Dear Brethren,

Today I like to address this constant and real struggle of a Christian’s prayer life. Because of a poor prayer life, a Christian does not grow spiritually and also is weak in his testimony. What are the biblical reasons why a Christian’s prayer life is hindered?

The Word of God is very clear in teaching Christians the importance of prayer and also provides the reasons for the failure in a Christian’s prayer life.  Here are 4 main causes of failure learned from the Word of God that we should take heed to:

1. Sin – “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.” (Psalm 66:18)

Our sins will hinder our relationship with God and prevent our prayers from reaching the ears of God. If we possess known sins in our lives and refuse to confess and repent them, then our prayers will definitely be hindered. God will not be pleased to listen to our prayers with unconfessed sins in our lives. Mark 11:25-26 also reminds us not to pray with an unforgiving spirit. Being unforgiving is definitely a sin against the Lord. In the Lord’s Prayer, we are taught to pray to the Lord to “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”. Proverbs 28:13 warns us that “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy.”

Also, there may be sins in our lives that we may not be aware of or there are presumptuous sins in us. Hence in our prayers it is important to ask God to forgive our sins which include our presumptuous sins just like what the Psalmist David prayed in Psalm 19:13a “Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins.” We need to have the contrition of spirit as described in 2 Chronicles 7:14 to humble ourselves before God, pray and seek His face and turn from our wicked ways, and then God will hear from Heaven.

2. Faithless – “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is…” (Hebrews 11:6a)

Our prayer can be hindered when we pray without a believing heart that God will hear and answer us. When we do not ask in faith, we actually despise the promises of God written in His Word, and hence the Lord will not be pleased with our prayers. Mark 11:24 reminds us that “Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.” A believing heart with true faith in the Lord is very important in a Christian’s prayer life. James 1:6a also exhorts us “let him ask in faith, nothing wavering.”

A closer examination why we do not exhibit faith in our prayer life can be due to our dependence in our own strength and worldly wisdom to solve the problem. If we think that our worldly wealth and friends are our solutions, then our prayers to God will be perfunctory, without faith, and surely God will not bless such prayers. The Lord is pleased even when we show simple but genuine faith in Him in prayer. Our Lord Jesus tells us in Matthew 18: 20 that if we have faith as a grain of mustard seed, we can even move mountain. This is an important illustration not that we can literally move mountain by our faith but that most Christians do not believe that God can change people and circumstances through prayers. We fail to see God as a Sovereign God who has power over all nature and His creatures and nothing is impossible to Him (Matthew 19: 26b). Praying with faith in God will believe that God can do all things and nothing is too hard for God to do. Our prayers to God should be like the disciples “Lord, Increase our faith.” (Luke 17:5). We know that faith is the victory that overcomes the world (1 John 5:4).

3. Asking Amiss – “Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts” (James 4: 3)

The 3rd reason for failure in a Christian’s prayer life is asking amiss, that is, asking wrongly for our own pleasures and enjoyment.  When we pray to the Lord for something we desire, we must check our motives very carefully. If we want something for our own lusts and pleasures, and not for the glory of God, then we can be very certain that we will not receive it from the Lord. There are many times we ask God for a thing so that we can be successful in the eyes of the world. An example is that a Christian can pray for good exam results or growth in his business. There is nothing wrong in such requests but if the motive behind it is for pride and earthly security then it is asking amiss and the Lord will not answer such prayers.

We have to learn to ask in the will of God and not our own will. 1 John 5:14 reminds us “And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us.” We seek only the glory and will of God in our prayers. If earthly and material blessings come to us when we pray to God in His will and for His glory, we thank God for it and we know God is the giver and He can take them away anytime too. We can overcome this sin of asking amiss when we abide in Christ and let His Words abide in us. Then our prayers will surely be one of asking in God’s will and He will hear us as promised to us in John 15:7.

4. Disobedient Life – “And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight” (1 John 3:22)

The Bible records the life of King Saul in the Book of Samuel. In 1 Samuel 14: 37; 28: 6 the Bible tells us that God did not answer the prayers of Saul. The reason is very obvious as King Saul has led a life of disobedience in wanting to kill David and seeking counsel from familiar spirit (i.e. sorcerer). God is displeased with a disobedient life and will not hear his prayers. 1 John 3:22 exhorts us that we receive answers to our prayers when we keep God’s commandments. In contrast, Proverbs 28:9 warns us “He that turneth his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be abomination.” How sad when our prayers can turn out to be a curse to ourselves due to our disobedient lives.

The Psalms have many records of King David’s prayers and God’s answers to them. Though David’s life is not perfect, yet it is characterised by one of obedience to God and His Word and God called him a man after His own heart. This is in sharp contrast to the life of King Saul. An obedient life lived in the righteousness of God will enjoy a fruitful prayer life as described in James 5:16b “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.”  Prayer and the Word of God are closely knitted and we ought to pray for obedience to God’s Word in our prayer lives. We are to claim the promises from the Bible and turn them into practice through prayers. Our prayer life will grow and improve when we walk in greater obedience to God’s Word.

Elder John Leong