cannot hear the
prayers of such a man.
One great question for us to decide, if we would have power in
prayer is, Is God absolutely first? Is He before wife, before
children, before reputation, before business, before our own
lives? If not, prevailing prayer is impossible.
God often calls our attention to the fact that we have an idol, by
not answering our prayers, and thus leading us to inquire as to
why our prayers are not answered, and so we discover the idol, put
it away, and God hears our prayers.
- 4. The fourth hindrance to prayer is found in
Prov. 21:13, "WHOSO STOPPETH HIS EARS AT THE CRY OF THE POOR, HE
ALSO SHALL CRY HIMSELF, BUT SHALL NOT BE HEARD."
- There is perhaps no greater hindrance to prayer
than stinginess, the lack of liberality toward the poor and toward
God's work. It is the one who gives generously to others who
receives generously from God. "Give, and it shall be given unto
you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over,
shall they give into your bosom. For with what measure ye mete it
shall be measured to you again." (Luke 6:38, R.V.) The generous
man is the mighty man of prayer. The stingy man is the powerless
man of prayer.
One of the most wonderful statements about prevailing prayer
(already referred to) 1_John 3:22, "Whatsoever we ask we receive
of Him, because we keep His commandments, and do those things that
are pleasing in His sight," is made in direct connection with
generosity toward the needy. In the context we are told that it is
when we love, not in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth,
when we open our hearts toward the brother in need, it is then and
only then we have confidence toward God in prayer.
Many a man and woman who is seeking to find the secret of their
powerlessness in prayer need not seek far; it is nothing more nor
less than downright stinginess. George Muller, to whom reference
has already been made, was a mighty man of prayer because he was a
mighty giver. What he received from God never stuck to his
fingers; he immediately passed it on to others. He was constantly
receiving because he was constantly giving. When one thinks of the
selfishness of the professing church to-day, how the orthodox
churches of this land do not average $1.oo per year per member for
foreign missions, it is no wonder that the church has so little
power in prayer. If we would get from God, we must give to others.
Perhaps the most wonderful promise in the Bible in regard to God's
supplying our need is Phil. 4:19, "And my God shall fulfill every
need of yours according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus."
(R.V.) This glorious promise was made to the Philippian church,
and made in immediate connection with their generosity.
- 5. The fifth hindrance to prayer is found in
Mark 11:25, "And when ye stand praying, FORGIVE, if ye have ought
against any; that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive
you your trespasses."
- An unforgiving spirit is one of the commonest
hindrances to prayer. Prayer is answered on the basis that our
sins are forgiven; and God cannot deal with us on the basis of
forgiveness while we are harboring ill-will against those who have
wronged us. Any one who is nursing a grudge against another has
fast closed the ear of God against his own petition. How many
there are crying to God for the conversion of husband, children,
friends, and wondering why it is that their prayer is not
answered, when the whole secret is some grudge that they have in
their hearts against some one who has injured them, or who they
fancy has injured them. Many and many a mother and father are
allowing their children to go down to eternity unsaved, for the
miserable gratification of hating somebody.
- 6. The sixth hindrance to prayer is found in
1_Peter 3:7, "Ye husbands, in like manner, dwell with your wives
according to knowledge, giving honor unto the woman, as unto the
weaker vessel as being also joint-heirs of the grace of life; to
the end that your prayers be not hindered." (R.V.) Here we are
plainly told that A WRONG RELATION BETWEEN HUSBAND AND WIFE IS A
HINDRANCE TO PRAYER.
- In many and many a case the prayers of husbands
are hindered because of their failure of duty toward their wives.
On the other hand, it is also doubtless true that the prayers of
wives are hindered because of their failure in duty toward their
husbands. If husbands and wives should seek diligently to find the
cause of their unanswered prayers, they would often find it in
their relations to one another.
Many a man who makes great pretentions to piety, and is very
active in Christian work, shows but little consideration in his
treatment of his wife, and is oftentimes unkind, if not brutal;
then he wonders why it is that his prayers are not answered. The
verse that we have just quoted explains the seeming mystery. On
the other hand, many a woman who is very devoted to the church,
and very faithful in attendance upon all services, treats her
husband with the most unpardonable neglect, is cross and peevish
toward him, wounds him by the sharpness of her speech, and by her
ungovernable temper; then wonders why it is that she has no power
There are other things in the relations of husbands and wives
which cannot be spoken of publicly, but which doubtless are
oftentimes a hindrance in approaching God in prayer. There is much
of sin covered up under the holy name of marriage that is a cause
of spiritual deadness, and of powerlessness in prayer. Any man or
woman whose prayers seem to bring no answer should spread their
whole married life out before God, and ask Him to put His finger
upon anything in it that is displeasing in His sight.
- 7. The seventh hindrance to prayer is found in
James 1:5-7, "But if any of you lacketh wisdom, let him ask of
God, who giveth to all liberally and upbraideth not; and it shall
be given him. But let him ask IN FAITH, NOTHING DOUBTING: for he
that doubteth is like the surge of the sea driven by the wind and
tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive anything
of the Lord." (R.V.)
- Prayers are hindered by unbelief. God demands
that we shall believe His Word absolutely. To question it is to
make Him a liar. Many of us do that when we plead His promises,
and is it any wonder that our prayers are not answered? How many
prayers are hindered by our wretched unbelief! We go to God and
ask Him for something that is positively promised in His Word, and
then we do not more than half expect to get it. "Let not that man
think that he shall receive anything of the Lord."