23 September 2012
Main Text: "you do not have because you do not ask." James 4:2
Point of Emphasis: Hindrances to prayer
Memory Verse: "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God" Philippians 4:6
What happens when you are in a group (like Sunday School) and the leader asks, "Who wants to pray?" Many will avoid eye contact and then inevitably someone will reluctantly agree to pray for the class. Now think about ways in which we sometimes choose not to pray.
I remember in high school and college when having a meal with my peers at church all are sitting down at dinner and then all of a sudden someone puts up two thumbs and quickly the rest of the table follows suit until the last person realizes they have been slow and now they have to pray.
In both of these situations what we see is a reluctance of Christians to pray, at least publicly. Is that kind of reluctance just for public prayer or do we also have things that hinder our private prayers? This morning we are going discuss hindrances that exist in our lives that keep us from praying effectively.
Ultimately the reason that we do not pray, or that our prayers are hindered, is because of sin. When we included confession in the A-C-T-S outline last week it was not just so we can check a box and say "yep did that", but so that we can talk to good freely without guilt. In Genesis chapter three we saw where Adam and Eve are pushed out of the Garden, and thus out of a relationship wherein they walked with God daily. Sin has ever caused a barrier from God for every human since then. This is especially evident in the realm of prayer. We will be discussing a few examples of sins that keep us from praying.
- Hypocrisy—Last week we discussed how not to pray like a hypocrite (Matt 6), but many do pray like hypocrites. Consider this passage: "Moreover the Lord spoke again to Ahaz, saying, 'Ask a sign for yourself from the Lord your God; ask it either in the depth or in the height above.' But Ahaz said, 'I will not ask, nor will I test the Lord!'" (Is 7:10-12) In this passage God is asking Ahaz to pray and Ahaz, for pious, religious, or spiritual reasons, refuses to pray. God has already seen the doubt in his heart, but Ahab chooses denial.
There are many times that people refuse to pray because they feel like they know better than God. Sometimes this comes because, like Ahaz, we believe that we are being more spiritual by not praying. Other times it comes out because we know that if we pray we might show our weaknesses in our faith to others and we want to keep a strong impression that we have it all together spiritually. Whatever the reason, hypocrisy is putting on an act before God and men that we have it together and believe we do not need his help.
The Bible, however, has much to say about how we should pray. In Romans 1:9 Paul states, "For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of His Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers." Paul was a man who indeed was spirit filled, but he needed to pray constantly, for himself and for others. In Philippians 1:4 Paul mentions that in every prayer he always lifted up the Philippians. He was unceasing in his prayers. In 1 Thessalonians 3:10 Paul mentions that he is praying night and day. In these three passages we see that Paul prayed, unceasingly, always, and night and day. This indeed does not look like the prayers of a hypocrite, one who knows better than God, but one who seeks after God for all things.
<What are some examples in which you have not prayed for the sake of appearances?.>
- Selfishness—We all know what selfishness is. We see it in our children, our spouses, and (most of all!!!) we see it in ourselves. It is a shame that this is a hindrance to our prayers, but it is a reality we must all face. There are times that we know we must go to the Lord to pray about something or someone, but we just choose not to. We have something better to do. What this inevitably does is show that we are not really concerned for others or more concerned with ourselves.
<Think about the prayers you do pray. How many are directed to God or are interceding for others? How many are about things that we want done in our lives? This is a good test to see the selfishness of our prayers.>
James 4:3 says, "You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures." Praying correctly, as you remember from last week, involves humility, incorrect prayers are arrogant and selfish. James here highlights that selfish part of our lives. Another passage, Psalm 78, tells of the wanderings of the Israelites in the wilderness before coming to the promised land. In verse 18 it says, "And they tested God in their heart/ By asking for the food of their fancy." (Ps 78:18). 1 Corinthians 10:6 tells that this story is recorded so that we can learn to be different than the selfish Israelites. Often times we also test God in asking for things outside of his will. This is nothing but selfishness.
<How are we selfish in our prayers?>
- Doubting—Though it is not necessarily a sin to have doubts, it is a sin to doubt that God will work something out when he says he will. The Bible is clear that God will work certain things out in our lives. Mark 11:23-24 says, "For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, 'Be removed and be cast into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says. Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them." Prayer, in faith, can accomplish much, the problem is that we do not believe that we can cast mountains into the sea, that God can do something more than find our missing car keys.
James tells us to pray in faith, "But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind." James 1:6. To not pray in faith, or to doubt God, is to shipwreck our lives. Moreover, it means that we are calling God a liar, saying that God won't do something, or saying that God can't do something. These are statements from unbelievers, not Christians. In Jeremiah 32:27 the Bible says, "Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh. Is there anything too hard for Me?" Let us not pray in unbelief for we have a mighty God who does mighty, miraculous things.
<How does doubt hinder your prayers?>
- Anger—Another hindrance to prayer is anger. This one is not too hard to consider. When we are angry we can do little else but think about what has made us angry. This is a big one for me. When I am upset about something it is difficult to accomplish anything. We are irrational and foolish. In these moments we know we need to take a breather and cool down. The same is true for our prayer times. Often we pray but have anger in our hearts, we must strive to remove the anger before coming to God with our prayers.
The Bible says in 1 Timothy 2:8 "I desire therefore that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting." Our prayers are to be devoid of anger, which means that we must have our hearts clear of it too. James 1:19-20 also speaks of anger, "So then,
my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God." As we Adore, Confess, and give Thanks to God, it is difficult to do so without seeking righteousness. Anger hinders us from praying, as it also hinders are prayers when we pray.
<How is Anger a hindrance to your prayers?>
- Broken Relationships—Prayer is communication, and with any communication, when a relationship is broken we avoid speaking with that person. This is in part due to a fear of confronting the reasons for the broken relationship and a fear of how the other will respond. We do the same thing to God. There may be a sin in our life that is bad and we allow it to keep us from God. Last week we talked about Confession. This is the important prayer that helps restore the broken relationship with God, and though often painful it creates a feeling of healing and blessing.
Broken relationships with others also hinder our prayers. Matthew 5:23-24 says, "Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift." This means that if there is a rift between us and another we must take care of that first before coming to God. Otherwise it is an obstacle to a prayer life. It is a nagging on our souls. The Bible is even clearer for the marital relationship. "Husbands, likewise, dwell with them with understanding, giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered."(1 Pet 3:7) If there is turmoil in the home, in our marriages, there will be prayerlessness. We must strive to eradicate any broken relationship so that our prayers may be offered.
<How have broken relationships hindered your prayers?>
- Unforgiveness--Lastly, if we are unwilling to forgive others then God will not forgive us. We studied the Lord's Prayer last week and it closed with these verses, "For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses." (Matt 6:14-15). The ability to forgive others is directly related God's willingness to forgive us. If we are unforgiving then we are unable to pray and have any prayers answered.
Consider the parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18:
"Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. But as he was not able to pay, his master commanded that he be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and that payment be made. The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, 'Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.' Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt.
"But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, 'Pay me what you owe!' So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, 'Have patience with me, and I will pay you all.'
And he would not, but went and threw him into prison till he should pay the debt. So when his fellow servants saw what had been done, they were very grieved, and came and told their master all that had been done. Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, 'You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?' And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him.
"So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses." (Matt 18:23-35)
<How has unforgiveness hindered your prayers?>
Hypocrisy, selfishness, doubt, anger, divisions, and unforgiveness, can either keep us from prayer or mute our prayers so that they are not effective. To put these things aside we have to value God's presence more than our offended feelings. Effective prayer has such a powerful potential we need to see that these things we sometimes feel strongly are not worthy to sacrifice our remarkable conversation with the Holy God who made us.