How long, LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? (Psalm 13:1)
Every Sunday in worship we pray for our homebound members, the sick and the hurting. During the week we ask God for patience with our children, peace during a stressful day at work, and healing for a dying relative. Sometimes we can say that God answers prayers. Sometimes we wonder why God doesn’t answer us.
Perhaps God is testing our patience, and we have to wait for God’s timing. Perhaps God is answering, and we just don’t realize it. But the Bible also teaches us that there are specific things in our lives that hinder prayers.
In Matthew 5:23–24 Jesus instructs his disciples that cannot come before God in worship if we have unresolved conflict with a brother or sister in Christ. We are to “first go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.” Jesus was talking specifically about worship, but since prayer is a part of our worship, our prayers are hindered when we don’t settle a conflict with a brother or sister in Christ.
Even when praying sincerely, we sometimes put our own interests above those of others and God. Our confidence comes from asking “according to God’s will.” (1 John 5:14-15). We do not receive what we ask for because we “ask with wrong motives.” (James 4:3). God will not answer our self-centered, self-serving prayers.
God will provide everything we need for godliness: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord.” (James 1:5-7).
1 Peter 3:7 urges husbands to be considerate and respectful of their wives, “so that nothing will hinder your prayers.” The Greek word translated “hindered” literally means “cut off.” If we don’t deal with problems in our marriages, our prayers are cut off from God.
The writer of Psalm 66 gives us a great lesson on prayer. Being guilty of sin does not disqualify us from the privilege of coming into God’s presence. But verses 17-20 shows us how harboring sin in our lives is the biggest barrier to prayer:
I cried out to him with my mouth;
his praise was on my tongue.
If I had cherished sin in my heart,
the Lord would not have listened;
but God has surely listened
and has heard my prayer.
Praise be to God,
who has not rejected my prayer
or withheld his love from me!