CHAPTER 11: HINDRANCES TO PRAYER
THE, poet said, and we often sing --
hindrances we meet
In coming to the mercy-seat.
they are various. But here again, most of those hindrances are our own
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
Angels our march
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
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
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. lxvi. 18).
And Isaiah says, "Your iniquities have separated
between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you" (Isa. lix.
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 xvi. 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 i. 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 the 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. iv. 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. iv. 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. cvi. 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 stealing" the reputation of other people will ever desire to go back again
to back-biting. "Love suffereth long and is kind" (I Cor. xiii. 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
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. xiv. 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. xxxvii. 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 iii.
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 (James iv. 3).
(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
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. v. 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
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. vi. 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 prayer today?
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. v. 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 xlii. 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. xviii. 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 live in the home that our "prayers
be not hindered" (I Peter iii. 1-10). We would venture 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 anyone else.
"Whensoever ye stand praying, forgive if ye have
ought against anyone; that your Father also, who is in heaven, may forgive you"
(Mark xi. 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. xiii.).
"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
xvii. 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 prayer!"
(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. xviii. 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
(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. c. 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. v.
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. xxxvii.
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.
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 prayer" existed!
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