A Lead-lined Ceiling
Sometimes we might feel that when we pray, there must be a lead-lined ceiling over our heads. Is God really hearing my prayers?
When I first became an elder, I knew that one of my biggest responsibilities was going to be praying for people, for specific situations, and for this church. I remembered reading a passage about something that could hinder prayer. This got me started on a bit of a personal study on the topic. Eventually, I came to realize that there are perhaps as many as eleven things that can hinder a Christian’s prayers.
We know that prayer to our Father is a powerful thing. There are people that are really counting on you, counting on me, for prayer on their behalf. How can we help family, our friends, our brothers and sisters in Christ, if our prayer life is hindered because of some things in our life? I found this list to be personally convicting, and I hope you will too.
I don’t know about you, but I keep all kinds of pieces of paper in my Bible: Tidbits of notes, lessons, and things I have learned from others. This evening I wanted to share these eleven things with you, in hopes that you will find them useful in making sure that you don’t have a lead-lined ceiling when you pray – that your prayers are, in fact, being heard by God. Maybe it will be something you can tuck away in your Bible for reference.
We will be moving at a pretty good clip through these, and the main passages we will be reading have already been noted for you on the lesson sheets so that you can read them later on your own.
Let’s open our Bibles and study together.
Unconfessed sin – Psalm 66:18
16 Come and listen, all you who fear God; let me tell you what he has done for me. 17 I cried out to him with my mouth; his praise was on my tongue. 18 If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened; 19 but God has surely listened and heard my voice in prayer.
If we hang on to sin, if we don’t work to get it out of our lives and out of our heart, this passage indicates that the Lord will not listen to our prayers to Him. How do we cherish sin? It happens when ask the Lord to keep our thoughts pure, but we watch bad shows on television or at the theatre. It happens if we visit an inappropriate site on the internet, and ask the Lord for forgiveness, but set a bookmark for later reference. We cannot hang on to our sin with both hands, and ask the Lord to take it from us.
Insincerity – Matthew 6:5
5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.
In this passage, Jesus teaches us that those who pretend to be approaching God, but really are only out to impress others, have as their only reward the empty and insignificant recognition of those around them. Now, maybe we don’t stand on the street corner much, but do we always pray with sincerity? Do we rush through our prayers so that we can get to bed, or hurriedly utter thanks before a meal because our favorite show is coming on? Our prayers to God must be heartfelt and sincere.
Earthly or selfish motives – James 4:3
2 You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. 3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.
It is pretty pointless to approach our Father with wrong or selfish motives. God knows our hearts, and there is no way we are going to “slip one by”. We must be honest in our prayers: “Father, please help me with this. I know I am only seeing this from my own limited view. I do want what is best for my family/this person/the church/this situation. Please do what is best in your eyes.” Let’s make sure that our motives in our prayers are aligned with God’s motives.
Unbelief – James 1:5-6
5 If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. 6 But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7 That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord;
If my son or daughter comes up to me and says, “Dad, I would like you to help me with this. But I know you probably won’t want to help, and that I am usually a big pain, and this is a lot of trouble…”, how likely am I to respond positively to that? Perhaps our approach should be “Father, you have always been so kind to me, and I know that your kindness and love continues toward me. Thank you for hearing my request, and for the answer that I know will be best for me and all concerned.” Let’s pray believing and knowing that God will answer. He is, after all, the giver of all good gifts, isn’t He?
Satan’s interference – Daniel 10:10-13
10 A hand touched me and set me trembling on my hands and knees. 11 He said, “Daniel, you who are highly esteemed, consider carefully the words I am about to speak to you, and stand up, for I have now been sent to you.” And when he said this to me, I stood up trembling. 12 Then he continued, “Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them. 13 But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia.
If you have had the privilege of being in Bill Gillett’s Wednesday evening study on Daniel, you have already heard this story. In this passage, an angel was sent in answer to Daniel’s prayer, but the angel encountered opposition from some evil spiritual being. Sometimes it is Satan, or the beings that are under his control, who interfere with our prayers. Paul told the Ephesian church in Ephesians 6:12:
12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
Satan is going to do whatever he can to interfere with the our prayers, and we need to be wise and patient when we pray, and trust God for the eventual answer.
Domestic problems – 1 Peter 3:7
7 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.
This is the passage that initially got me started on this study. The warning here is specifically to husbands, but certainly we can draw a lesson from this for each of us. When we are at odds with our mate, it is very difficult to feel close to God. Let’s remember that our spouses are “heirs with us of the gracious gift of life”. We share something very precious and eternal, and we must remember that, so that our prayers will not be hindered.
Pride – Luke 18:10-14
10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ 13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ 14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Jesus is pretty clear in this passage: A heart filled with pride simply will not connect with God’s heart. Who are you more likely to help, the boisterous, loud, proud and rebellious child, or the child with a tear in his or her eye, who wants only to be held and loved. Humility is attractive to God, and to talk with Him, we must put away all of our pride.
Robbing God – Malachi 3:8-10
8 “Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me. “But you ask, ‘How do we rob you?’ “In tithes and offerings. 9 You are under a curse—the whole nation of you—because you are robbing me. 10 Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.
Stan taught us an excellent lesson on giving from this passage. How can we expect God to be kindly disposed toward us, when we are stingy and tight with Him? How can we ask Him for blessings, if we are not filled with generosity towards God and His kingdom? It’s clear from this passage that we must be a giving people, if we ever hope to be blessed by God.
Refusing to submit to biblical teachings – Proverbs 1:24-28, 28:9, Zechariah 7:11-14
24 But since you rejected me when I called and no one gave heed when I stretched out my hand, 25 since you ignored all my advice and would not accept my rebuke, 26 I in turn will laugh at your disaster; I will mock when calamity overtakes you— 27 when calamity overtakes you like a storm, when disaster sweeps over you like a whirlwind, when distress and trouble overwhelm you. 28 “Then they will call to me but I will not answer; they will look for me but will not find me. (Proverbs 1:24-28 – “Wisdom”)
9 If anyone turns a deaf ear to the law, even his prayers are detestable. (Proverbs 28:9)
11 “But they refused to pay attention; stubbornly they turned their backs and stopped up their ears. 12 They made their hearts as hard as flint and would not listen to the law or to the words that the Lord Almighty had sent by his Spirit through the earlier prophets. So the Lord Almighty was very angry. 13 “‘When I called, they did not listen; so when they called, I would not listen,’ says the Lord Almighty. 14 ‘I scattered them with a whirlwind among all the nations, where they were strangers. The land was left so desolate behind them that no one could come or go. This is how they made the pleasant land desolate.’” (Zechariah 7:11-14)
These passages are very direct, and even give us some insight into God’s personality. I don’t know about you, but I really don’t like it when someone ignores me. Maybe that is one of the ways we are made in God’s image, because it is clear that God doesn’t like to be ignored either. We cannot expect God to hear our prayers, when we turn our backs on the teachings He has given us. If we ignore God’s Word, if we don’t read it, if we don’t pay attention when His Word is being preached, when we refuse to hear God, these passages teach that He will refuse to hear us.
Refusing to forgive or to be forgiven – Matthew 5:23-24, Matthew 6:12, Matthew 6:14-15
23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift. (Matthew 5:23-24)
12 Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
14 For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. (Matthew 6:12,14-15)
Christians must be a forgiving people. And it really shouldn’t be something where we feel like we are saying “Oh, OK, I guess since I have to forgive them, I’ll go ahead and forgive them.” Forgiveness should be a natural part of a Christian’s basic character. For God to hear our prayers asking for forgiveness, we must first forgive others.
Refusing to help the needy – Proverbs 21:3; 1 John 3:16-17
3 To do what is right and just is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.
16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? (1 John 3:16-17)
We can never approach God with a “Won’t you please help me Father?” when we are thinking or showing through our actions, “Oh, and don’t worry about those folks over there. They are just homeless and poor.” Certainly Jesus never treated people that way, and neither should we. Our lives should be defined by our caring attitude towards those around us. God will hear those who are kind and generous.
Prayer is such a blessing to us, and I am so thankful for so many brothers and sisters that have been a real example to me in their prayer life. It is important that we remove these things that can hinder our prayers – that we eliminate the lead in the ceiling – so that we can really talk to our Father.
Are your prayers being heard, or is there something that may be hindering them?
This is the night, this is the time to start fresh, to make it right, and to work it out with your Lord. If we can help you start your relationship with Jesus, or heal a broken relationship, won’t you come as we stand and sing.