Saturday, January 05, 2008

Hindrances to Prayer

Recently I have been reading Born to Battle by R. Arthur Mathews, a 31-day devotional study focusing on prayer and its role in the life of the believer. This is one of the most inspiring books that I have read in some time; one that I am sure I will read repeatedly, especially given our mission's renewed focus on prayer.

This morning, my study focused on hindrances to prayer. How often we approach the Throne of the Almighty and not realize that His ear is deaf to us? I wonder if we are likely even to notice that He is not listening, being caught up in our own and many words? So what is it that turns God's face from us? I have identified five things:

1. In Deuteronomy 1:45 we read that "you returned and wept before the Lord, but the Lord did not listen to your voice or give ear to you." Why? Because the people of God acted presumptuously (verse 43), claiming to do God's work but without His command, approval, or presence. I wonder how much of what is labeled as "Christian service" would fall into this category? We assume that any good work done in His name must, of necessity, obligate Him to bless it. Are we certain that we are doing God's work or are we doing a good work and then asking Him to bless our own efforts after the fact? Do we rush ahead and then ask Him to bless our efforts, never pausing to consider that perhaps He has not called us to do this work in the first place? How much prayer is spent in preparation of planning compared to prayer afterwards? Do we treat God as our leader or as our follower? Prayers of presumption do not reach the ear of God.

2. In 1 Samuel 8:18 we read, "in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer you in that day." Prayers from those who reject God's kingship over their lives are prayers that He does not answer. God is not in the "let's make a deal" business; "Answer my prayer, God, and I'll do this-or-that." Answered prayer begins on a bended knee, acknowledging that He is king.

3. Psalm 66:18 says, "If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened." How often do we approach the Throne of God with unconfessed sin in our life? Why should the Lord listen to the prayer of a rebel? If we will not listen to His call to repent and confess, why should He listen to our prayers for more blessings and His leading in our life and in the lives of others (including persecuted Christians)? When we do pray for the persecuted, does it not strike us as odd that we are praying for those who are suffering for righteousness while harbouring unrighteousness in our own hearts and lives?

4. As a married man for almost 25 years, 1 Peter 3:7 has often spoken to me as a word of conviction: "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." One's relationships with others reflect their relationship with their Creator. To refuse to respect the Image of God is to refuse to respect God Himself and nowhere is this more clearly seen than in one's relationship with one's spouse. How many prayers on Sunday morning are nothing more than an exchange of air pressure because of fights on the way to the church? Given the state of many marriages of Christian leaders, is it any wonder that so many churches and Christian organizations are failing and ineffective?

5. Proverbs 21:13 tells us that "Whoever closes his ear to the cry of the poor will himself call out and not be answered. " Seeing the needs of others (especially one's brothers and sisters in Christ) and neglecting to act to assist them is a sure way to make sure that your prayers go unanswered. Several years ago, I studied the results of a poll that showed that while a majority of Americans knew of the persecution facing Christians around the world, the vast majority felt that they had little or no obligation to them. Yet, I am quite sure that they expected to have God's ear in their time of need. Do you?

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