Prayer that Counts

September 2, 2018

Our natural response to trouble is to pray. This is in line with the Apostle James’ exhortation. He said, “Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise” (James 5:13). But there is this notion that someone more righteous than us should be praying for our petition in order for it to be answered. While there is no doubt that a prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective, our being “ordinary” should not preclude us from offering prayers to God. This truth was emphasized by the Apostle James when he said, “Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years” (James 5:17).

Indeed, anyone can offer a prayer to God. While Elijah was a well-known prophet, he was also a man just like us. He was not without fault. Though he was powerful in prayer, he had to run for his life when threatened by Jezebel, wife of King Ahab. If an ordinary man can pray and be answered like Elijah, why is it that many prayers are not being answered? Certainly, it is not because a man lacks the title but that his heart is not right before the Lord. There are many hindrances to prayers and foremost is sin.

Since prayer is the primary means to communicate with God, it is sin that will cause God not to hear our prayers. Through the prophet Isaiah, the Lord said, “Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear” (Isa. 59:1-2). Even King David acknowledged that sin can be a hindrance when he said, “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened” (Psalm 66:18).

Another hindrance is unbelief. If we do not believe that God will answer our prayers, why do we bother praying? Our unbelief is often born out of our lack of faith in God. And the Bible tells us that “without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Heb. 11:6). Yes, the Lord will reward and answer the prayers of those who believe in him. Therefore, Jesus said, “Whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours” (Mark 11:24).
The next hindrance is indifference, or lack of interest in God and in his commands. There are those who wants to be blessed but do not want to have anything to do with God, much less obey his commands. Meanwhile, they have the temerity to ask God for favour. In the Book of Proverbs, we are told: “If anyone turns a deaf ear to the law, even his prayers are detestable” (Prov. 28:9). They are oblivious of Jesus’ command to “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matt. 6:33).

Asking with wrong motives is also a hindrance. The apostle James said, “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures” (James 4:3).  Because God is a good father to us, he does not give what eventually will be harmful to us. We can always try to justify our motives but the Book of Proverbs says, “All a man's ways seem right to him, but the Lord weighs the heart” (Prov. 21:2).

One hindrance that is often overlooked is discord, or conflict. Because there is a need to agree on the matter that we are asking the Lord for, discord will prevent us from doing so. This is particularly so when there is a conflict in the family. The apostle Peter warned: “Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers” (1 Peter 3:7). This is in accord with what Jesus said, “Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven” (Matt. 18:19).

Finally, prayer is hindered by unforgiveness. Jesus cannot be clearer when he said, “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins" (Mark 11:25). Forgiving others is a key to forgiveness and blessedness. Our daily prayer should include “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matt 6:12). Hallelujah!