Without a doubt, prayer is one of God’s greatest gifts to us. I mean, can you believe that the God of the universe takes requests from us? That He invites us into conversation? That He wants us to express our hearts to Him? That’s amazing!
Inherent to the act of prayer is the reality that the one praying expects a “yes” to the prayer from God. I mean, why ask if you know it’s going to be a “no”? So, when we go to God in prayer, we are seeking a “yes.” Even if we’re just generally asking for guidance as to which way to go, we at least expect a “Yes, I’ll guide you” from God.
Of course, God doesn’t have to say “yes.” Sometimes, maybe even oftentimes, in His wisdom He says “no” or “not now.” So, the main question that is driving me is: what are we to do when we do not get a “yes” from God? Are we supposed to just say, “It just isn’t the will of God”? I think not.
It very well might not be the ultimate will of God to say “yes,” but there is something else that could be at work. Sometimes God says “no” or “not now” because He desires to get our attention and discipline us toward godliness. In other words, sometimes God withholds a “yes” to cause us to look at ourselves and see where we need to change. We need to see if there is anything in our life that would be hindering our prayer.
In this article, I want to point out 7 things that hinder prayer.
1) Sin hinders our prayer.
Psalm 66:18 is straightforward, If I regard wickedness in my heart, the Lord will not hear. “Wickedness in my heart” must be referring to some sin that I am habituating and hardening my heart in. It’s sin that I’m continually unrepentant over. Notice that it says that the Lord will not hear you instead of cannot hear you. Certainly God can hear you when you are habituating in sin, but He will not say “yes” to you. Why? It’s because He’s using your unaffirmed prayer to bring you to repentance.
Proverbs 28:9 goes even farther, He who turns away his ear from listening to the law, even his prayer is an abomination. You see, the person who is habitually disobedient and asking God for something in prayer is like a man who slaps his wife in the face and then asks her for a kiss. It’s making a mockery of the wife and of God. Therefore, prayer from a wicked, Bible-refusing heart is an abomination. Your prayer will be hindered until there is true repentance.
2) An unforgiving spirit hinders our prayer.
God loves to see us show grace and mercy to others as we have been shown grace and mercy. Just read the parable of the unforgiving slave in Matthew 18:21-35. It’s for this reason that Jesus tells us in Mark 11:25, Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions. A common part of your prayer life ought to be asking the Father to forgive you of your sins against Him, but those prayers of forgiveness are hindered when we are unwilling to forgive those who have sinned against us. Jesus says that if you want forgiveness, you must forgive also. Otherwise, your unforgiving spirit will hinder your prayer.
3) Unfruitfulness hinders our prayer.
Jesus tells us John 15:16, You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you. In the context here, the fruit that Jesus is focusing on is the fruit of love, but all the fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5:22-23 is applicable here. So, abundant spiritual fruit inclines God to say “yes” to your prayers, but if that’s true, then the opposite is true as well, namely lacking in spiritual fruit inclines God to say “no” or “not yet.” Diminishing fruit hinders your prayer life.
4) An ungodly relationship with our spouse hinders our prayer.
If there is one relationship on this planet that lays you spiritually bare, it would be your relationship with your spouse. They know you the best, and given the proximity of living in the same house and sleeping in the same bed, you’d better bet that they are going to test your Christlikeness the most. It’s for this reason Peter teaches us in 1 Peter 3:7, You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered. That’s straightforward, isn’t it? Your prayers are hindered when your marriage isn’t going as God intends for it to go. You see, marriage isn’t just about the husband and wife. It’s also about Christ and the church (Ephesians 5:25-33). In other words, the marriage relationship is a physical testimony to the spiritual reality that exists between Christ and the church, and when the marriage goes bad, Christ looks bad. Therefore, God hinders the prayers of spouses in an ungodly relationship to discipline them back to being faithful witnesses for Him.
5) Doubt hinders our prayer.
Do you think that God is able to answer your prayers in the way you are hoping? It seems that James says that thinking so is a prerequisite to receiving a “yes” from God in prayer. James 1:5-8 says:
- But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
When James speaks of doubting, I don’t think he means that we should not be up in the air as whether or not God will say “yes.” We simply do not know the mind of God in that way. To come to God saying that you know He will say “yes” is presumptuous. Therefore, we almost always come to God doubting what the actual outcome will be, but we should never come to God doubting His ability. I think that’s what James has in mind here. We should never doubt whether or not God can do what’s being asked of Him if He so chooses. The question is whether or not God is almighty in your mind. Those who doubt that He is should expect their prayers to be hindered.
6) Stinginess hinders our prayer.
God has His eye on your grip. What I mean by that is that He is looking at how tightly you are holding on to the stuff with which He has blessed you. A tight grip (aka, stinginess) leads to God’s discipline. Jesus tells us in Luke 6:38, Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure—pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return. So, we see a basic Bible principle here: giving generously leads to receiving generously, and giving stingily leads to receiving stingily.
Now, don’t jump off the deep end here. I’m not saying the Prosperity Gospel is true. I’m in no way advocating giving to get. However, we can’t deny the basic Bible principle here. Paul lays it out plainly in 2 Corinthians 9:6-7, Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. Friend, take God at His Word. Stinginess will hinder your prayer.
7) Not asking hinders our prayer.
Before you go and label me “Captain Obvious” with this one, hear me out. Have you ever heard somebody pray for something but not ask for anything? Perhaps they were with someone sick in the hospital, and their prayer was basically “Lord, Your will be done.” This approach comes across as very spiritual and pious, but it has always struck me as a somewhat strange. I mean, do we really have to pray to God that His will would be done? No way! He’s the sovereign God of the universe who always does as He pleases (Psalm 135:6). There’s one thing we can know with certainty: God’s will will be done! And while one purpose of prayer is to prepare our hearts to receive the will of God, to be bent to His will, a parallel and maybe even greater purpose is to make known to God what our heart desires.
You see, James tell us, You do not have because you do not ask (James 4:2). What that means is God might have done differently if you had only asked. God might have healed that person if you had only asked Him to, might have given you that job if you had only asked Him to, and so on. As I said earlier, asking does not obligate God and guarantee a “yes,” but not asking certainly prohibits a “yes.” You won’t get it because you didn’t ask. So, ask so that you might receive.
Think about it in this way: Jesus invites us to be as little children in our prayer. Remember when Jesus said, Permit the children to come to Me; do not hinder them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these (Mark 10:14). Man, children are not afraid to ask for anything. They’re full of requests. Jesus says to become like children, even in our praying by being undeterred in our asking, and in so doing, your prayers will be unhindered.
May you throw off everything that is entangling and hindering you so that your prayers can get off the ground and reach the very throne of God. May you hear “yes” to your prayers!
What a blessing is the gift of prayer! You have covered so much ground in this article and encouraged the brethren. One of the most influential books I’ve read related to prayer is “Practicing the Presence of God,” which is a collection of private correspondences of Brother Lawrence that were published some years ago. I found great insight into the world of “praying without ceasing.”
I do have one question. In your understanding, how do you balance the words of our Lord’s prayer in Gethsemane with your #7 above regarding the will of God?
Thanks for a great article.
Jeremy, thanks for the recommendation on Bro Lawrence. I have that book and have thumbed through it some. My last pastor spoke highly of the book and gave everybody in our church a copy. For those who are interested, you can actually read an PDF version of the book at https://www.ccel.org/ccel/lawrence/practice.pdf.
As for your question, I’m assuming that what you’re getting at is that within Jesus’ prayer in the garden from Matthew’s account, He prays twice that the Father’s will would be done. More specifically, He says, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will…My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Your will be done,” (Matthew 26:39,42). This example is actually a very good illustration of what I’m getting at. Jesus did not simply go to God in prayer saying, “Your will be done.” He asked for something too: “Let this cup pass from me.” So, Jesus put forth the desire of His heart AND asked the Father’s will be done.
Therefore, Jesus’ prayer was not hindered by not asking. He asked, but God in His wisdom said “no.” As I said in the article, just because you ask doesn’t obligate God to say “yes.” It merely makes a “yes” possible. Praise the Lord that even though we ask for things, He in His wisdom and love sometimes says “no”!
It seems as though you have received recommendations from several sources to read Brother Lawrence, so hop to it : )
I agree completely with your interpretation of Jesus’ Gethsemane prayer. Thanks again for sharing this with us.
If this were true, then every single job would only be received after praying for it, and all atheists would be unemployed (and likewise for healings).
Lenoxus, I appreciate your comment. Perhaps instead of “would” I should have used “might.” In fact, I’m going to edit that in just a moment. However, I stand by the fact that not asking certainly prohibits a “yes” to our prayer because in not asking, we never give God a chance to say “yes.” In other words, we never know until we ask. Now, certainly we get things without asking for them. Atheists get jobs and healed, the same as Christians, but the truth from James 4:2 is that there are some things that would have come to pass if we would have only asked. God very well might have acted differently and given that something to us if we’d only asked Him to. I don’t believe there’s any other way of understanding that Scripture. Do you agree?
I suppose I was being picky/legalistic… 😉 Yes, your interpretation makes more sense than other models of how prayer is meant to work. Thanks!