We’re in a message series about prayer called “Prayer Adventure.” To put it simply, prayer becomes an adventure when you hear God speaking to you. And when you receive answers to your prayers. Prayer is not an adventure when you are simply asking God for things and nothing seems to happen. Jesus said in …
John 16:24 (ESV) Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.
Jesus promised in this verse that when we ask in His name, we will receive answers and we will be filled with joy. That sounds like an adventure to me.
Today, we’re going to be talking about “Prayer Obstacles.” Obstacles or hindrances to prayer are things that cause our prayers to not be answered. So, if we can reduce the obstacles in our prayer lives, we can expect to see more prayers answered, which will bring us joy. Sounds like a good plan, doesn’t it?
The first requirement for a prayer to be answered is that the content of the prayer needs to be in accordance with God’s will. That really is what it means to pray in Jesus’ name. To pray in His name is to pray for the things that He wants, not just for what we want. Of course, if we want what He wants, then we have the best of all worlds.
1 John 5:14-15 (ESV) And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.
John makes it clear that God hears prays that are prayed according to His will. And if God hears our prayers, we will receive the answers. The implication of this Scripture is that if we don’t pray in keeping with God’s will, He doesn’t even hear us. And if He doesn’t hear, there will be no answer. However, things aren’t quite so simple. Today, we’re going to learn that there is more to getting prayers answered then simply praying the right content. You can pray the right content, but still not receive an answer from God.
The prayer obstacles that we’re going to be talking about today have to do with not the content of the prayer, but the character of the person praying. Let’s look at an illustration of this from parenting. Suppose a child comes to a parent and asks them for something that would be good for them. Let’s say a bicycle, for example. However, as a parent, you know that this child was in an ongoing conflict with a sibling. In fact, asking for the bicycle was an attempt to get back at the sibling. As a parent, you may feel it’s best not to answer the request for the bicycle. Not because there was anything wrong with the content of the request, but because of an issue with the child’s character. The same is often true with God and our prayer requests.
Today, we’re going to look at three main types of obstacles to prayer. There are others, but we’re going to look at the top three this morning. The first obstacle or hindrance to prayer is
God’s Word instructs us to immediately repent and confess our sins when we are aware of them. So we shouldn’t …
Psalm 66:18 (ESV) If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.
The psalmist here writes that if we cherish sin in our hearts, then God doesn’t listen to our prayers, no matter how right they may be. What does it mean to cherish sin or iniquity in our hearts? To cherish is to love or have affection for something or someone. To repent of a sin is to confess and to turn away from it, which is the opposite of cherishing it. Loving and continuing to sin will result in unanswered prayer. Why is that? Unconfessed sin …
Isaiah 59:2 (ESV) but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.
Sin causes a separation between the sinner and God. Why? Because God is holy and He can’t have an ongoing relationship with a person who lives in sin. That is why unbelievers have no relationship with God. So, how can sin damage the relationship of a believer with God? A believer is someone who has repented of their sins and asked Jesus to forgive them. For the believer, confession of sin is meant to be an ongoing and daily process. When that happens, your relationship with God is maintained. However, if you don’t confess your sin, if you hang onto and cherish your sin, then it causes your relationship with God to be damaged. And the results of a damaged relationship with God is that He doesn’t listen to your prayers, other than a prayer of confession. Unconfessed sin is a big obstacle to answered prayer.
You might say, well, Pastor Dan, we all sin on a daily basis, so how can we ever have our prayers answered? The good news is that you don’t have to be perfect in order for God to answer your prayers. If you are praying and dealing with the sins in your life on a daily basis, you can expect God to hear and answer your prayers. However, if you continually repeat the same sins and perhaps rationalize them away as not being so bad, you won’t have a close relationship with God. The closer you are to God, the less you will sin and the more prayers you’ll see answered.
There is also a difference between intentional and unintentional sins. Intentional sins are those that you know it’s wrong, but you still decide to do it. Those are much more damaging to your prayer life than unintentional sins. Bottom line, confess your sins and ask for forgiveness on a daily basis. The obstacle of unconfessed sin deals with our relationship with God. The next obstacle to prayer is …
The things that tend to give us problems with other people are their sins. People will hurt us, people will sin against us, sometimes intentionally, often unintentionally. But God holds us accountable for how we relate to other imperfect people, just like us.
Matthew 18:21-22 (ESV) Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.
Jesus had just been teaching His disciples about the importance of going to someone who has sinned against you to seek reconciliation. Peter is thinking ahead. He is considering the possibility of someone sinning against him and being forgiven, not just once, but multiple times. The teaching of the Jewish scribes was that you only needed to forgive three times. So, Peter more than doubles that figure to seven times. Jesus sets Peter straight, by saying our forgiveness must be without limit.
Jesus then goes on to tell a story about a servant who had been forgiven much by his master, but who refused to forgive another a lesser amount. Here’s the conclusion of the story.
Matthew 18:34-35 (ESV) And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
When we don’t forgiven others, no matter what the offense, we come under God’s judgement. And when we’re in that position, our prayers won’t be answered either.
1 Peter 3:7 (ESV) Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.
God gives us instruction with regard to the marriage relationship. If a husband does not show honor to his wife and live with her in an understanding way, then his prayers will be hindered. In other words, lack of love in the marriage relationship will lead to hindered prayers.
What are hindered prayers? Prayers that aren’t heard and answered. In this passage, there are instructions also given to the wife on loving her husband. I think we can apply this principle and say that lack of love on the wife’s part would hinder her prayers. In fact, this whole point of flawed relationships with people is a subset of our first point of unconfessed sin. How we live in relationships with other people affects our relationship with God and our prayer lives.
Let’s ponder for a minute on how our relationship with other people affects our relationship with God. As a father, I have a special love and concern for each of my children. Suppose I become aware of someone treating one of my children badly and harming them in some way. Will my relationship with the person hurting my child be affected by their behavior? Of course it would be. And the same is true of our heavenly Father. When we don’t treat other people created in His image as we should, it damages our relationship with God and affects our prayer life. God desires us to live a life of forgiveness and love for other people, just as He gives love and forgiveness to us. The third obstacle to prayer is …
This obstacle has to do with our faith in God. There are two levels of faith required for answered prayer. The first is faith that God is able to answer our request. The second is more difficult. It is faith that God will answer our request. We must learn to …
Matthew 17:19-20 (ESV) Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?” He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”
In this story, a man had brought his son to the disciples to be healed of a demon that sought to kill him. The disciples tried, but could not cast the demon out. The reason for their failure, for their lack of answered prayer, was not sin, was not problems with other people, it was their little faith. Jesus told them they needed to have faith like a mustard seed. The mustard seed was the smallest seed sown in Jesus’ day, only 1-2 millimeters long.
Just a small amount of faith is enough to move mountains, but in this case, the disciples did not have that kind of faith. Jesus then rebuked the demon and the boy was healed instantly. To see answers to prayer, we must …
James 1:6-7 (ESV) But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord;
These verses specifically refer to asking God for wisdom, but they apply to any kind of prayer request. In order for prayers to be answered, they must be prayed in faith without doubting. Someone who doubts is double-minded. At one time, he will believe God is going to answer the prayer, but then doubts creep in and he doubts God will answer. The doubter’s faith level goes up and down, just like a wave of the sea.
So, if you have little faith, if you struggle with doubting, it will be an obstacle to receiving answers to your prayers. What can you do? Faith can grow, just as a seed grows into a large plant. Your faith can grow for the specific needs that you have in your life. How can that happen?
Faith grows by studying God’s Word and believing it. How does a child grow? First of all, they need to be fed. We grow spiritually by feeding on God’s Word on a daily basis. The reason it’s so hard to spend daily time reading and studying the Bible is that Satan doesn’t want your faith to grow.
Secondly, in order for a child to grow strong, they need to exercise. In the same way, exercise is required for your faith to strengthen. When you exercise, you start out with a little that you can handle. Whether that’s running a short distance or lifting some relatively light weights. As you grow stronger, you can increase the distance you run or the weight that you lift. Your faith can grow as you believe God for smaller things in your life. As you see answers in those areas, your faith will grow to believe God for bigger things.
Some people get mad at God for not answering their prayers. That is certainly not the way forward. I’m sure that each one of us wants to see more of our prayers answered. I sure do. The way forward is to pray for things that are God’s will according to His Word. And then dealing with each of these prayer obstacles that we all struggle with from time to time. Confess your sin on a daily basis, keep a clean slate with God. Forgive others and treat them with love, even if you think they don’t deserve it. We don’t deserve God’s love either. Finally, build your faith, so that you and we together can move mountains for God.