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Hindrances to Prayer
2 Chronicles 7:11-22
Some one has said that prayer is the Christian's vital breath, the Christian's native air. This should be true. We fear, however, that it is not the case with many a believer because there are many prayerless saints. Even among those who do pray there are, alas, too many whose prayers are hindered, and they never reach the throne of God. Our Scripture lesson today is God's response to Solomon after the prayer which Solomon had offered at the dedication of the Temple.
We read in chapter 7 that when Solomon had made an end of praying, the fire came down from Heaven and consumed the burnt offering, and the sacrifices, and the glory of the Lord filled the House. At the time the priest could not enter into the House of the Lord because of the brightness of God's glory.
Solomon's prayer not only reached the throne, but received an immediate answer. After the feast was over and Solomon had finished the House of the Lord, then the Lord appeared unto him by night, and said, "I have heard thy prayer."
Following this the Lord gave certain promises, some of which were conditional. For instance, in 2 Chronicles 7:17 , the Lord said, "If thou wilt walk before Me, as David thy father walked, and do according to all that I have commanded thee, and shalt observe My statutes and My judgments; then will I stablish the throne of thy kingdom."
On the other hand God told Solomon that if he and his successors turned away from Him to serve other gods, or to forsake His Commandments, He would "pluck them up by the roots" out of "[His] land which He had given them," and send dire judgment upon them.
The promises of God unto this day in the realm of the prayer-life are contingent promises. In 2 Chronicles 7:14 of our study, God said, "If My people, which are called by My Name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from Heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land."
Answer to prayer was thus conditioned upon the humility of the Children of Israel, and upon their seeking the face of the Lord, and upon their forsaking every evil way.
Do we have a right to imagine that God set one condition of answered prayer for Israel in Isaiah's day, and that He sets another condition before us in our day? If we want our prayers to be heard we must be washed and made clean. We must put away the evil of our doings, and we must learn to do well.
Prayer, in order to be heard, must be from obedient and yielded lives. Even the Lord said, "Obey My voice, and I will be your God, and ye shall be My people!"
This same attitude of God toward prayers of certain saints is set forth again in the New Testament. We are commanded to pray for the sick, and for those who are chastened of God. The Lord, however, tells us, "There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it." The Apostle, of course, is speaking of physical death. Sometimes saints go too far in their wanderings.
In I Corinthians we read of a certain man who had sinned, and God said, Deliver him "unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus." Sin is no small matter, and it certainly has a tremendous bearing upon our prayer-life.
I. REGARDING INIQUITY IN OUR HEARTS (Psalms 66:18 )
In Psalms 66:1-20 we find this tremendous statement: "Come and hear, all ye that fear God, and I will declare what He hath done for my soul. I cried unto Him with my mouth, and He was extolled with my tongue." Immediately after these words come the words of our key verse: "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me." Then David answered, "But verily God hath heard me; He hath attended to the voice of my prayer."
David, the king, evidently had in mind those weary months in which the heavens were closed to his prayer. At that time his bones waxed weary with the roaring all the day. After, however, his sin in the case of Uriah and Bathsheba had been purged, he cried unto the Lord and was heard.
In Psalms 3:1-8 we have this clearly set forth. David said, "Many there be which say of my soul, There is no help for him in God." David, however, asserted, "I cried unto the Lord with my voice, and He heard me out of His holy hill." When sin is unconfessed, prayer is useless; when sin is confessed, prayer reaches the throne and is answered.
In Isaiah 59:1-21 we read, "Behold, the Lord's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither His ear heavy, that it cannot hear: but your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid His face from you, and He will not hear."
This language is plain enough. God cannot answer prayer when sin is in the heart. Here is the admonition found in Peter's first Epistle, "Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, * * that your prayers be not hindered." This is a plain statement that prayer may be hindered by improper family life.
A few verses farther down we read, "For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and His ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil." Our conclusion is that sin in the life hinders the answer to our prayers.
II. HOLDING A FORGIVING SPIRIT (Mark 11:25-26 )
Perhaps Mark 11:22 and Mark 11:24 contain two of the greatest promises to prayer in the Bible. However, the Lord added a solemn warning which we must not overlook. The Master said, "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."
These words are the more emphatic because they follow immediately upon that wonderful promise, "What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them." The Lord safeguarded His promise by specifying that an unforgiving spirit would make the promise inoperative.
In Matthew 5:23-26 we have the Divine instruction, "Therefore, if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift." Think you that God will hear our prayers, or receive our worship, if we have anything in our heart against our brother?
In Matthew 18:1-35 the Lord Jesus probed deeper, and still deeper, when He related the story of the unmerciful servant. This servant owed his master a great debt, and his master forgave him the debt. Immediately that servant found a fellow servant who owed him a pittance; however, he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, "Pay me that thou owest." Then he thrust the man into prison because he could not pay.
When the Lord of the unmerciful servant heard what he had done, he called him and said unto him, "Oh, thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellow servant?" Here is our Lord's conclusion: "Deliver him to the tormentors till he should pay all that was due unto him." Then Christ added, "So likewise shall My Heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses."
The tremendous importance of this in relation to prayer is set forth in the prayer which the Lord told His disciples. "Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors." True it is that if we forgive not those who are debtors unto us, neither will our Heavenly Father forgive us our debts.
III. THE SIN OF UNBELIEF (Mark 11:22-23 )
This Scripture reading precedes the one which we have just considered. Jesus said unto His disciples, "Have faith in God. For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith." Then the Lord added the words in Mark 11:24 : "Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them."
The contention of this verse is not merely that faith brings results, but that unbelief makes results impossible. There is a verse in Hebrews 11:6 which says, "He that cometh to God must believe that He is." There are two things which we must believe: first, we must believe that God is; second, we must believe that He is a Rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.
Unbelief is black with the frown of God. In Psalms 78:1-72 God says, "For all this they * * believed not." The same Scripture adds that they "limited the Holy One of Israel." Unbelief always limits God. When Jesus Christ went into the city of Nazareth where He had lived, He could do no mighty works there because of their unbelief.
In James 1:6-7 we read, "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." This is plain enough. If the Word of God is true when it says, "According to your faith be it unto you," then the opposite is also true, "According to your unbelief, be it unto you."
IV. A HEART SELF-CONDEMNED (1 John 3:20-22 )
Here is a statement that may startle us. "For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things." "Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God." "And whatsoever we ask, we receive of Him, because we keep His Commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in His sight." What remarkable verses on prayer are these! When we pray, if we find that there is in our heart self-condemnation, we must immediately seek to find its cause and correct it. On the other hand, when we come into the presence of God with an uncondemned heart and a clear conscience, we receive what we ask. We receive it because we are pleasing God, and keeping His Commandments.
The Bible plainly tells us that when we ourselves condemn ourselves, that God certainly will condemn us. He can look so much deeper than we can look. He can see things in our innermost being that we cannot see.
In Romans 8:1-39 we read, "There is therefore now no condemnation to them * *, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit."
Romans 7:1-25 tells of a prayerless, or, at least, a prayer-hindered life, because it is a life of self-condemnation. There, the believer is crying out, "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" Romans 8:1-39 is the victorious Christian life. In Romans 7:1-25 the big "I" of the self life predominates. In Romans 8:1-39 the "I" of self is lost sight of, and the Spirit predominates.
Romans 8:1-39 is the prayer chapter, because it fulfills the conditions which we have considered in 1 John 3:20-22 , and it leads us into the place of no self-condemnation. The result is expressed in Romans 8:15 : "For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father."
In Romans 8:26 of the same chapter is that wonderful statement which comes to the Spirit-filled and Spirit-led saint: "Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered."
V. PERSONAL LUSTS (James 4:1-5 )
The Holy Spirit is discussing, not wars and fightings among nations, but wars and fightings among saints. Then He asks, "Whence come they?" The answer is also given, "Even of your lusts that war in your members." The great conclusion is next stated: "Ye lust (that is, ye desire), and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, -yet ye have not, because ye ask not. Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts."
There are two great statements in these verses. The first is that believers who walk in the lusts and desires of the flesh, and fight and war among themselves are prayerless believers. They have not, because they ask not.
Second, there is an admonition that some of them do pray, that they do ask, but they receive not, because they are praying amiss. Thank God for the clear, plain messages which He has given us, which explain to us why prayers are not answered.
If we are living in the lusts of our flesh fulfilling the desires of the flesh and the mind, we cannot acceptably pray to God. When the prayer or petition that leaves our lips centers in ourselves, we will be thinking, not of the will of God, not of the needs of others, but we will be praying a self-centered and selfish prayer. God says such prayers He will not hear.
Whatever else may be said, if we want God to hear our prayers, we cannot be feeding the flesh, and walking in fellowship with the world. Our God is a jealous God, and He wants to have us wholly to Himself.
VI. NOT ACCORDING TO HIS WILL (1 John 5:14-16 )
These verses lead us into the place of confidence in prayer. "This is the confidence that we have in Him, that, if we ask any thing according to His will, He heareth us; and if we know that He hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of Him."
"If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and He shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it."
The whole message centers in the fact that prayer for the sick, the stricken, and the afflicted must be according to the will of God. If we are praying for a brother who has sinned, but his sin is not one which God esteems as worthy of physical death, God will answer that prayer.
Do you remember the admonition in the Book of James, "Is any sick among you? Let him call for the elders of the Church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the Name of the Lord: and the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him"? This is in perfect accord with our key text. However, the Lord puts in a provisionary statement: "There is a sin which is unto death." In other words the man of whom we spoke earlier in the lesson had sinned a sin unto death, and Paul definitely said that such an one should be delivered "unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus."
In any event, whether we pray for the sick, or whether we pray for the well, we must pray according to His will. We do not know the way in which we should go, but we know our Guide, and we should seek His pleasure above our own. Paul sought the Lord three times for deliverance from a thorn in the flesh. God did not deliver him because it was not God's will. However, the Lord said, "My grace is sufficient."
VII. NOT ABIDING IN CHRIST (John 15:7 )
We are using this verse last because we feel that it is a climax. Here is the verse: "If ye abide in Me, and My Words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you." The opposite, once more, is true. If we fail to abide in Him, and His Words do not abide in us, our prayers will be hindered and unanswered.
To abide in the Lord means to walk in the light as He is in the light. It is then that we have fellowship one with another; but if we walk in darkness, we are neither in a position to pray, nor will God find Himself able to answer.
It was the prayer of Abraham which was effective in the case of Lot. God said, "I will tell Abraham, for I know Abraham." Those of us who make only semi-occasional pilgrimages to the Throne of Grace are not they who get blessed. It is rather the ones who walk with God day by day who have the victory.
In John 14:1-31 the Lord Jesus speaks about His coming in and taking up His abode with His saints. However, with whom does He abide? It is with those who keep His Words. We may also ask who it is that abides with Christ. It is they who keep His Words.
In our same chapter the promise is given: "Whatsoever ye shall ask in My Name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son, If ye ask any thing in My Name, I will do it." Then Christ added, "If ye love Me, keep My Commandments." So, abiding in Christ gives us the privilege of prayer, just as abiding in Christ gives us the privilege of asking in His Name. We have no right to place His Name upon anything that we ask unless we are walking with God.
PRAYERS, MERE WORD
A man once dreamed that he found himself in a church with the old sexton, who was going round with a lighted taper, seeing all was right before locking up. Looking up into the dim recesses of the roof, he was just able to distinguish a number of handsome birds hopelessly floundering about and apparently trying to get through the roof, while a number of others seemed to have fallen asleep on the beams and rafters. "What are these?" he asked in amazement. "Oh!" said the sexton, "these are some of the prayers said here today. Only a few have gone up to God. These will never reach Him, for they were mere words." Only the prayers of the heart are heard by the Father in Heaven. Sunday School Chronicle.
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Neighbour, Robert E. "Wells of Living Water Commentary on 2 Chronicles 7". "Living Water". https://www.studylight.org/
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