Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The #1 Thing That Blocks Our Prayers

Dear Friends,

I have an audio clip on my computer that’s one of the three Stooges (Curly) saying, “I’m trying to think but nothin’ happens.” I laugh every time I hear it because too often that’s how I feel when I sit down at my computer to write a sermon or an AMEN Corner. That’s even how I feel sometimes in my spiritual life when I’m trying to pray and nothin’ happens! Sometimes it’s difficult to pray. Our mind wanders. We find ourselves repeating the same things, using the same words and praying in the same way that we’ve always prayed. Maybe God just feels too far away. When we pray, we want to think of God as bending down to us and inclining His ear to carefully catch every word. Psalm 116:2 NLT But sometimes it feels as if God has His hands over both ears as He turns away. Our prayers are not answered. Nothing is going right. Are God’s ears closed? If you’ve ever felt that way, here’s a Spiritual Truth: If God’s not listening, it ain’t His fault. 

Augustine of Hippo was born in the 4th Century and was a Church Father, a bishop and theologian whose writings influenced the development of Western Christianity and Western philosophy. From St. Augustine’s “Confessions” comes a Latin phrase “onerhi mihi sum” meaning “I have become a problem to myself.” In these days of entitlement and affirmation that we are all pretty and perfect, the shocking idea that we could be our own worst problem is absolutely unacceptable. But the honest realization and acknowledgment of “onerhi mihi sum” is the first step towards repentance and a change for the better. And a truthful self-examination might even lead to an improvement in the efficacy of our prayers because Augustine also said that, “When we pray, it’s not enough for the mind to be in harmony with the voice. A person’s works have to be in harmony as well.” When a person’s sinful behavior is out of harmony with their saintly words, God may indeed be covering both ears with His hands when they pray

Psalm 66:18-20 says: “If I regard iniquity in my heart, The Lord will not hear. But certainly God has heard me; He has attended to the voice of my prayer. Blessed be God, Who has not turned away my prayer, Nor His mercy from me!” Now this doesn’t mean that God turns a deaf ear to sinners! If He did, He’d never hear our prayers. Another translation reads: “If I had not confessed the sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.” Psalm 66:18 NLT The prophet Isaiah speaks of this Kingdom Principle directly and plainly: “It’s your sins that have cut you off from God.Because of your sins, He has turned away and will not listen anymore.” Isaiah 59:2 NLT There can be other reasons that God is not answering our prayers, but the first thing we need to do is to make sure that we have not become a problem to ourself. If we have, we need to repent.

Some of us have unsaved loved ones or backslidden loved ones who tell us, “I’m trying to pray but nothing happens.” They’re praying for God’s favor, provision, healing and for His wondrous miracles but it feels like God “has turned away and will not listen anymore.” He probably has. Someone once told me that their adult daughter had loved the Lord when she was younger but stopped going to church and had walked so far away from her faith that she’s now an atheist. The only reason I have ever heard for someone to walk away from God is that either God or the church failed to meet the person’s expectations so I asked what had happened in the woman’s life. Her father told me that she had prayed to God for something to happen and He didn’t do it. She was living a life of unrepentant sin while praying for God’s favor on her life. Then when God ignored her prayers, her conclusion was that God doesn’t exist. It’s what I call “Genie Theology.” If you rub the magic lamp and the genie doesn’t appear, you just need to rub harder and longer. If the genie still doesn’t appear and grant your wish, then obviously the genie never existed in the first place!

It may be difficult to hear this, but the only prayer from an unrepentant Christian sinner that God hears is the prayer that goes, “I repent of my sins, Lord God. For the sake of Your Son Jesus Christ, forgive me.” We can pray fervently for God’s favor and that He gives us our wants, needs and desires, but if we are holding on to iniquity in our hearts, the only thing God wants to hear from us is our confession and repentance. 

And the only thing God is interested in giving to an unsaved person is salvation. That can be a hard thing to tell a loved one. People ask me to pray for family members and friends who are not Christian. They ask my prayers for the person’s healing, financial needs, a job, for their criminal sentence to be overturned so they can get out of jail etc. I always tell them I’ll pray for their loved one and I do. But my prayer is that, “they will come to know and love the Lord God, accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior and live their life according to the will of God.” Then as they open their arms in worship to Him, He will bend down and incline His ear to hear their prayers. For “..God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does His will, He hears him.” John 9:31 Amen?

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