For many years, my daily commute to work was slow and tedious. I lived about 20 miles away from my office, and the city was always bustling with many other commuters hurrying to arrive at their own offices. Most of the time traffic moved along steadily, but there were times when the 45 minute trip would extend for hours. Impatiently, commuters were stuck in a standstill on many of the main roads. I frequently found myself wondering, “What on earth is going on?! What could possibly slow down traffic this badly?” Usually, the cause was an accident that had taken place. The victims and the supporting rescue crews were feverishly working to help the injured and to clear the blockage. Eventually the blockage was cleared and the flow of traffic moved along steadily once again.
In a similar way, there can be blockages to our prayer life that can cause a hold up in the answers to our prayers. Just like a traffic jam, the blockage must be cleared away quickly in order to ensure that the “flow” of prayer gets back to normal. The Bible helps us to identify some of the major hindrances that will jam up and hold up our prayers, and it also shows us how to clear away the blockages!
Ye Must Be Born Again
The first impediment to someone’s prayer life is that they are not saved. The word “saved” is a term used throughout the Bible to describe a born-again believer who has been “saved” from hell. This is made possible because their sins have been forgiven. Some churches and religions teach that the death of Jesus Christ automatically saves everyone. Salvation through the forgiveness of sins is not automatic. While God made the provision for all people to be saved through the death of Christ (John 3:16), each individual is required to put their faith in Christ for the forgiveness of sins (Romans 10:9 – note the personal pronouns indicating possession; e.g. thy mouth, thine heart, thou shalt be saved…).
Each person must come to the personal realization that their sin has separated them from God (Romans 3:23; Isaiah 59:2). They must accept that the Lord has the righteous authority to punish sinners by casting them into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:14-15). However, each sinner must realize that “God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). The Lord Jesus Christ died on the cross so He could offer to us eternal life, but such life is a gift that must be received (Romans 6:23). Jesus is extending to you the gift; will you receive it from His nail-pierced hand?
If you have not trusted Christ, the Bible is clear that prayers from the unsaved will not be answered:
The LORD is far from the wicked: but he heareth the prayer of the righteous. – Proverbs 15:29
In this verse, those who are not saved are called “wicked,” a term describing those twisted by sin. They are contrasted with the righteous, those who have a right standing before God. The Lord will hear the prayer of those who are born-again, but He indicates that he is “far from the wicked.”
Now we know that God heareth not sinners: but if any man be a worshipper of God, and doeth his will, him he heareth. – John 9:31
In this verse, the teaching of Scripture becomes clearer. God does not hear sinners, those people who have not been cleansed from their sin by the blood of Christ (I John 1:7; I Peter 3:12). Yet, if we do the will of God, he will hear us. In this context, the “will of God” is for a sinner to become saved. This truth is supported by the expression of God’s will for salvation to all people in I Timothy 2:4, “Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.” Moreover, He is not willing (or desirous) that anyone should perish in hell, but that all should come to repentance (II Peter 3:9).
If you trust Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, then you will “be saved” (Romans 10:13), you will be “born again” (John 3:3), and will have access into the grace of God (Romans 5:1-2). Because of such access into God’s grace, your prayers can be heard and answered. If you have not received the forgiveness of sins, please do so today!
The second hindrance to prayer is that many Christians do not actually take the time to pray! God won’t give you something that you won’t ask for. God won’t help you find something that you won’t look for. God won’t answer the door if He doesn’t hear you knocking:
Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. – Matthew 7:7-8
Jesus spoke often about prayer and even practiced prayer Himself. He assumed that Christians would desire to commune with their heavenly Father:
But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly. – Matthew 6:6
However, the sad fact remains that many Christians simply do not pray. Many may see the necessity and importance of prayer, indicating a willing spirit, but many also lack the discipline to form a habit to pray. The disciples struggled with knowing how to pray (Luke 11:1), and even when prayer was the most urgent their “flesh was weak” (Matthew 26:41 – for context, this was a prayer meeting before Jesus was betrayed and condemned to crucifixion). Don’t worry – these disciples realized their need of prayer quickly. After the ascension of Christ, the church gathered to have a prayer meeting (Acts 1:14, 24) which resulted in the empowerment of the church through the delivery of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-2). From this point forward, the disciples were known as people of prayer (Acts 3:1, 6:4, 12:5, 16:6).
Are you a person of prayer? Like David, can you say to the Lord, “My voice shalt thou hear in the morning, O LORD; in the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee, and will look up” (Psalm 5:3). Like many biblical examples, we must make prayer a habit:
Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud: and he shall hear my voice. – Psalm 55:17
Daniel is one of the best examples of a faithful prayer life that one can find in the Bible. Each day, Daniel spoke to God through three scheduled times of prayer (Daniel 6:10). God answered the prayers of this man, and God wants to answer the prayers of all such “Daniels” who take it upon themselves to be faithful to their prayer closet. Do you have a prayer closet, that is, a place where you meet with God in prayer? If you want answers from God in your life, you must take time to ask the questions.
Be Filled with Faith
Having faith means trusting God and taking Him at His word. Having doubt means to be uncertain about the truth of God’s word. Faith and doubt are in opposition to one another. While faith will propel the Christian to seek great power from God, doubt will eat away at the joy and confidence we have in God. Recognizing our need for God’s wisdom in trials and asking for His help is not enough, we must ask for such help by faith. As the writer of Hebrews stated, without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). When we approach God, we must believe that He will reward our faith.
There are two aspects of our faith that must be considered: the lack of faith and the longevity of faith.
But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. – James 1:6
First, we will consider the lack of faith. Wavering takes place when Christians lose their faith in God. A wave in the ocean gets bigger as the wind blows and the water becomes shallower. Just like a wave in the ocean, a lack of faith will build in size and strength as the winds of trouble blow and as the depths of faith decrease. How deep is your faith? If you are experiencing instability in your Christian walk, then you are “doubled minded” (James 1:8). As a double minded person, you entertain thoughts of both doubt and faith. However, doubt always extinguishes the fire of faith. If you lack faith, you must keep in mind the Lord’s promises to be faithful to you (I Corinthians 10:13), to never leave you or forsake you (Hebrews 13:5), and to possess the ability to do all things even the seemingly impossible (Luke 18:27). Christ stated this simply when he said, “If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth (Mark 9:23).”
Secondly, we will consider the longevity of our faith. There are times in the Christian life where faith will be strong. Faith is often strongest when things are going right, when the need at hand is a new one, or when a trial is just beginning. However, sometimes the strength of our faith fades as the period of trial extends beyond our comfort zone. We may be willing to struggle, but only for a short time. We may be willing to pray, but we expect a speedy response. As the trial continues or intensifies, our faith usually decreases or just ceases.
Peter was a man who experienced this same problem. While sailing on a vessel at night, the disciples were visited by Jesus who came to them by walking on the water. Many on the boat were frightened, but Peter was bold in his faith as he came out to greet Jesus by walking on the water himself! Although, a few moments later when Peter redirected his focus to the waves of the sea instead of to the way to the Saviour, he sank and almost drowned. The reply of the Lord echoed in the ears of all, “O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?” (Matthew 14:31). The word “little” in this statement is not defined as “small” as in size; it is a term of numerical value used to depict time. In essence, the Lord said, “Your faith didn’t last very long.” So the statement pierces our hearts today. Why is it that our faith often lasts only a “few steps” but does not endure for “many steps.” The Lord wants Christians who will “always pray” and “not faint” as the intensity increases. In the parable of the “unjust judge,” a widow woman continually asked for justice yet the judge was slow to take action. The widow refused to quit and sought an answer to her petition. Eventually, the judge consented. “And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them? I tell you that he will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:7-8).
Will the Lord see such enduring faith in your prayer life? Let me encourage you to continue in faith-filled prayer to your heavenly Father. He will answer you (Hebrews 11:6)!
Keep His Commandments
When we please God by keeping His commandments, even the greatest obstacles can be overcome through prayer.
And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight. – I John 3:22
God places a high standard on obedience to His word. God often reminded His people to keep his statutes, judgments, precepts, and commandments. Not only would obedience allow the people of God to experience blessings, but it was also important to their prayer life. It was so important that those who were disobedient had no hope of having their prayers answered: “He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be abomination (Proverbs 28:9).” When we turn away from the commandments of God, He will not listen to our prayer. When we please God by keeping His commandments, even the greatest obstacles can be overcome through prayer (Proverbs. 16:6-7).
We should heed God’s instructions to Joshua as he was preparing the lead the children of Israel into the Promised Land: “This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success” (Joshua 1:8). When we keep the commands of God, all our ways shall be prosperous. God will be able to see God do great things in our lives if we choose to obey Him every day.
Are there areas in your life that suffer from disobedience to God’s Word? It could be the manifestation of ungodly attitudes such as anger and bitterness, the outpouring of practice of a sinful habit like viewing inappropriate material, the absence of godly habits such as church attendance and Bible reading, and many other areas. Ask the Lord to “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting (Psalm 139:23-24). When he does, commit yourself today to obeying Him.
What’s your hold up in your prayer life? Do you know that you’ve been born-again? If you’re not in the family of God then the “Father” will not hear your prayers. Are you taking the time to ask, to seek, and to knock at the door of God’s throne room? If you aren’t asking, you will not receive; if you aren’t seeking, you will not find; if you aren’t knocking, God will not answer. When you do ask, are you filled with faith? As the battle intensifies, are you enduring in your faith? Keep the faith and do not faint! God will answer you in His time. Are you keeping His commandments? Identify those areas that need to change and make the change? Don’t allow any hindrance block your prayers. The Lord desires greatly to hear and answer your prayer. Please take the time to ensure that you and the Lord are indeed on “praying ground” with nothing stopping your communication with one another!