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Mentors in Prayer

Common Hindrances to Prayer

Teaching t10559


Reiterate series title. One big reason why many of us are weak in prayer is that we don’t get answers to our prayers because we’re not praying according to God’s will.  That’s why we’re looking to the New Testament for mentors on how to pray according to God’s will by studying their prayer priorities.

I want to switch gears now, and talk over the next two weeks about some other important matters related to prayer.  Next week, we’ll look at some very practical helps to build your prayer life.  This week, we’ll look some common hindrances to prayer, and how the Bible says we can overcome them.  This information has been very helpful in my own spiritual life, and I hope it will be helpful for you, too.

“I don’t know God in a personal way”

The first common hindrance is that you don’t know God in a personal way.  When our kids were young, we took a couple of college students with us on our family vacation.  I noticed through the week that one of these girls was watching me as I interacted with my daughters.  Toward the end of the week, she said she wanted to talk with me about how I related to my daughters.  She went on (tearfully) to recount how they felt free to tell me anything, how I obviously enjoyed being with them, how I loved reading to them and telling them stories, etc.  Watching us interact this way had simultaneously attracted this girl and aroused pain in her own heart—because she had never had this kind of relationship with her own father.  She described her father as authoritative, benevolent—but remote.  She felt like she was on the outside looking in to something she wanted but had never had.

This may be how you feel as you hear us talk about our personal interaction with God, or as you hear us talk to God.  I know this is how I felt before I met Christ.  There was a reason why my prayers were memorized (EXAMPLES) or like email requests sent out into the infinite distance.  I didn’t know God in a personal way.  When a couple of my friends began to talk about knowing God personally, this both attracted me and exacerbated my sense of distance from God.  When I heard them talk to God personally, this sense increased.  But when I met Jesus, all this changed.  His Spirit enabled me to know him as my personal loving Father (Rom.8:15,16). 

You can experience this change today.  No matter how long you have felt distant from God, you can become God’s child today and experience personal intimacy with him.  The only requirement is that you entrust yourself to Jesus as your King and Savior, and receive him into your heart (Jn.1:12).  The moment that you do this, God adopts you as his child forever, and his Spirit comes into your soul to enable you to talk with him personally.  If you want to receive Christ today, I will lead you in prayer to do this as we close this morning...

 “I don’t feel like talking with God right now”

Once you know God personally, you will still experience (in varying degrees of frequency and intensity) an aversion to interacting with God.  To this day, I feel this aversion—sometimes with surprising power.  I will be driving and the thought will come to me, “I should talk to God.”  And something inside me will be repelled or suggest something else to think about.  Someone will say at the end of a conversation, “Maybe we should pray”—and I’ll feel something inside me say “Or not.”  I will sit down to pray with the brothers and sisters in my home group, and I will feel like I am covered with slime.  The bottom line is that even though I know God and experience the desire to interact with him, something else inside of me says “I don’t feel like talking with God right now.”

Now the first thing to realize about this is that it is normal.  It does not mean that you’ve lost your salvation, or that your positive personal interactions with God are an illusion, or that you are necessarily in bad shape spiritually.  It simply means that you still have a sinful nature, and that your sinful nature is allergic to the presence of God (Gal.5:17).  Until Jesus returns, you will have this sinful nature and it will continue to exert its aversion to talking with God.  Actually, the very fact that you experience this battle proves that you are God’s child.  How often were you distressed by this aversion before you met Christ?

The significant thing here is not that you feel aversive to prayer, but how you respond to this aversion.  The more you give into to this aversion, the more frequent and powerful it will grow—and that can lead to other problems.  But remember that you also have God’s Spirit, who is imparting the desire to relate to God.  And remember that God’s Spirit is stronger than your sinful nature (Gal.5:16b).  So you will find that when you simply choose against this aversion to go ahead and talk to God, the aversion will subside and you will discover again that it is good to talk with God.  And when you've been through this many times, you learn not to take this aversion seriously because you know God will help you pray as you simply turn to him and begin talking to him.

“I feel unworthy to talk with God because of a guilty conscience”

There is another hindrance to prayer that is like the one we just talked about—but more complicated.  This is when you not only feel aversive to talking with God—but you also have a good reason to believe that God doesn’t want to talk with you.  This is when you feel unworthy to talk with God because you have a guilty conscience.

Sometimes I feel this way because I’ve done something that I know is wrong.  I remember getting high one night after I had known Christ for about nine months.  God had clearly shown me months before that he wanted me to lay drugs aside—and with his help I did.  But one night after work I went home with a workmate to hear some music, and he pulled out some weed and you know the rest.  I remember waking up the next morning thinking two thoughts simultaneously: “I need to talk to God” and “I can’t talk to God until I put some distance between me and last night.”  I felt disqualified to go into God’s presence (“You said you’d never do that again!”).

Sometimes I feel this way because I haven’t done something that I know is right.  I used to go through this every vacation.  I would always have goals to talk more than usual with God—but I would always wind up getting distracted and praying far less than usual.  So at the end of vacation I would come home and realize that I needed to start getting ready to teach meetings like this one—but the thought of asking God to help me prepare after hardly talking to him at all the previous week made me shrink back from talking with God (“Where have you been?”).

If you can relate to this hindrance, listen very carefully—because the solution is counter-intuitive.  It makes sense to stay away from God until you have put some distance between you and that sin, or until you have done some good things, or until you have beaten yourself up about your sin, or at least until you make a vow never to commit that sin again.  In short, it makes sense to not talk with God until you feel worthy to talk with him.  But this is the wrong way to respond. It is profoundly disrespectful to God (as we will see), and it will lead you into either greater moral defeat (because you are staying away from the only One who can help you) or (far worse) it will turn you into a self-deceived fool who believes you are worthy to go into God’s presence.

The solution lies in exactly the opposite direction.  It is to realize that your actual worthiness to go into God’s presence has nothing to do with how worthy you feel or what you’ve done for God lately.  Your worthiness to draw near to God is based solely and entirely on what Jesus has already done for you.  Read Heb. 10:19-21 (NLT) and explain.  Because of what Jesus did on the cross, God not only accepts you—he welcomes you into his presence and is eager to talk with you (no disgust).

So when you have a guilty conscience and feel unworthy of talking with God, don’t waste any time or energy avoiding God or beating yourself up.  Just go to him, be honest about your sin, thank him for his undeserved mercy—and ask him how he wants you to move forward and serve him now (Heb. 9:14).  I don’t know how many times each week I do this—it is wonderful beyond words to know that because of the blood of Christ I can have as many new starts as I need.  (And even when I feel worthy, I still draw near to God this way.)

 “I’m unwilling to listen to God about this issue”

The last hindrance of God I want to talk about is different from the last two.  In them, the hindrance to prayer was coming from within me (review).  Here, the hindrance is coming from God.  That is, I may want to talk with God about many things—but God doesn’t want to talk with me about them until I am willing to listen to what he has to say about an important matter.  The problem isn’t that God has rejected me or is disgusted with me—it’s that “I’m unwilling to listen to God about this issue.”

Properly understood, this is a form of God’s loving discipline.  Because he loves me so much, he is unwilling to act like nothing is wrong when I am ignoring a serious matter that he’s brought to my attention.  When one of my daughters was a young child, she would sometimes lose her temper and say horribly hurtful things to her sister.  I would call on her to apologize and sometimes she would refuse.  And she would want me to have our normal fun time together as though nothing was wrong.  In those cases, I had to refuse—not because I didn’t love her, not because I wanted to punish her—but because I loved her enough to make her choose between her pride and vengefulness and enjoying intimacy with me.

God loves you and me enough to do something very similar.  When we adopt a stubborn, disobedient posture about something he says is important, he will discipline us.  And one discipline he employs is not answering our prayers and letting our intimacy with him dry up (Ps.66:18 NIV).  He does this in the hope that we will want restored intimacy with him enough to change our attitude.  And the moment you humble yourself and respond to his correction, intimacy with him is restored.

What issues might warrant this kind of discipline?  Here are some examples:

Read Ps.32:3-5. God may hinder your prayers because you need to confess something not only to him, but also to others. I saw this with a brother yesterday.  He had been complaining that his prayer life had shriveled over the last two weeks. Then he confessed a sin he had hidden during that time. He had already confessed it to God, but he knew he needed to confess it to me also. When he did this, he was immediately restored and had an extraordinarily positive impact an hour later when praying with his brothers. 

Read Mk. 11:25a.  God may allow your prayer life to dry up because of your unwillingness to forgive someone who has sinned against you.  Why is this such a prayer hindrance?  Because it is the height of hypocrisy!  I am expecting God to forgive me in spite of my many sins against him.  Yet I reserve the right to take retribution on those who offend/hurt/disappoint me, rather than release them as God has released me.

Read 1 Pet. 3:7.  You may find it difficult to pray and/or not have God answer your prayers because you have a disrespectful attitude toward your spouse.  This is such an important relationship that God will allow disciplinary difficulty in prayer in order to get your attention.  This is not just a matter of not being mean and harsh—it is a matter of “granting her honor”—cultivating and communicating gratitude, speaking words of encouragement and support, etc.


Summarize.  Who would like to share about their experiences with one of these hindrances?

NEXT WEEK: Concluding with some practical helps for developing your prayer life.