I originally came up with a list of about forty things that could hinder prayer. Upon review of all those things I saw that there was a common thread running through them—pride. Pride and selfishness I believe is at the root of our inability to pray and have God hear us. Why? Because God resists the proud. He refuses to hear the prayers of the proud, but He gives grace to the humble—those who submit to Him (Ja. 4:6-7).
Well, out of those forty things, I have managed to narrow the list down to just three basic things that are hindrances to prayer, each of which have a root in the sin of pride. I pray that you would take a close look at these things, and if you find that they are present with you, please take steps to root them out; for if you continue in them they will make havoc with your heart and will destroy your ability to pray.
The kind of worldliness we are speaking of here is not the idea of being sophisticated or worldly wise. It is just plain being sinful, those who use the things of this world to satisfy their sinful desires.
James 4:1-6 gives us a good description of worldliness and how it affects our prayers. Verse four indicates that worldliness is being emotionally attached to the world as to a friend. In this verse, God says to those who are worldly, “Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”
When we are worldly we give ourselves not only to the world but also to the devil (v. 7), because the devil is the leader and the promoter of the evil things of this world (which includes lusting after material things, having worldly values and beliefs, and having a worldly or sinful lifestyle).
The cause of worldliness is set forth for us in verses 1 and 2: it is discontentment, which comes from sinful desires that are produced in the heart when one is tempted (Ja. 1:14-15). Therefore, worldliness feeds on sinful, greedy desires. But worldliness never satisfies. Those who are worldly always desire more and more, and they never get enough.
I would say that some of those who are worldly sometimes pray, but only for the things they want and think they need. Their prayers are quite selfish. But others probably don’t even think about praying for what they need. They have desires and needs, but God is far from their mind. Verse two says, “You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask.”
And those few (worldly ones) that sometimes pray: we know that God will not give them what they pray for, because they ask with wrong motives. They ask only for their own pleasure. Verse three says, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.”
Now the reason why God won’t answer the prayers of worldly people is not because He doesn’t want them to be happy and to have pleasure. It is rather because they are sinful and proud and against Him. Remember, they are a friend of the evil world and the devil; hence, God resists them. Verse six says, “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” This I believe is the key reason why the prayers of the worldly will never be answered.
2. Unconfessed sin
This second point may have a connection to the first point, but not necessarily. Those who are worldly are always in sin and so they have unconfessed sin (accept for the times when they repent of them). But even those who are not worldly, who are good and godly Christians may have unconfessed sin from time to time—because we all sin (Rom. 3:23). Thus even the godliest can have their prayers hindered.
Consider David. He was a man after God’s own heart; and usually, when he prayed, God answered Him. But, at one point in his life, he was caught off guard and lusted after a woman named Bathsheba. Thereafter, for a period of time, he decided not to confess that sin, but instead plotted how he could get away with it (Read 2 Sam. 11:1-27).
We don’t have a lot recorded for us on David’s relationship with the Lord during that time, but in Psalms 32 we get a clue. In verses three and four David said, “When I kept silent, my bones grew old through my groaning all the day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; my vitality was turned into the drought of summer.”
Also in Psalms 51:10 we get the idea that he felt dirty and could sense that God had departed from him. He prayed, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”
In Psalms 32:6 we may get the idea that David may have tried to pray but that God could not be found by him, that God was angry with him. So he prays, “Therefore let everyone who is godly pray to you while you may be found” (NIV).
In Psalms 66:18 we have a clear teaching: “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear.
And why is this? Why does God not hear the prayers of those who sin and do not confess that sin? It is simply because when we do not confess our sins we are in a state of rebellion and pride. And during that state of rebellion we make ourselves an enemy of God, and therefore we give ourselves over to the devil (Ja. 4:4-7).
But if we repent of our sin, as David did, God will forgive us and cleanse us (1 Jn. 1:9). And He will again come near us and hear our prayers. After David confessed his sin with Bathsheba (and the sins that followed) he prayed,
I acknowledged my sin to You,
And my iniquity I have not hidden.
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,”
And You forgave the iniquity of my sin.
6 For this cause everyone who is godly shall pray to You
In a time when You may be found;
Surely in a flood of great waters
They shall not come near him.
7 You are my hiding place;
You shall preserve me from trouble;
You shall surround me with songs of deliverance.
3. Not forgiving others
This third point is probably the deadliest of all prayer hindrances and the one Jesus talked about the most. God does not take this sin lightly, and neither should we. If you have something against someone and will not forgive them for it, God is against you! If you do not forgive them, God will not forgive you and will not regard your prayers. I urge you to read the following passages on this point and take heed to what Jesus is saying to you: Matthew 5:23-24; 6:12,14,15; 18:21-35; and Mark 11:25-26