All of us want to pray effectively. We want the scriptural assurance that God hears us and that He does answer our prayers – even if it is not the answer we were expecting (Ps 34:17; Isa 30:19).
But at times it may seem that our prayers are not being heard or answered by God.
The Bible makes clear that there are reasons for unheard or unanswered prayers. Let us now examine what the Scriptures teach us about common obstacles to prayer.
The greatest obstacle to effective prayer is sin.
“If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear” (Ps 66:18). This scripture was penned by David, a man who certainly was not perfect. David did, at times, sin before the Lord. But he also acknowledged his sin, repented, and then did his best to live on in obedience before God.
GOD WILL NOT REWARD REBELLION
God can choose to hear and answer the prayer of a sinner; otherwise, how could an unsaved sinner ask for salvation? God hears mankind’s cries for salvation, and always grants mercy and salvation when one repents of sin and believes on the Lord Jesus Christ (Rom 10:13). But this is different than praying to God once you have given your life to the Lord in salvation.
Once we are saved, we enter into God’s family. We become children of God (John 1:12; Gal 3:26). God is our Father, and He has given us rules for how we are to conduct ourselves as part of His family. These rules are found in the Word of God. When we obey the Lord and His commands (rules), there comes the possibility of many blessings and comforts that are part of being in His family.
But in order to receive God’s blessings and answers, we must come to Him in childlike simplicity (Matt 18:2-4) and obedience to His Word. If we want God to hear us in prayer and answer us, then we must come to Him honestly and with a trusting heart. We cannot be living in rebellion against Him or in constant sin and still expect Him to hear us.
An example of the Lord’s response to His children when they called out to Him while in rebellion is found in Judges 10:13,14: “Yet you have forsaken Me and served other gods. Therefore I will deliver you no more. Go and cry out to the gods which you have chosen; let them deliver you in your time of distress”. God was merciful toward their failures for a season. But when the children of Israel continued on in their sin, rebellion, and idolatry, God would no longer answer them or deliver them.
God will never reward or encourage our rebellion against Him. He will not provide for us if we use that provision to follow earthly pleasures or carnal passions. God will not give His power to the proud, or a life of ease to the slothful. He will not answer prayers that are selfish or wicked: “You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures” (Jas 4:3). God hears and answers prayers that are in alignment with His will (John 14:13; 15:16; 16:23-26).