Troubleshooting Ineffective Prayer, Part Three


In what ways do you need to change in order to have a better prayer life?

John 15:1-11


In one of the old hymns of the church, there is a couplet which expresses this great truth in a forceful way. The hymn writer says, "O may no earthborn cloud arise to hide Thee from Thy servant's eyes." The clouds that hide the sun from our eyes are not our creation; but the clouds which hide our God from us are always clouds of our own making. It is impossible for our Lord to be hidden from us, except by some mist arising from our own hearts.

Let us be more specific. Sin is a short word, but it has many different meanings. What sins arise with such a clamour about the throne of God that He refuses to listen to our cries until we are willing to have these sins covered with the sacrifice of Christ?

One of these is the sin of unbelief. We read in the epistle to James, "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering: for he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord" (James 1:5-7). This refers, of course, to the claiming of promises which are made in the Word of God. It does not mean there will never be doubt concerning the will of God in something we are making a matter of prayer. But in all those hundreds of cases where prayer should follow the Word of God, there must not be the sin of unbelief. For to doubt the Word of God is to make God a liar. He has said so Himself. (See 1 John 5:10.)

We have a list of promises where God has told us to pray for certain things in connection with our relationship to Him, our growth in His Word and work, and also, concerning material blessings which He desires to give us. The sin of unbelief in any of these cases can destroy our prayer power and hinder the coming of the answer to us.

A second sin that is mentioned, specifically, as a hindrance to answered prayer, is the sin of the unforgiving spirit. In the Gospel of Mark we read these words of Christ. "When ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any; that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses" (Mark 11:25-26).

To those who have not accepted Christ as Saviour we must give warning that this, or any other specification, does not apply in your case. For the unbeliever there is but one hindrance-the lack of new life in Christ through being born again.

But to the Christian, to the one who has been given the right to become a child of God (see John 1:12), this word may reveal the center of your difficulty. Do you hold a grudge against some believer? Have you bitterness in your heart toward someone? Are you unwilling to let God remove that bitterness? That is the reason why the heavens seem as brass above you.

Answered prayer is on the basis of our fellowship with Christ, and there cannot be true fellowship with Him if we have an unforgiving spirit. We have little sympathy with that kind of condescension which promises to forgive, but says that it will not forget. Where there is the true love of Christ there is the fruit of that love. We must not forget that love, "Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Love never faileth" (1 Corinthians 13:7-8).

Job received bad treatment from his counselors who called themselves his friends. In the closing chapter of that stupendous epic we find that "the Lord turned the captivity of job, when he prayed for his friends: also the Lord gave job twice as much as he had before" (Job 42:10). When job's heart was cleansed from rancor toward those three killjoys who have become known, ironically, as Job's comforters, God broke through and performed miracles on his behalf.

Still another sin that God says is a cause of unanswered prayer is the sin of family discord. This may surprise some, but God has revealed it to us through the writings of Peter. We read, "Even as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement. Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honor unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered (1 Peter 3:6-7). This word is addressed, primarily, to the husbands. The literal teaching of this verse is that husbands' prayers are hindered because they do not have that consideration for their wives which is due them.

Ministers and doctors soon learn to know the real reasons behind the excuses of "incompatibility" which are given to the courts as grounds for divorce. Few people realize, perhaps, the total of bestiality which exists in many marriage relationships that should be fine and heavenly. This cheapness may be understandable in those who make no claim to the spiritual life in Christ. But for those who are Christ's, there is no excuse. The body of the believer becomes the temple of the Holy Spirit and His tenderness must possess us in all of life. If we do not yield to the life of the Spirit within, God tells us, this is a hindrance to our prayers. When God brings warmth and love back into Christian homes where coldness has come, then the prayer power of husbands and wives can be restored to full communion with Him.

The Word of God also tells us that our prayers are hindered when they are offered with selfish motives. We read in the Epistle of James, "Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts" (James 4:3). In the Old Testament there is a verse which seems opposed to this, but which really teaches the same thing. We read in the Psalms, "Delight thyself also in the Lord; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart" (Psalm 37:4).

Here is the promise of the very desires of our hearts. Yet the New Testament lesson tells us that we do not receive the things which we ask, because we ask from selfish motives, that the answer may be consumed upon our own pleasures. The solution to the difficulty lies in the very nature of God. If people understood God there would be no difficulties at all.


  • Why do you think that when we do not forgive God does not answer our prayers?
  • In what ways do you need to change in order to have a better prayer life?
  • How does the concept of praying without ceasing help our understanding of prayer?


Think about the statement from Dr. Barnhouse, “For to doubt the Word of God is to make God a liar.” How does this change the way you study scripture?


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