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Prayer Blockers

Blog -> Bible



In our small group this week, we have been talking about prayer blockers. The Bible often speaks about how powerful our prayers can be. And some of us might have seen glimpses of really powerful prayers. Maybe we prayed for a miraculous healing. Or maybe we prayed for a situation that seemed absolutely impossible, and God did things we could never have imagined.

But let’s face it: Many times we do get disappointed. We simply get exhausted in prayer, and eventually we give up.

So tonight, we looked at several different prayer blockers that come straight from the Bible. Our goal is to remove these prayer blockers from our lives, so that we can pray “effective, fervent prayers that achieve much” (paraphrased from James 5:16b)

This list is not complete, but it does contain the most important elements that the Bible describes as hindering our prayers.

Not Praying according to God’s will

I already wrote a whole blog about this last time (click here for details). So I’ll keep it short here: The only prayer that God ever promised to answer is the prayer according to His will. He sometimes chooses to grant our prayer requests even though He rather would not (e.g. Israel asking for a king, 1. Samuel 8). But that’s the exception. Most of the time, God chooses to not answer prayers that are not according to His will.

Disobedience

The Bible is full of verses that speak about the blessings of obedience. It also speaks constantly about the consequences of disobedience. (Is. 59:1-2, Psalm 66:18, Jer. 14:10-12, Prov. 15:29, Prov. 28:9, s. Peter 3:12, just to name some).

I can very well relate to this truth, because of my relationship with my kids. When one of my children is disobedient and unrepentant, I stop listening to them. Why? Because I want to have a relationship with them. I don’t want to just be their ATM, just giving them what they need. I want to have a deep, meaningful, personal relationship with them (and as part of that: Providing for their needs and giving them stuff they want). If one of them is disobedient, and then they ask me for a chocolate or something, my response is: “Apologize first.” If they refuse, I tell them something like “If you don’t listen to me, I won’t listen to you either!” Why do I do that? Well, 2 reasons.

  1. I want to have a relationship with them. That’s the most important part. And when our relationship is broken, I cannot simply ignore that, pretending that everything is OK. Giving them what they ask for while our relationship is broken would be a distraction to the problem. Instead, I need to bring their focus back to what matters the most: The relationship. When that relationship is restored, we can talk about their wishes.
  2. I won’t let them control me. If I allow them to disobey me and they still get what they want, then I allow them to control my life. That’s a great way of allowing my children to rule over my life instead of me overseeing theirs. And I simply won’t allow that to happen.

And I believe that’s exactly what God does with us as well. He’s not being mean to us when he doesn’t answer our prayer when we are disobedient. It simply means that a) he wants to bring our focus back on our relationship with him and b) he shows us that He is God, and we are not, and He won’t let us control Him.

So: Disobedience in one area of our lives blocks our prayers. But it leads to the question: What are some common areas of disobedience that can hinder our prayers? Well, here’s a list of things that we see in the church all the time:

  • Sex before marriage
  • Christians in a romantic relationship with non-Christians
  • Money management (esp. the refusal to tithe)
  • Pornography, secretly lusting after men or women, etc
  • Dishonesty

We see such behavior of some people within the church all the time. People clearly disobey God’s word. And then they think that “this is a small thing” and they think that everything is OK. No, it’s not. God is holy, and He never tolerates sin. He forgives sin that is repented of. But He never simply ignores it. He clearly states several times in the Bible that living in such a sinful lifestyle causes Him to turn against us, instead of for us. So living like this causes our prayers to not be answered, no matter how hard we try.

There is only one solution: Repenting, and getting our lifestyle right. Stop having sex with a person we are not married to (yet). Ending that relationship that we know is not from God. Give 10% of our income back to God and live within our means. Stop secretly watching movies we know God hates,… If we don’t know how, we can ask God for help (and maybe ask some friends we can trust to help us too). But if our prayers feel blocked, and we know we are disobedient in one area of our life, then nothing is going to change until we repent. Because God is not listening to our prayers, until we tell Him from your heart: “I’m sorry God. I admit I sinned and offended you. Help me get things right from here.”

 

Failure to ask

This is a simple one, but nevertheless, it’s a major prayer blocker: No prayer. As James puts it: “You do not have, because you do not ask”. Pretty self-explanatory, right?

No prayer -> no answered prayer. Sounds simple. But I certainly fall in this trap more often than I would like to admit.

 

Praying without Faith

Before I get into this one, I want to remind ourselves of the first prayer blocker: God will usually not answer our prayer when we simply pray our own will against God’s will. So this point assumes that we are praying God’s will.

But even if we are praying God’s will, there’s still a major prayer blocker that can hinder our prayers from being answered: Doubt. Let me share two passages that basically say the same thing, just the opposite way:

James 1:5-7 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men liberally, and reproaches not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavers is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive anything of the Lord.

Mark 11:24 Therefore I say unto you, whatever things you desire, when you pray, believe that you will receive them, and you shall have them.

James and Jesus in the Mark passage basically say the same thing: In addition to praying God’s will, we need to have Faith. If we have Faith in our prayers, if we truly believe that “God is going to do what He told me He will do” then God will listen to our prayers. If however we hear God speak to us and we pray, but we don’t really believe that God is really going to do it,… then God might say to us: “Well, if you don’t believe in my Word, then I won’t do it for you.” Faith in God, trusting His Faithfulness that He will do what He said He would do, are important elements to effective prayers.

 

Praying to be seen by men

Here’s a confession: That’s my weakness. I constantly struggle with my motives to please God and to please men. It’s not that I’m doing stuff in order to please men. I usually start off the right way. But then somewhere along the way, those selfish desires and motives start to creep in and get mixed together with my original motives. Especially when I’m on stage at church (preaching, praying, etc), I’m constantly fighting evil thoughts in my mind. “I’m wondering what the people are thinking about me right now!?”, “Will they like me or dislike me if I say this now?”, “I hope many people will come to hear MY message today.” ((instead of “God’s message”) Or one that comes up nearly every time: “I hope some people give me positive feedback afterwards.”

So I know exactly what Jesus is talking about when He said:

Matthew 6:5-6 And when you pray, you shall not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But you, when you pray, enter into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret shall reward you openly.

Because I’m fighting such thoughts all the time.

If we are praying to be seen by men, we are basically praying for people, and not to God. Our hearts are not about God, but about our reputation. And if we are praying with such a heart attitude, God is saying: “If that’s what you want, that’s what you get. You’ll get praise from men. But nothing else. And especially not the answer to your prayers that you are asking for.”

 

Selfish and worldly motives

James 4:1-3 From where come wars and fightings among you? come they not from here, even of your lusts that war in your members? You lust, and have not: you kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: you fight and war, yet you have not, because you ask not. You ask, and receive not, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it upon your lusts.

James has a lot to say on the topic of prayer blockers. Just the first three verses of chapter 4 are extremely rich, and we could have several blogs just talking about this paragraph. So James is pretty direct here, telling us what hinders our prayers. Here’s a summary:

  • Covetousness: Desiring what belongs to other people
  • Pursuing our own wants: God promised to provide for all our needs, but He never promised to give us everything we want.
  • Sinful pleasures: God especially won’t give us what we ask for if we pursue worldly desires.
  • He also tells us that fights (broken relationships) are evidence of such internal desires.

Now just to be clear: James isn’t primarily addressing prayer blockers here. He’s actually talking about something way more serious. Let’s read the next few verses:

James 4:4-7 You adulterers and adulteresses, know you not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God. Do you think that the scripture says in vain, The spirit that dwells in us lusts to envy? But he gives more grace. Therefore he says, God resists the proud, but gives grace unto the humble. Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

James’ topic in this passage is not primarily about “effective prayer”. That’s just a side note. What he’s really talking about is evidence of Faith. He’s basically telling us that if we pursue such worldly pleasures, we need to ask ourselves whether we are truly followers of Christ, or whether we are just deceiving ourselves.

 

Relationships

Matthew 5:23-24 Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has anything against you; Leave there your gift before the altar, and go your way; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.

Jesus is making it very clear: Relationships with others matter. We cannot offend others, harbor bitterness in our hearts, and then come to God and simply ignore all those relational problems. The passage above is crystal clear: Before you can come to God, you need to get your relationships right.

Of course that doesn’t mean that we have to get everything perfect before we can pray. All of us have some measure of unforgiveness in our hearts. If Jesus expected us to have absolutely no unforgiveness in our hearts before we can pray, then none of us could ever pray. And it’s also impossible for us to get all our relationships completely restored. So no, perfection is not what Jesus expects.

What He does expect is that we are willing to work on things. If we struggle with forgiveness, we ask God from our hearts to enable us to forgive. When we offend someone, we ask for forgiveness from God and from the other person, and do our part to restore the relationship. But that doesn’t mean that everything has to be perfect before we can pray again.

What Jesus is asking for is a willing heart. A heart that says: “God, I know you take relationships seriously. Help me to forgive. Help me to restore. Give me the courage to apologize to this person”, etc. And as long as we are willing to work on things, God will always embrace us and respond to our prayers. But the person who refuses to take relationships seriously should not be surprised if His prayers do not get answered. Because Jesus was very clear in the passage above, and the principle is being confirmed in other Bible passages again and again.

 

Lack of Persistence

Luke 18:7-8 And shall not God avenge his own elect, who cry day and night unto him, though he bears long with them? I tell you that he will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless when the Son of man comes, shall he find faith on the earth?

One of the problems of today’s society is the concept of “Instant Gratification”. Look at a few commercial spots, and I would guess that probably at least 50% of them promise us some form of “Instant Gratification”. That’s what we think we want. But that’s not what the Bible promises us. After all, “Patience” is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit.

Prayer is not an instant fix for our situations. Prayer takes time, patience and perseverance. Many prayers do not get answered simply because we pray once or twice, and then give up. Perseverance is a key to effective prayer.

 

Community

Matthew 18:19 Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth concerning anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father who is in heaven.

James 5:16 Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that you may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.

The Bible teaches us that praying with and for one another makes our prayers more effective. I’m not sure how exactly this works, and why, but it does. Maybe part of the reason is the accountability. When we pray together, we discern God’s will together, and sometimes understand God’s will better, so we can pray more in line with God’s will. I’m not sure. But fact is: Prayer gets more powerful when we pray together.

Many people pray persistently, they know they pray God’s will, but they never get what they ask for. One reason could be that they never pray with others. Group prayers are an important element for effective prayers.

 

So these are the points I wanted to share today. There are a few more principles that we can find in the Bible. But I think none of us has all of these items completely together. That’s why I want to stop here.

So here’s my challenge, to all of us, including myself: Find your prayer blocker. Don’t try to work on all of them at the same time. Find the one that speaks the most to you right now. Maybe it’s obedience. Maybe it’s praying God’s will. Maybe it’s Faith. Pick the one that you feel is your greatest prayer blocker right now. And then ask God for help in removing it.

May we all learn to pray like Jesus prays.  



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