Hindrances to Prayer

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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, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives,[1]so that you may spend it on your pleasures.”
R. A. Torrey
Reuben Archer Torrey (1856 – 1928) was an American evangelist, Christian Apologist, pastor, educator, and author.

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 with wrong motives” and need not expect to receive what we ask. This explains why many prayers remain unanswered.

Their prayers were toward selfish ends, as they had the wrong motives. We think of Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son, as he initially sought to waste his father’s money on his selfish needs. (Lu 15:14) Paul tells us that there is a “constant friction among people, who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.” (1 Tim. 6:5) Jesus said that our prayers should not extend beyond asking for “our daily bread.” (Matt. 6:11) He went on to say, we should ‘seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to us.’ (Matt. 6:33) Many do not realize that God does not listen to everyone’s prayers, just those of the righteous. Who are the righteous? They are those, who are doing their best in their circumstances to live by God’s Word daily. (Pro. 15:29; 28:9) We must be humble when we are praying. (Lu 18:9-14) We need to evidence our prayers by working on behalf of those prayers. It would do very little good to pray to God to better understand the Bible and then never read the Bible or reading any books on how to understand the Bible correctly. It will do very little good to pray for a job when unemployed if we never fill out applications because we are sitting around waiting on God to find us a job. It evidences our faith when we work on behalf of what we pray for, as this is what God expects. – Hebrews 11:6.

Edward D. Andrews
EDWARD D. ANDREWS (AS in Criminal Justice, BS in Religion, MA in Biblical Studies, and MDiv in Theology) is CEO and President of Christian Publishing House. He has authored ninety-two books. Andrews is the Chief Translator of the Updated American Standard Version (UASV).

We are fooling ourselves if we are using God in our prayers simply for what we can get out of him. This sort of prayer is actually idolatry. How we may ask, is it idolatry? The pagans believe they can force a god to give them whatever they want by using special words or phrases in their prayers. Jesus told us plainly, “your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” (Matt. 6:8) We can pray for things, but what we pray for must be in harmony with God’s will and purposes. If we are praying for a job that is going to require us to work 65 hours a week, causing us to have no family life, and miss our Christian meetings, do we believe that God is going to bless our efforts?

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.

  1. The second hindrance to prayer we find in …

Isaiah 59:1-2 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

59 Look Jehovah’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save,
or his ear dull, that it cannot hear.
But your own errors have made a separation
between you and your God
,
and your sins have hidden his face from you
so that he does not listen.

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 Jehovah’s hand was shortened, that it could not save, and that his ear had become dull that it could no longer hear.

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“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 own errors have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you that he will refuse to listen.’

It is so today. 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 refuse to listen to him.’

Anyone 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,

Psalm 139:23-24 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Examine me, and know my anxious[2] thoughts;
24 And see whether there is in me any painful way,[3]
And lead me in the everlasting way.

After the prayer has been offered on many days and in many ways with the same theme, until your heart has been quieted and your anxious thoughts removed, wait on God, no matter how long, until he has seen that you and he himself have removed the sin or error that has been displeasing in his sight and painful in your heart. Then, put your guilt away because God has thrown you sin behind his back, never to be thought of again.

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. Anyone who would have power in prayer must be merciless in dealing with his own sins. “If I had wickedness in my heart, Jehovah would not have listened” (Ps. 66:18.) So long as we hold on to sin or wicked behavior 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.

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  1. The third hindrance to prayer is found in Ezekiel 14:3, “Son of man, these men have set up idols in their hearts and set the stumbling block of their sin before their faces. Should I actually let them inquire of me? Having had idols in their hearts cause God to refuse to listen to their 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 will refuse to listen to his prayers. 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 idols.

Many a man makes an idol of his reputation or his business. Reputation or business is put before God. God refuses to 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.

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  1. The fourth hindrance to prayer is found in Matthew 7:21-23; 24:14; 28:19-20 and Acts 1:8.
Matthew 7:21-23 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness.’

 

Matthew 24:14 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed in all the inhabited earth[4] as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.

Matthew 28:19-20 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and look, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Acts 1:8 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in both Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Evangelism is the work of a Christian evangelist, of which all true Christians are obligated to partake to some extent, which seeks to persuade other people to become Christian, especially by sharing the basics of the Gospel, but also the deeper message of biblical truths. Today the Gospel is almost an unknown, so what does the Christian evangelist do? Preevangelism is laying a foundation for those who have no knowledge of the Gospel, giving them background information, so that they are able to grasp what they are hearing. The Christian evangelist is preparing their mind and heart so that they will be receptive to the biblical truths. In many ways, this is known as apologetics.

REASONING FROM THE SCRIPTURES REASONING WITH OTHER RELIGIONS APOLOGETICS

Christian apologetics [Greek: apologia, “verbal defense, speech in defense”] is a field of Christian theology which endeavors to offer a reasonable and sensible basis for the Christian faith, defending the faith against objections. It is reasoning from the Scriptures, explaining and proving, as one instructs in sound doctrine, many times having to overturn false reasoning before he can plant the seeds of truth. It can also be earnestly contending for the faith and saving one from losing their faith, as they have begun to doubt. Moreover, it can involve rebuking those who contradict the truth. It is being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks the Christian evangelist for a reason for the hope that is in him or her. – Jude 1.3, 21-23; 1 Pet 3.15; Acts 17:2-3; Titus 1:9.

What do we mean by obligated and what we mean by evangelism are at the heart of the matter and are indeed related to each other?

EVANGELISM: An evangelist is a proclaimer of the gospel or good news, as well as all biblical truths. There are levels of evangelism, which is pictured in first-century Christianity. All Christians evangelized in the first century, but a select few fit the role of a full-time evangelist (Ephesians 4:8, 11-12), as was true of Philip and Timothy.

Both Philip and Timothy are specifically mentioned as evangelizers. (Ac 21:8; 2 Tim. 4:5) Philip was a full-time evangelist after Pentecost, who was sent to the city of Samaria, having great success. An angel even directed Philip to an Ethiopian Eunuch, to share the good news about Christ with him. Because of the Eunuch’s already having knowledge of God by way of the Old Testament, Philip was able to help him understand that the Hebrew Scriptures pointed to Christ as the long-awaited Messiah. In the end, Philip baptized the Eunuch. Thereafter, the Spirit again sent Philip on a mission, this time to Azotus and all the cities on the way to Caesarea. (Ac 8:5, 12, 14, 26-40) Paul evangelized in many lands, setting up one congregation after another. (2 Cor. 10:13-16) Timothy was an evangelizer or missionary, and Paul placed distinct importance on evangelizing when he gave his parting encouragement to Timothy. – 2 Timothy 4:5; 1 Timothy 1:3.

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The office of apostle and evangelist seem to overlap in some areas but could be distinguished in that apostles traveled and set up congregations, which took evangelizing skills, but also developed the congregations after they were established. The evangelists were more of a missionary, being stationed in certain areas to grow and develop congregations. In addition, if we look at all of the apostles and the evangelists, plus Paul’s more than one hundred traveling companions, it seems very unlikely that they could have had Christianity at over one million by the 125 C.E. This was accomplished because all Christians were obligated to carry out some level of evangelism.

OBLIGATED: In the broadest sense of the term for evangelizer, all Christians are obligated to play some role as an evangelist.

  • Basic Evangelism is planting seeds of truth and watering any seeds that have been planted. [In the basic sense of this word (euaggelistes), this would involve all Christians.] In some cases, it may be that one Christian planted the seed, which was initially rejected, so he was left in a good way because the planter did not try to force the truth down his throat. However, later he faces something in life that moves him to reconsider those seeds and another Christian waters what had already been planted by the first Christian. This evangelism can be carried out in all of the methods that are available: informal, house-to-house, street, phone, internet, and the like. What amount of time is invested in the evangelism work is up to each Christian to decide for themselves?
  • Making Disciples is having any role in the process of getting an unbeliever from his unbelief state to the point of accepting Christ as his Savior and being baptized. Once the unbeliever has become a believer, he is still developed until he has become strong. Any Christian could potentially carry this one person through all of the developmental stages. On the other hand, it may be that several have some part. It is like a person that specializes in a certain aspect of a job, but all are aware of the other aspects, in case they are called on to carry out that phase. Again, each Christian must decide for themselves what role they are to have, and how much of a role, but should be prepared to fill any role if needed.
  • Part-Time or Full-Time Evangelist is one who sees this as their calling and chooses to be very involved as an evangelist in their local church and community. They may work part-time to supplement their work as an evangelist. They may be married with children, but they realize their gift is in the field of evangelism. If it were the wife, the husband would work toward supporting her work as an evangelist and vice-versa. If it were a single person, he or she would supplement their work by being employed part-time, but also the church would help as well. This person is well trained in every aspect of bringing one to Christ.
  • Congregation Evangelists should be very involved in evangelizing their communities and helping the church members play their role at the basic levels of evangelism. There is nothing to say that one church could not have many within, who take on part-time or full-time evangelism within the congregation, which would and should be cultivated.
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  1. The fifth hindrance to prayer is found in Mark 11:25, “And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also 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, but God cannot deal with us on the basis of forgiveness while we are harboring ill-will against those who have wronged us. Anyone 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 someone who has injured them, or who they fancy has injured them. Many and many a mother and father are allowing their themselves to go down to eternity unsaved, for the miserable gratification of hating somebody. It should be noted that we do not need to forgive a wicked person who is unrepentant as to his wickedness. In the same breath, we need not hate him.

AN ENCOURAGING THOUGHT_01
  1. The sixth hindrance to prayer is found in 1 Peter 3:7, “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.” 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 in prayer.

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.

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  1. The seventh hindrance to prayer is found in …

James 1:5–8 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproaching,[5] and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded[6] man, unstable in all his ways.

But if any of you lacks wisdom let him ask of God, (1:5a)

If there were any believers, who were having difficulty understanding their trials James tells them what they are to do. James says if any of you lacks wisdom let him ask of God. When James refers here to wisdom he is not talking about a mere intellectual wisdom. It is wisdom, which comes from God and having a reverential fear of displeasing him, which is the beginning of wisdom. (Proverbs 1:7) The proper understanding therefore of Godly wisdom is that one then puts the wisdom in practical use in everyday life. Solomon wrote in Proverbs 2:6, “For the Lord gives wisdom, from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.” When James says any of you in this passage, he is referencing specifically to the believers that God was allowing to go through trials. He is not talking to just anyone in general that they can ask for wisdom but in context those Christians that were enduring the trails. Nevertheless, all Christians are to ask God for wisdom. However, if undergoing a trial, we need to be specific in the wisdom that we are seeking.

James tells these believers if they lacked the wisdom to understand the trials then go to the one who could give them the discernment and wisdom in regard to the trial. God was sovereign over the trials in allowing the trial to happen, and then he would be the only one to go to for us to correctly understand as to the nature of the trial. The Greek word that James uses for “ask” is the word aiteo which means to “beg or request.” (Vine, 1996, pg. 40) The believers were to ask of God that they understand their trials for some insight and guidance to see how allowing the trial was a part of God’s plan and how it applied to their life.

We see from Scripture an example of God answering those in their trial with Solomon who asked God to help him to be able to lead the nation he had become the leader of (1 Kings 3:9). David, a man familiar with trials, wrote in (Psalms 55:22) “Cast your burden upon the Lord, and he will sustain you, He will never allow the righteous to be forsaken.” Peter also wrote in (I Peter 5:6-7) “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.”

who gives to all generously without finding reproaching and it will be given to him (1:5b)

Here James states an important, significant, and weighty promise that will happen to the believers that called upon God in the midst of the trial for wisdom. The promise he says is that God will give wisdom to those who seek the Lord for it. James assures that promise by stating that God gives to all generously without finding reproach. James makes it clear that not only will God give wisdom to those who ask but also he will do so with generosity. In other words, God desires to give believers wisdom and understanding to discern accurately the trials they were enduring. The word that James uses here for reproach is the Greek word oneidezo which means to “defame, reproach, or disgrace (Vine, 1996, pg. 526).” It did not matter the nature of the situation or the background these believers may have come from if they called upon God for wisdom, it will be given to him. We should not expect what Abraham David, Solomon, Elijah or Nehemiah received. Our primary wisdom for how to deal with trials is not going to come miraculously, but rather through the Word of God. If we do not take in that lifesaving knowledge, how can we make wise decisions, as it is the very knowledge of God?

But let him must ask in faith, without any doubting for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. (1:6)

There is an approach to praying for wisdom that must be applied when coming to God in asking for wisdom, and that is the believer must ask in faith without any doubting. The Greek word used here for faith is the word pistis, and it means to be “confident of, fully assured or persuaded of.” (Vine, 1996, pg. 222) James is telling these believers that when they come to God to ask for this wisdom, they must be fully confident and convinced that God does hear. Faith gives sight to that which can’t be seen and be believed upon. James also indicates that one not only has faith but without any doubting as well. If these believers doubted God in what they were asking for, they would be negating the very thing the prayer is predicated upon, and that is faith. These believers were to pray in faith that God would give them the wisdom to understand their trial and help them to be able to endure.

James here provides his readers with an object lesson to show what it looks like when one claims to ask with belief and yet doubts at the same time. James states the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea. A wave of the sea is helpless in the fact that is directed in many different directions upon the sea and has not stability, due to the wind. A wave may start far off in the distance and then be lead to the shore in the next moment. The waves are helpless against the wind because the waves have nothing to stabilize them except to be helplessly driven and tossed by the wind. James is telling these believers that if they do not have faith in prayers for wisdom that they are asking God for helping them to understand their trials, then trials end up controlling the person’s life and taking them where they do not want to go. The prayer for wisdom gives the believers the understanding to remain steady amongst the trials.

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For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man; unstable in all his ways. (1:7-8)

James here presents two realities for those believers that were not praying in faith that God could hear their prayers for wisdom and would answer. Certainly, when one prays, while he has a doubtful heart, he should not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord. This one does not expect in his heart that he is going to receive divine help. He allows his doubts to impede him from placing his complete trust in the Father, failing to be guided in the way in which he should go. He does not have the genuine faith that is required by God, because “without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he is and that is the rewarder of those seeking him.” – Hebrews 11:6

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James also presents the second reality, and that is the reason God will not answer the believer who doubts when he prays, and that is because he is double minded. The Greek word used for double-minded is dipsuchos, and it literally means “two-souled.” (Vine, 1996, pg. 181) James is the only New Testament writer to use this word.  James clarifies his point by stating the reason God does not answer a double-minded man, and that reason is that he is unstable in all his ways. An unstable person that is two-souled is often too unable to be trusted, because of the constant changing of his or her mind. A two-souled person is one who often has divided loyalties: in one moment, he or she desires God, and in the next moment, he or she is engaged in the acts of the flesh, and never decide between the two.

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[1] Lit., wickedly or badly

[2] Or disquieting

[3] Or hurtful way

[4] Or in the whole world

[5] Without criticizing

[6] Or “indecisive,” i.e., wavering in mind

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