Hindrances to Effective Prayer – James 4:1-10
By Pastor Lee Hemen
October 9, 2011 AM
We can let the littlest things in life frustrate us. A red light that doesn’t turn green fast enough, a slow checkout line, or just a bad mood! Have you ever tried praying at those times? I have. It is hard for me to do. I guess it is because my heart and thoughts are not in the right place!
There are hindrances in life, aren’t there? Sometimes these hindrances keep us from the full and richness of a personal relationship with the Lord in prayer. It can be a bad attitude, hurt feelings, not getting our way, ungodly behavior or several other things that hinder our time alone with God. God desires and wants to spend time alone with us in prayer. If progress in the Christian life depends upon our prayer, if we are commanded to pray, if promises on a cosmic scale are made to those who pray–what would a waiting Heavenly Father think if we refused to pray? James introduces for us this morning that we can be hindered in our prayer life.
There is only one kind of greatness taught in the Bible–spiritual greatness. Prayerfulness characterized the lives of Enoch, Abraham, Moses, Hannah, Samuel, David, Hezekiah, Isaiah, Elijah, Elisha, Jeremiah, Daniel, Mary, Peter, Paul, John, and Jesus. Can you imagine any of these folks functioning apart from prayer? A life filled with the Spirit is packed with prayer. We discover that…
I. Relationship can be a hindrance to our prayer! (James 4:1-2)
1. 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. (James 4:2 NIV)
1) Notice the problem these folks had, they suffered from infighting and conflict. They were selfish individuals! James writes, “You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight.” These folk’s relationship with one another and with the Lord was all messed up and so their prayers were all messed up! Paul commended the Corinthian church by saying, “you help us by your prayers!” (2 Corinthians 1:11) He knew the value of Christians praying for one another. He would encourage, “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, [and] faithful in prayer!” (Romans 12:12 NIV) and, “Devote yourselves to prayer!” (Colossians 4:2a NIV) Why? Paul knew that our Christian relationship could be either a blessing or a hindrance to our prayers! Jesus related, “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 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 NIV) The idea is you have to “first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye!” (Matthew 7:5 NIV) Notice the problem is “against you” and not your brother! The relationship is broken because of you! When God’s people are united and praying for one anther they do not have time to prey on one another! In chapter 5 of James, we discover the extent of the relational problem these folks had. James writes, “Don’t grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged!” (James 5:9a NIV) The word “grumble” is another word for PRAYER! These folks had a relational problem and therefore a prayer problem! Relationship can be a hindrance to our prayers!
EXAMPLE: James reminded them, “Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray!” (5:13) How about your prayer life? Is it selfish and self-centered? How much of your prayer focuses on you instead of others? However, more importantly how is your relationship with the Lord and with your fellow Christian brothers and sisters? Remember, James warned, “The Judge is standing at the door!” If you have a hard time praying for one another perhaps, it is because your relationship with the Lord or others is messed up! Let me ask you, “What if your relationship with Jesus is like your relationship with fellow believers?” Relationship can be a hindrance to our prayer!
No one can expect God to move or work in his or her life with any greatness without the fellowship of prayer! It is a spiritual and physical impossibility. Just as prayerlessness is a limitation so can improper attitudes be a hindrance to our prayer. James tells us that…
II. Wrong motives can hinder our prayer! (James 4:3)
1. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. (James 4:3 NIV)
1) Selfishness in prayer poses a danger to the purposes God wants to accomplish in our lives! It contradicts Gods will! James related, “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” This is an important concept for us to understand. I am reminded when the Israelites became so dissatisfied with what God desired that “In the desert they gave in to their craving; in the wasteland they put God to the test. So He gave them what they asked for, but sent a wasting disease upon them!” (Psalm 106:14-15) Their wrong motives hindered their prayer! Therefore, God gives them what they ask for and they suffer because of it! We know that when Moses’ sister Miriam prayed arrogantly to God, God dealt with her selfishness severely (Numbers 12:1-2)! Moses then has to plead with God to spare her life (Numbers 12:12-15)! Prayers offered from totally selfish and wrong motives cannot and will not be answered the way we desire! In fact, they may be answered in a way we like the least! Remember, James writes, “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives!” What are your motives when you pray? We can become so convinced of what we desire that our desire becomes the answer to our prayer instead of God’s true will. Wrong motives can hinder our prayer!
EXAMPLE: We can so desperately want something to happen that what we desire becomes the answer to our prayer instead of God’s true will. We live in a day-and-age whereby we equate answered prayer to what best suits us. Bigger is better, easier is blessed, and our personal happiness must be God’s plan! We have become so in love with what is easy in life that we now equate it to our prayers as well. I am not suggesting that Jesus did not come to give us an abundant life, but what we define as abundant is not what God defines as such. Abundance for God imprisoned Paul three times and took his life, but established Jesus’ church! Abundant life for William Carey took 7 years for his first convert to Christianity. The abundant life of Lottie Moon was exemplified by self-sacrifice of her health and welfare to do the will of God! All of these were the result of the “abundant life” God gave them and each was a tremendous prayer warrior. Laura Story in her song, “Blessings,” touches on this when she rhetorically asks God, “’Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops, what if Your healing comes through tears. What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near? What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise?” Therefore, be very careful dear child of God and realize that wrong motives can hinder your prayer!
Praying selfishly brings us into danger with God. He will not coddle us with answers hostile to what he wants to achieve in us. God will not risk putting into our hands a hazard in order to satisfy an unhealthy desire! In the world, you earn what you get, but in God’s kingdom, you get what you believe. That is why…
III. Our lack of faith is a hindrance to prayer! (James 4:4-5)
1. You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. (James 4:4 NIV)
1) No prayer relationship is possible where there is no faith in prayer! Failure to believe means we think God is a liar, this why Jesus said, “Whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours” (Mark 11:24). The writer of Hebrews tells us, “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6 NIV) James understood this and he warned his readers, “You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely?” (James 4:4-5 NIV) When we live with one foot in the world all the time our prayers become useless. We begin to live our lives based on lucky coincidences and selfish concerns instead. We have no idea what God desires. In fact, we might be afraid to ask! God loved us to the point of sending his Son to die for us. When we become more enamored with the things of the world than our relationship with the Lord, our prayers are hindered! It displays a lack of faith. The answer to our prayers is not dependent on our feelings of the moment, our resources, our talents, or our training–it is squarely founded in Jesus Christ! When we trust the things of the world more than we trust God, our lack of faith is a hindrance to prayer!
EXAMPLE: I have met folks who actually think that because of the job they hold, how they provide for their families, or the friends and education they have God is blessing them! Nothing could be further from the truth. We forget that God sends the rain on the just and the unjust. More than this, we can become so focused on ourselves we forget to ask God what he desires for our lives! This is where much of Christianity is mired today: self-aggrandizement. The prayers that changed a world have been displaced by the prayers of selfishly desperate individuals looking for personal happiness at the expense of their walk with the Lord. It displays a complete lack of faith in God’s plan and thereby a distrust of God himself! No wonder our lack of faith, is a hindrance to our prayer!
The function of faith is not just to get something done. Faith is the basis of a relationship with God. We can put our confidence in a loving caring God who loves us enough to save us from our sin in the first place! James was writing to a group of people caught in sin and it was hindering their relationship with one another and with the Lord! Finally, we discover that…
IV. Rebellion and sin is a hindrance to our prayers! (James 4:6-10)
1. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. (James 4:8 NIV)
1) Any sin is not just any sin, because any sin will hinder our prayers! The deliberate indifference to those in need will create a barrier to our prayers, “If a man shuts his ears to the poor, he too will cry out and not be answered” (Proverbs 21:13). James would ask, “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?” (James 2:15-16 NIV) Knowing we sin and doing nothing about it hinders our prayer also. David wrote, “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened; but God has surely listened and heard my voice in prayer.” (Psalms 66:18-19 NIV) Hypocrisy in prayer reaps its own reward, Jesus declared, “But when you pray do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray…to be seen by men…they have received their reward” (Matthew 6:5)! We know that bitterness, anger, and other unhealthy attitudes will hinder our prayers. James warned, “That is why Scripture says: ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’” James then scolds, “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you.” He commands us to, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” (James 4:10 NIV) Humility is not the natural state of humanity. We are prideful people. Sin, however, is foreign to the very nature and purpose of the kingdom of God! Anything that interferes with our life in Christ interferes with our prayers! Rebellion and sin is a hindrance to our prayers!
EXAMPLE: I think many of us would be shocked to see ourselves the way God does. Just as lovers can have blinders, Christians can be spiritually ignorant of their own rebellion. When we join in skewering our spiritual leaders, when we gossip, or when we deliberately excuse ourselves from serving in Jesus’ church he. I will never forget when OM Allen, a respected pastor, was talking with a young woman about her prayers and how they never seemed to help. She lamented, “I do this,” and “I do that,” and “I am involved in…” OM simply looked at her and remarked, “The ‘I’s’ seem to have the majority.” She was shocked. She was involved in what she felt she needed to be involved with, but she had never asked God or her church where she could serve. Her rebellion was why her prayers were weak. Rebellion and sin is a hindrance to our prayers!
We have explored hindrances to our prayers. Our relationship, our motives, our faith, or our sin hinders our prayers. What hindrance keeps you from effective prayer?
Pastor Lee Hemen has been the outspoken pastor of the same church for 25 years in Vancouver, WA. He writes regularly on spirituality and conservative causes and maintains several web blogs. This article is copyrighted © 2011 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.