|By AN UNKNOWN CHRISTIAN
CHAPTER 11: HINDRANCES TO PRAYER
THE, poet said, and we often sing --
What various hindrances we meet
In coming to the mercy-seat.
Yes, indeed, they are various. But here again, most of those hindrances are our own making.
God wants me to pray. The devil does not want me to pray, and does all he can to hinder me. He
knows that we can accomplish more through our prayers than through our work. He would rather
have us do anything else than pray.
We have already referred to Satan's opposition to prayer:
Angels our march oppose
Who still in strength excel
Our secret, sworn, relentless foes,
But we need not fear them, nor heed them, if our eyes are ever unto the Lord. The holy
angels are stronger than fallen angels, and we can leave the celestial hosts to guard us. We
believe that to them -- the hosts of evil -- we owe those wandering thoughts which so often
wreck prayer. We no sooner kneel than we "recollect" something that should have
been done, or something which had better be seen to at once.
These thoughts come from without, and are surely due to the promptings of evil spirits. The
only cure for wandering thoughts is to get our minds fixed upon God. Undoubtedly a man's
worst foe is himself. Prayer is for a child of God -- and one who is living as a child of
God should pray.
The great question is: Am I harboring any foes in my heart? Are there traitors within? God
cannot give us His best spiritual blessings unless we fulfil conditions of trust, obedience
and service. Do we not often ask earnestly for the highest spiritual gifts, without even any
thought of fulfilling the necessary requirements? Do we not often ask for blessings we are
not fitted to receive? Dare we be honest with ourselves, alone in the presence of God? Dare
we say sincerely, "Search me, O God, and see --"? Is there anything in me which
is hindering God's blessing for me and through me? We discuss the "problem of
prayer"; we are the problem that needs discussing or dissecting! Prayer is all right!
There is no problem in prayer to the heart which is absolutely stayed on Christ.
Now, we shall not quote the usual Bible texts which show how prayer may be frustrated. We
merely desire that everyone should get a glimpse of his own heart. No sin is too small to
hinder prayer, and perhaps to turn the very prayer itself into sin, if we are not willing to
renounce that sin. The Moslems in West Africa have a saying, "If there is no purity,
there is no prayer; if there is no prayer, there is no drinking of the water of
heaven." This truth is so clearly taught in Scripture that it is amazing that any
should try to retain both sin and prayer. Yet very many do this. Even David cried, long ages
ago, "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear" (Psa. 66:18).
And Isaiah says, "Your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have
hid his face from you" (Isa. 59:2). Surely we must all agree that it is sin in us,
and not the unwillingness of Christ to hear, that hinders prayer. As a rule, it is some
little sin, so-called, that mars and spoils the prayer-life. There may be:
(1) Doubt. Now, unbelief is possibly the greatest hindrance to prayer. Our Lord said that
the Holy Spirit would convict the world of sin -- "of sin because they believe not on
Me" (St. John 16:9). We are not "of the world," yet is there not much
practical unbelief in many of us? St. James, writing to believers, says: "Ask in faith,
nothing doubting; for he that doubteth . . . let not that man think he shall receive
anything of the Lord" (St. James 1:6-8). Some have not because they ask not.
Others "have not" because they believe not. Did you think it a little strange
that we spent so much time over adoration and thanksgiving before we came to the
"asking"? But surely, if we get a glimpse of the glorious majesty of our Lord,
and the wonders of His love and grace, unbelief and doubt will vanish away as mists before t
he rising sun? Was this not the reason that Abraham "staggered not," "wavered
not through unbelief," in that he gave God the glory due unto His name, and was
therefore "fully assured that what He had promised He was able also to perform"?
(Rom. 4:20,21). Knowing what we do of God's stupendous love, is it not amazing that we
should ever doubt?
(2) Then there is Self -- the root of all sin. How selfish we are prone to be even in
our "good works"! How we hesitate to give up anything which "self"
craves for. Yet we know that a full hand cannot take Christ's gifts. Was this why the
Savior, in the prayer He first taught, coupled us with everything else? "Our" is
the first word. "Our Father . . . give us . . . forgive us . . . deliver
us . . ."
Pride prevents prayer, for prayer is a very humbling thing. How hateful pride must be in the
sight of God! It is God who gives us all things "richly to enjoy." "What hast
thou that thou didst not receive?" asks St. Paul (I Cor. 9:7). Surely, surely we are
not going to let pride, with its hateful, ugly sister, jealousy, ruin our prayer-life? God
cannot do great things for us whereby we may be glad if they are going to "turn our
heads." Oh, how foolish we can be! Sometimes, when we are insistent, God does give us
what we ask, at the expense of our holiness. "He gave them their request, but sent
leanness into their soul" (Psa. 106:15). O God, save us from that -- save us from
self! Again, self asserts itself in criticising others. Let this thought burn itself into
your memory -- the more like Jesus Christ a man becomes, the less he judges other people.
It is an infallible test. Those who are always criticising others have drifted away from
Christ. They may still be His, but have lost His Spirit of love. Beloved reader, if you have
a criticising nature, allow it to dissect yourself and never your neighbor. You will be able
to give it full scope, and it will never be unemployed! Is this a harsh remark? Does it
betray a tendency to commit the very sin -- for it is sin -- it condemns? It would do so
were it spoken to any one individual. But its object is to pierce armor which is seemingly
invulnerable. And no one who, for one month, has kept his tongue "from picking and s
tealing" the reputation of other people will ever desire to go back again to
back-biting. "Love suffereth long and is kind" (I Cor. 13:4). Do we?
We are ourselves no better because we have managed to paint other people in worse colors
than ourselves. But, singularly enough, we enhance our own spiritual joy and our own living
witness for Christ when we refuse to pass on disparaging information about others, or when
we refrain from "judging" the work or lives of other people. It may be hard at
first, but it soon brings untold joy, and is rewarded by the love of all around. It is most
hard to keep silent in the face of "modern" heresies. Are we not told to
"contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered unto the
saints"? (Jude 3.) Sometimes we must speak out -- but let it always be in the spirit of
love. "Rather let error live than love die."
Even in our private prayers fault-finding of others must be resolutely avoided. Read once
more the story of John Hyde praying for the "cold brother." Believe me, a
criticising spirit destroys holiness of life more easily than anything else, because it is
such an eminently respectable sin, and makes such easy victims of us. We need scarcely add
that when a believer is filled with the Spirit of Christ.-- who is Love -- he will never
tell others of the unchristian behavior he may discern in his friends. "He was most
rude to me"; "He is too conceited"; "I can't stand that man"; and
such-like remarks are surely unkind, unnecessary, and often untrue.
Our dear Lord suffered the contradiction of sinners against Himself, but He never complained
or published abroad the news to others. Why should we do so? Self must be dethroned if
Christ is to reign supreme. There must be no idols in the heart. Do you remember what God
said of some leaders of religion? "These men have taken their idols into their heart
. . . ; should I be inquired of at all by them?" (Ezek. 14:3.)
When our aim is solely the glory of God, then God can answer our prayers. Christ Himself
rather than His gifts should be our desire. "Delight thyself in the Lord and He shall
give thee the petitions of thine heart" (Psa. 37:4, R.V., marg.).
"Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, we have boldness toward God; and whatsoever we
ask we receive of him, because we keep his commandments and do the things that are pleasing in his sight" (I John 3:21,22).
It is as true today as in the early days of Christianity that men ask, and receive not,
because they ask amiss that they may spend it on their pleasures --.i.e., self
(3) Unlove in the heart is possibly the greatest hindrance to prayer. A loving spirit is a
condition of believing prayer. We cannot be wrong with man and right with God. The spirit
of prayer is essentially the spirit of love. Intercession is simply love at prayer.
He prayeth best who loveth best
All things both great and small;
For the great God Who loveth us,
He made and loveth all.
Dare we hate or dislike those whom God loves? If we do, can we really possess the Spirit of
Christ? We really must face these elementary facts in our faith if prayer is to be anything
more than a mere form. Our Lord not only says, "And pray for those that persecute you;
that ye may be sons of your Father who is in heaven" (Matt. 5:44,45).
We venture to think that large numbers of so-called Christians have never faced this
question. To hear how many Christian workers -- and prominent ones, too -- speak of others
from whom they disagree, one must charitably suppose they have never heard that command of
Our daily life in the world is the best indication of our power in prayer. God deals with my
prayers not according to the spirit and tone which I exhibit when I am praying in public or
private, but according to the spirit I show in my daily life.
Hot-tempered people can make only frigid prayers. If we do not obey our Lord's command and
love one another, our prayers are well-nigh worthless. If we harbor an unforgiving spirit it
is almost wasted time to pray. Yet a prominent Dean of one of our cathedrals was recently
reported to have said that there are some people we can never forgive! If so, we trust that
he uses an abridged form of the Lord's prayer. Christ taught us to say "Forgive
us . . . as we forgive." And He goes farther than this. He declares, "If ye
forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your heavenly Father forgive your
trespasses" (Matt. 6:15). May we ever exhibit the Spirit of Christ, and not forfeit
our own much-needed forgiveness. How many of our readers who have not the slightest
intention of forgiving their enemies, or even their offending friends, repeated the Lord's
Many Christians have never given prayer a fair chance. It is not through conscious
insincerity, but from want of thought. The blame for it really rests upon those of us
who preach and teach. We are prone to teach doctrines rather than doings. Most men
desire to do what is right, but they regard the big things rather than the little failings
in the life of love.
Our Lord goes so far as to say that even our gifts are not to be presented to God if we
remember that our brother "hath ought against us" (Matt. 5:23). If He will not
accept our gifts, is it likely He will answer our prayers? It was when Job ceased contending
with his enemies (whom the Bible calls his "friends") that the Lord "turned
his captivity" and gave him twice as much as he had before (Job 42:10).
How slow we are -- how unwilling we are -- to see that our lives hinder our prayers! And how
unwilling we are to act on love-lines. Yes, we desire to "win" men. Our Lord shows
us one way. Don't publish abroad his wrongdoings. Speak to him alone, and "thou hast
gained thy brother" (Matt. 18:15). Most of us have rather pained our brothers!
Even the home-life may hinder the prayer-life. See what Peter says about how we should so
the home that our "prayers be not hindered" (I Peter 3:1-10). We
to urge every reader to ask God to search his heart once again and to show him if there
is "any root of bitterness" towards anyone. We all desire to do what is pleasing
to God. It would be an immense gain to our spiritual life if we would resolve not to attempt
to pray until we had done all in our power to make peace and harmony between ourselves and
any with whom we have quarreled. Until we do this as far as lies in our power, our prayers
are just wasted breath. Unkindly feelings towards another hinder God from helping us in the
way He desires.
A loving life is an essential condition of believing prayer. God challenges us again, today,
to become fit persons to receive His superabundant blessings. Many of us have to decide
whether we will choose a bitter, unforgiving spirit, or the tender mercies and
loving-kindness of our Lord Jesus Christ. Is it not amazing that any man can halt between
two opinions with such a choice in the balance? For bitterness harms the bitter more than
"Whensoever ye stand praying, forgive if ye have ought against anyone; that your
Father also, who is in heaven, may forgive you" (Mark 11:25). So said the blessed
Master. Must we not then either forgive, or cease trying to pray? What shall it profit a man
if he gain all his time to pretend to pray, if he harbors unlove in his heart to prevent
real prayer? How the devil laughs at us because we do not see this truth!
We have God's word for it that eloquence, knowledge, faith, liberality, and even martyrdom
profit a man nothing -- get hold of it -- nothing, unless his heart is filled with love
(I Cor. 13.). "Therefore give us love."
(4) Refusal to do our part may hinder God answering our prayers. Love calls forth
compassion and service at the sight of sin and suffering, both here and overseas. Just as
St. Paul's heart was "stirred" -- "provoked" -- within him as he beheld
the city full of idols (Acts 17:16). We cannot be sincere when we pray "Thy kingdom
come" unless we are doing what we can to hasten the coming of that kingdom -- by our
gifts, our prayers and our service.
We cannot be quite sincere in praying for the conversion of the ungodly unless we are
willing to speak a word, or write a letter, or make some attempt to bring him under the
influence of the Gospel. Before one of Moody's great missions he was present at a meeting
for prayer asking for God's blessing. Several wealthy men were there. One began to pray that
God would send sufficient funds to defray the expenses. Moody at once stopped him. "We
need not trouble God about that," he said quietly, "we are able to answer that
(5) Praying only in secret may be a hindrance. Children of a family should not always meet
their father separately. It is remarkable how often our Lord refers to united prayer --
"agreed" prayer. "When ye pray, say, Our Father"; "If two of you
shall agree on earth as touching anything they shall ask, it shall be done for them. . . .
For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of
them" (Matt. 18:19,20).
We feel sure that the weakness in the spiritual life of many churches is to be traced to an
inefficient prayer-meeting, or the absence of meetings for prayer. Daily matins and
evensong, even when reverent and without the unseemly haste which is so often associated
with them, cannot take the place of less formal gatherings for prayer, in which everyone may
take part. Can we not make the weekly prayer-meeting a live thing and a living force?
(6) raise is as important as prayer. We must enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His
courts with praise, and give thanks unto Him and bless His name (Ps. 100:4). At one time in
his life Praying Hyde was led to ask for four souls a day to be brought into the fold by his
ministry. If on any day the number fell short of this, there would be such a weight on his
heart that it was positively painful, and he could neither eat nor sleep. Then. in prayer he
would ask the Lord to show him what was the obstacle in himself. He invariably found that it
was the want of praise in his life. He would confess his sinfulness and pray for a spirit of
praise. He said that as he praised God seeking souls would come to him. We do not imply that
we, too, should limit God to definite numbers or ways of working; but we do cry:
"Rejoice! Praise God with heart and mind and soul."
It is not by accident that we are so often bidden to "rejoice in the Lord." God
does not want miserable children; and none of His children has cause for misery. St. Paul,
the most persecuted of men, was a man of song. Hymns of praise came from his lips in prison
and out of prison: day and night he praised His Savior. The very order of his exhortations
is significant. "Rejoice evermore; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks: for
this is the will of God in Christ Jesus to you" (I Thess.5:16-18).
The will of God. Get that thought into your mind. It is not an optional thing.
REJOICE: PRAY: GIVE THANKS
That is the order, according to the will of God -- for you, and for me. Nothing so pleases
God as our praises -- and nothing so blesses the man who prays as the praises he offers!
"Delight thyself also in the Lord; and he shall give thee the petitions of thine
heart" (Ps.37:4, R.V., marg.).
A missionary who had received very bad news from home, was utterly cast down. Prayer availed
nothing to relieve the darkness of his soul. He went to see another missionary, no doubt
seeking comfort. There on the wall was a motto-card: "Try Thanksgiving!" He did;
and in a moment every shadow was gone, never to return.
Do we praise enough to get our prayers answered? If we truly trust Him, we shall always
praise Him. For...
God nothing does nor suffers to be done
But thou would'st do thyself
Could'st thou but see
The end of all events as well as He.
One who once overheard Luther praying said, "Gracious God! What spirit and what faith
is there in his expressions! He petitions God with as much reverence as if he were in the
Divine presence, and yet with as firm a hope and confidence as he would address a father or
a friend." That child of God seemed quite unconscious that "hindrances to
After all that has been said, we see that everything can be summed up under one head. All
hindrance to prayer arises from ignorance of the teaching of God's Holy Word on the life of
holiness He has planned for all His children, or from an unwillingness to consecrate
ourselves fully to Him.
When we can truthfully say to our Father, "All that I am and have is thine," then
He can say to us, "All that is mine is thine."
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