The fact is, prayer is a difficult and frustrating pursuit, at times. It is hard, especially when it feels unfruitful. And there can many reasons it feels that way from time to time. Some have to do with God and his purposes. But the truth is, sometimes prayer doesn’t work because of us. We set up barriers to effective praying! Let’s look at 4 of them.
The first barrier is Pride.
Pride keeps us from asking. It keeps us from exercising dependence on God because we think “we can do it.” Like that child who is confident he or she can tie their shoes when their fingers can’t even loop the shoestring, we can say – “hey God, I can do this.” And that pride keeps us from asking.
If we do ask, pride can easily turn it into a demand. Like the spoiled child who yells for his parents to respond – demanding it be done now and done his way! That’s pride. And God doesn’t respond to pride-filled people.
Job 35:12-13 “He does not answer when men cry out because of the arrogance of the wicked. Indeed, God does not listen to their empty plea; the Almighty pays no attention to it.”
We must destroy our pride by humbly recognizing that our entire life is a gift of God’s gracious activity. Grow in appreciation and you’ll short-circuit your pride!
The second barrier is Selfishness.
Selfishness wants answered prayer for us! It is the prayer that centered on the things that bring us fulfillment.
James 5:1-3 “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.
Signs of selfish praying shows up when we don’t get the answer we want and in the way we want it. If we react with severe disappointment, frustration, or anger at God; it is evident we were praying for us, not for the desires of God.
We can combat selfish praying by committing ourselves to God’s eternal purposes over and above our own comfort, health, satisfaction or self-fulfillment.
The third barrier is Faithlessness.
There is an element of needed faith. Prayer is not just words. It is an act of faith!
James 1:6-7 “But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.”
This passage is about asking for wisdom. But several times in the gospels Jesus affirms the essential element of belief. God answers and responds to our faith. Faith is never surprised at the power of God.
If you are struggling with the measure of your faith, begin to talk to God about little things and let him build your faith as you experience his faithfulness in personal ways. Let that be the foundation for trusting him with greater things.
The fourth barrier is Sin.
Our God cares about our lives and our personal holiness. When sin is present in our lives, our fellowship with Him is broken and our prayers are hindered.
Peter warned about this in the relationship of husbands and wives. 1 Peter 3:7 “Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.”
Even more broadly, Israel was warned about God’s lack of response because of they way they treated others. Sin against others got in the way of God’s response to their prayers . Isaiah 59:1-2 “Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.”
The psalmist knew the danger. And that is why he refused to hold onto sin. Psalm 66:18 “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened;”
Let God address sin in your life before you pray and in the midst of your prayers. When the Spirit shows you sin – confess. Don’t harbor it. Deal with it honestly before God. As you do, you will be removing a great barrier to answered prayer.
Prayer is the avenue by which God moves His kingdom forward! He wants to us to join in the process of His mission. But we have to watch for these barriers to answered prayer by being humble and dependent, being other’s minded in our praying, trusting in God’s sovereign power wholeheartedly and being honest and transparent with the sin in our own lives.
May God bless you as you grow in the ministry and impact of your prayers.