The proper way for a man to pray,
Says Deacon Lemuel Keys,
And the only proper attitude
Is down upon his knees.No, I should say the way to pray,
Says Reverend Doctor Wise
Is standing straight with outstretched arms
And rapt and upturned eyes.
Oh, no, no, no said Elmer Slow.
Such posture is too proud.
A man should pray with eyes fast closed
And head contritely bowed.
It seems to me his hands should be
Austerely clasped in front.
Both hands pointing toward the ground,
Said Reverend Doctor Blunt.
Last year I fell in Hitckins’ well,
Head first, said Cyrus Brown.
And both my heels were stickin’ up,
And my head was pointing down.
And then I made a prayer right then and there,
The best prayer I ever said.
The prayin’est prayer I ever prayed
Was standin’ on my head.
– Sam Walter Foss
Tongue in cheek, that poem has much to say about the idea many people hold to that there is some sort of formula to prayer. That is, the idea that if we use specific words, look a certain way, or assume a particular posture that it will affect the success of prayer. However, prayer is more than how you say something, it’s simply communicating with God – not only saying things, but listening as well. Prayer is more than simply looking the part and assuming postures relegated to specific time and place. Prayer, for the believer, is a gift that God has made available for any time, and any place. We have the privilege of entering into conversation with Him at any time. While it may seem as though the conversation is one-sided at times, I’m convinced that the more you pray, the more you converse with God, and the more you listen for His voice – the more you will experience that prayer isn’t as one-sided as you first assumed.
The last two weeks I’ve been leading you through scripture to try to answer the question, “Why is it that sometimes God doesn’t answer prayer?” I’m sure that’s a question that most of us have struggled with at some point or other. In asking this question, we are recognizing the paradox between believing that God answers prayer and experiencing those answers, yet also experiencing times when it seems He doesn’t .
In the first message, I introduced the three ways that God does answer prayer. Yes, not yet, and no. When we don’t hear from God after praying, it is more than likely he is either saying that now’s not the time to answer, or there are some things that need to take place first OR He simply chooses to say no.
As I’ve been studying scriptures and deliberating on this topic I have got the overwhelming sense that God greatly desires to answer the prayers of His people. There’s this unshakeable feeling that God, like a loving father, delights in giving good gifts to His children. However, it has become equally clear to me that one of the greatest hindrances to this happening is the equally great desire of God that we would seek after Him. In other words, God does not wish to bribe our love, or buy our loyalty. As I’ve already shared with you, the greatest hindrance to answered prayer is simply no prayer to begin with! “You have not because you _____________” (ask not).
Last week, we looked at one big reason why prayer goes unanswered as I shared with you the importance of faith. If we don’t believe and are full of doubts over what we pray then God will not respond. If you weren’t here last week I encourage you to get a copy of this message and review it.
Today I want to look at another answer that scripture reveals for the question, “Why God doesn’t answer prayer?” I believe that a plain understanding of these scriptures teaches that broken relationships are a great hindrance to prayer being heard by God. Now when the Bible talks about broken relationships it is on two levels. There’s the vertical level, which of course is the most important, the relationship between each one of us and God – and then there’s the horizontal level, the relationship between each one of us and each other. God created us to be relational beings.
BROKEN RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD
Jesus gives a pretty powerful promise in John 15:7,
If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.
John 15:7 (NIV)
As we learned last week, elsewhere Jesus connects answer to prayer with the requirement of faith – the belief that God will do what you are praying for. In this case, Jesus is teaching His disciples that another key to receiving what you ask for is “remaining in Him”. In other words, it is in the context of a relationship with God through Christ that prayers are answered. If that is so, than the reverse is also true. If you don’t have a relationship with God – your prayers won’t be answered.
It’s also of value to note that Jesus not only emphasizes the importance of remaining in Him – but also goes on to say, “and my words remain in you”. A healthy relationship with God involves remaining in Christ, and his words remaining or abiding, or living in us. Jesus is using the word “remain” to communicate the concept of transformational influence. It’s not just simply a visit, or an occasional reflection. When we “remain” in Christ it is an ongoing dwelling in His presence. It is welcoming and embracing, and growing in our relationship with Him. When His words remain in us, they shape our actions, our speech, our thoughts and in turn draw us closer to Him.
What is it that breaks or is the cause of broken relationship with God?
The answer to this question has two fronts. The first front is the understanding of what it is that keeps us from remaining in Christ. And the second front is what it is that demonstrates His words aren’t remaining in us.
One of the great prophets of the Old Testament, Isaiah, said,
But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.
Isaiah 59:2 (NIV)
Two things we learn, something called sin – separates us from God, and thus is the cause for broken relationship between us and God. Not only that, Isaiah reiterates that ultimately sin is the cause for God not hearing us – due to that broken relationship.
Sin brought a barrier between man and God right back in the Garden of Eden, and ever since then there has been the problem of man’s sin blocking the approach to a Holy God. At its root, sin is subscribing to the idea that we are our own gods, that we are accountable to no one, that we can determine what is good and what is evil. Sin is a curse that all mankind is born into this world with and it reveals itself in everything that is harmful, everything that causes sorrow, everything that breeds envy, jealousy, violence, pride, maliciousness, injustice, dishonesty, lack of integrity, and hurt. Sin is the cause for broken marriages, broken families, broken bodies, and our broken world. Friends, sin is ugly and sin is death. Every single one of us has a personal attachment to this curse and have experienced or are experiencing or will experience it’s awful effects. However, by far the worst consequence of sin is that it severs your relationship to God.
The solution for sin is found in Jesus Christ. The core of the good news which is the gospel of Jesus Christ is that when we recognize our broken relationship with God because of sin in our lives, when we believe that Jesus Christ, the only man who was without sin, paid the ultimate penalty for sin (which is death) willingly by dying on the cross, when we believe that He rose again (to life) victoriously three days later demonstrating victory over death and sin and demonstrating His deity in all His glory, when we believe that He did this so that we can know that same victory in our own lives – when we believe that, we receive the grace and mercy of God and are restored to a right relationship with Him. The Bible teaches that this confession of faith makes us righteous in God’s sight spiritually and we are now alive to Him and in Him. The Bible also teaches that this initiates the process of working out what has been completed in our spiritual lives throughout the rest of our being in a process of becoming like Christ.
For those who don’t believe in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior – this step of putting faith in Him is the necessary step to a right relationship with God and ultimately seeing prayers answered because sin has been dealt with. However, as we’ve learned from the language of Christ in John 15 – it is still of vital importance that those who have received salvation – remain in Him! In other words, it is still possible for us to cause a break in our relationship with God by allowing sin to go unchecked in our lives. John later writes in a letter to the church his understanding of the reality of this,
5 This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. 8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.
1 John 1:5-10 (NIV)
Here’s the lesson. If you have refused to admit or confess your sin – it may be an activity, an attitude, a habit that is contrary to what is right according to God’s word. When we try to cover up things that we know are wrong from God, then our relationship with Him is broken. There’s a falseness, a con, a fraud, – trying to live two different lives at once – live for God and live for myself. One of the first things we need to ask when there is unanswered prayer – is if there is any unconfessed sin in our lives.
If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened;
Psalms 66:18 (NIV)
He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.
Proverbs 28:13 (NIV)
Have you ever gone to pray and as you pray something comes to mind that you did, or said, or thought about that you know wasn’t the right thing to say, do or think. What do you do when that happens. If you ignore it and just push aside – that’s unconfessed sin. In fact, unconfessed sin usually keeps us from praying in the first place – we know God’s going to bring it up – and we just don’t want to confront it yet.
We’re living in a world today that likes to remove anything that casts blame or makes anyone feel uncomfortable. We’re not held responsible for our actions anymore. If we do something wrong or have a problem in our lives, its because of our parents or some traumatic event that happened when we were young. Even our view of sin has softened…we now call it a mistake, a lifestyle choice, or an option.
The truth is, however, that while the world has softened it’s view of what sin is, God’s view of sin has remained the same. He’s still aware of it, He’s repulsed by it, and He knows just how devastating sin can be in our relationship with Him. It’s a roadblock to our communication with Him. So we need to confess our sins to God, repent (turn away) from them, and allow Him to forgive us and restore us into relationship with Him.
John writes further in this letter, he says,
21 Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God 22 and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him. 23 And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.
1 John 3:21-23 (NIV)
It appears that John paid attention when Jesus was speaking to His disciples. Notice the commands that we are to obey and that pleases God – believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ and love one another as he commanded us. Where did John first hear this? When we return to John 15 we find Christ saying,
9 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.
John 15:9-12 (NIV)
Certainly, as we’ve already learned a broken relationship with God brought upon us by sin will result in unanswered prayer. But another important observation is the horizontal relationship God commands us to have with one another. Christ says, to love each other as I have loved you.
broken relationship with each other
Last week I shared with you the story of the fig tree from Mark 11. I want to reread verse 24-25 and focus particularly on verse 25 because this clues us in on how important our relationship with others is when it comes to answered prayer.
24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. 25 And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”
Mark 11:24-25 (NIV)
Next to faith, the number one thing related to prayer is forgiveness. Over and over again, every time Jesus talks about prayer He talks about forgiveness. Why? Because nothing will kill your prayers faster than resentment. When you hold a grudge, when you nurse an offense, when you allow bitterness to grow in your life, it creates that proverbial “wall” between you and God. When you are praying and not getting an answer from God it could be you are holding a grudge against somebody.
See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.
Hebrews 12:15 (NIV)
Bitterness is like poison, it will eat you alive. You can’t have unforgiveness in your heart and have your prayers answered!
God is more concerned about your relationship to Him and to other people than your request. When you’re in conflict with someone, God wants you to initiate reconciliation through forgiveness before He attends to your prayer request.
God wants us to forgive others who wronged us for these following reasons:
a. We ourselves are mere recipients of divine kindness and mercy;
b. We ourselves are frail human beings who are imperfect in many ways;
c. We forgive because God has forgiven us;
d. It is the right and most effective way towards restoration and reconciliation, which God Himself exemplified to us by reconciling us to Him through forgiveness in and through Jesus Christ.
e. Forgiveness casts away malicious anger that leads to murder and other forms of debauchery. It promotes healing in our own lives as we forgive, and makes possible healing in those who we have forgiven.
Jesus again emphasized the importance of restoring relationship with others through forgiveness when He shared an example of prayer with His disciples,
12 Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’ 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 6:12-15 (NIV)
Forgiving others is so important that not doing so will affect your relationship with God and correspondingly whether your prayers are answered or not.
1 Peter 3:7 is one more place that reveals the effect of broken relationships –
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.
1 Peter 3:7 (NIV)
…so that nothing will hinder your prayers. Peter is talking about the very important relationship found in marriage. How many of you would agree that one of the easiest places to have resentment build up is in our own families? Family members hurt each other’s feelings, husbands hurt their wives, wives hurt their husbands, parents hurt their children and vice versa. Bitterness and resentment are a common experience in unhealthy family relationships.
The Bible is clear that disharmony in the home blocks answers to prayer? Through the words of Peter in this verse and in the previous verses the scriptures teach us that how you treat your spouse influences your prayer life. That’s pretty important. In the scriptures, when it lists the qualifications that a pastor must have in his life in order to be a pastor, and the qualifications for a deacon, one of the qualifications of being a deacon or a pastor is he has to have a happy, peaceful home life. Why? Because if they’re experiencing broken relationships at home, the prayers of those leaders of the church will be totally ineffective – according to scripture. Does this mean that everything is always working out great and that their families are the poster picture of perfection all the time? No, there will be times where a deacon or pastor has difficulty at home – however it is important that they recognize the importance of restoration and reconciliation between each family member if they are to continue to be effective in prayer! If their homes are in constant tension and strife then certainly it must be evaluated whether they should continue in that leadership position so that they can devote time to their family.
In my own life I have experienced the importance of right relationships with my family when going to prayer. There have been a few Thursday nights where I had an argument with my wife right before I came to prayer meeting. On the way I realized that I just couldn’t go into prayer without addressing the rift in our relationship. I’ve had to call her, work things out, and then go pray.
I can’t emphasize enough the consequence of closing yourself off from the forgiveness of God through unconfessed sin and holding back forgiving others in your relationships has on your prayer life. Scriptures are clear that if you have a broken relationship with God or a broken relationship with others (especially in your family) then He will not answer prayer.
Scripture is equally clear, however, that if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and restore us into right relationship with Him. If we forgive others and work towards reconciliation in our relationships with others we are obeying the command of Christ to love one another and are “remaining in Him and His words remain in us”. Then we shall see answers to our prayer!