Sound theology teaches us that God is both personal and the Sovereign over the world He created. This being the case, it should come as no surprise that prayer is personal and comes with certain stipulations (as do all relationships). Furthermore, because God is the Sovereign One, He is to be approached as such. This being said, there are several hindrances to prayer to keep in mind.
- Sin. God is a God of holiness, purity, truth, love, and justice. Sin betrays these. Unconfessed sin will hinder one’s prayers. “But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear” (Isa. 59:2).
- Unbelief. One of the greatest hindrances to prayer is unbelief. Unbelief is an affront to God’s existence, character, or capabilities. We’re told that Jesus “did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief” (Matt. 13:58). And James writes, “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; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways” (1:6-8).
- Selfish motives. Prayer is to be more about God’s kingdom and human intercession than self promotion and advancement. James addresses this hindrance explicitly: “You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions” (4:2-3)
- Outside God’s will. Sometimes one’s requests are outside of God’s will and plan. For example, Paul prayed three times for God to heal him of his “thorn in the flesh,” yet God denied his request each time, saying, “My grace is sufficient for you” (2 Cor. 12:9). God was using this “thorn” to humble and further develop the apostle.
- Self-righteousness. Pride has always plagued the human heart, creating the desire to one-up and trample upon others. God abhors such self-adulation and condescension of others—especially wrapped in religiosity. Jesus tells a parable about a self-righteous religious leader and a tax collector praying. The former was thankful he was not like sinners such as the tax collector. The tax collector, however, wouldn’t look up, but beat his chest, asking God to forgive him, a sinner. Jesus explains it is the tax collector who left the temple justified (Luke 18:9-14).
- Dishonoring your spouse. This is specifically directed to husbands. The apostle Peter writes, “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” (1 Pet. 3:7). Men, being disrespectful of your wives and treating them in an un-Christlike will hinder prayers.
- Spiritual Warfare. Some hindrances to prayer are spiritual in nature, opposition from the evil one. We get a sneak peak of such a situation in the life of the prophet Daniel (chap. 10). He was a very godly man who had taken time to pray and fast. We learn their was opposition in the spiritual realm.
Persons can pray but this doesn’t mean anything is happening, much like a person shadow boxing. He is beating the air but nothing more. Some have given up praying, saying, “It doesn’t work.” However, prayer is powerful if one follows the instructions and purposes as laid out in the Manual—the Bible. May we approach the living God appropriately and on His terms, and may we remember the true and deeper purposes for prayer. We just might see more incredible moves of God if we do.