Okay, now this is a lot to think about already. But there is more. (And even more than what I am saying here.) On top of all that I’ve already said, there are many more verses that shed light on why our prayers may not be effective. We have a much greater responsibility than we realize in making sure that our prayers get heard.
For one, maybe part of the reason that our prayers aren’t “working” and that it seems like God isn’t listening is because . . . God isn’t listening! “Whoa! Wait!” you say. “How could you dare to say something like that?” Well, let me explain. We want God to be there when we want Him, and we want Him to give us what we ask for. And so we single out verses like Mark 11:22-24 to convince ourselves that our only job is to ask and believe, and then He’ll do it. (If this is the case, the best thing that God can do is not answer our prayers as we desire.)
But what we don’t do is consider the many verses that highlight our responsibilities in making sure our prayers are heard. God is not manipulated to do whatever we want by our level of “faith.” (Yes, He wants our faith and requires our faith, but faith is not genuine faith when we use it as a tool to get what we want.) But we do have an effect on the effectiveness of our prayers by how we live and by the condition of our hearts.
Psalm 66:17-19: “I cried out to him with my mouth; his praise was on my tongue. 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.”
If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened! When we cry out to God honestly (not just thinking it, but actually putting it into prayer) and with a sensitive heart and broken spirit, He listens. But if we chose to live in self-sufficiency or if we harbor sin in our hearts, He is not obligated to listen to or answer our prayers. Because we have put up a wall between us. We have chosen distance. And so we are blocking God from hearing our prayers and from answering them.
This shows me the importance of Psalm 139:23-24: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” This really should be a daily thing, asking God to search our hearts and reveal anything that we need to ask forgiveness for or make amends for. (And admittedly, I don’t do this every day as I should. Usually, I forget to do it until things get to be too much for me to handle. I have to be forced by helplessness to passionately seek God sometimes.)
So if we wonder why our prayer life seems weak or if we are going before Him with a very serious need, maybe we should spend some time evaluating our hearts. Because hiding sin in our hearts is a wall between us and God, and it has an effect on our prayers. In fact, look at the very next verse after Jesus tells us that we will get anything we ask for if we believe . . .
Mark 11:25: “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive your sins.” And this echoes Matthew 6:14-15: “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
I don’t know about you, but this is a very hard teaching to absorb. I will not be forgiven based on my unforgiveness towards others. And my unforgiving state has an effect on whether or not my prayers get heard, because ongoing, unconfessed sin in my life blocks God from listening to my prayers. And it blocks me from being of any real use to Him.
Now, I do not believe that these verses are saying that we will lose our salvation. I believe that there are two levels of forgiveness. One relates to the moment we chose Jesus as our Savior and we were forgiven of our sins, as a whole, so that we could attain salvation. This is a permanent forgiveness. And we can’t lose that by any sin we commit. Because if we could lose it by our sins then Jesus’ death was not enough. And it would be meaningless if it didn’t fully meet God’s requirements for our salvation. And He would have to die over and over again for every new sin.
Now, the other level of forgiveness, though, relates to the condition of our relationship with the Lord and our daily walk with Him. When we sin, we break fellowship with Him and we prevent ourselves from attaining the abundant, God-glorifying life that we should have. Like in a marriage, a sin doesn’t necessarily mean that you run out and get divorced, but it does interfere with the condition of your relationship with your spouse. And we need to confess these sins as they happen to restore proper fellowship.
There are numerous other passages in the Bible that say the same thing. The fact that we have responsibilities in maintaining a proper, godly relationship with God - that we have an effect on the effectiveness of our prayers - is a very real teaching that should be taken seriously.
And not only do we have the responsibility to forgive others and to seek forgiveness from God, but we are to ask for forgiveness from others for any offenses we have made against them.
Matthew 5:23-24: “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.” Being reconciled to others is so important to God that we are not even supposed to offer our gifts at the altar until we do.
But how many of us harbor bitterness towards others for some offense? How many can’t let it go because it seems so justified? They deserve it, right? Or how many of us won’t seek reconciliation because we don’t think that we should have to? We didn’t do anything wrong; it was all them . . . right!?!
But forgiveness is not so much about the other person; it’s about our relationship with God. The Word makes it clear that the responsibility rests with us to forgive anything that we have against someone else and to seek forgiveness from others and from God, if we want to approach God in prayer. And if we don’t, it blocks God from forgiving us, which blocks God from hearing our prayers.
And even worse, unforgiveness towards others (or any resistance to confessing any sin in our lives, for that matter) shows hard-heartedness, which is diametrically opposed to a healthy, open relationship with God. And we will further block ourselves off from being sensitive to the Holy Spirit. And the longer we resist, the more we will entrench ourselves behind the wall that we have put up between us and the Lord. And the more numb and desensitized - and self-justified - we will feel.
It’s all about your heart and if you humble yourself before a holy God. How many of our prayers go unheard because of our heart’s condition and our attitude towards others? Pride, bitterness, envy, gossip, idol worship, unforgiveness, ungodly speech, getting drunk, cheating, giving into temptations, lust, affairs, sex outside of marriage, acting out in anger, worry, etc., are all sins that need to be confessed and repented of, if we want God to hear our prayers and to have the most effective life for Christ.
It’s shocking, I know. I mean, God hears all of our prayers, right? So how can I say that He doesn’t? I don’t think it’s so much that He doesn’t “hear” them, but that we bind Him from working in our lives and from answering them because we have chosen to walk away from Him in our sins. We have chosen the roadblock. We have chosen sin. And we can’t hold onto sin and hold onto Him at the same time.
And once again, we need to bring this back to actually praying for forgiveness and healing our relationship with God, not just thinking about it. Look at this verse 2 Chronicles 7:14-15 “If my people, who are called by my name, will 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. Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place.” If we pray for forgiveness, He will hear.
Posts in this "Understanding God's Will" series:
3: His Will Is A Verb 4: Taking It Seriously 5: Prayer Matters 6: But God Can Read Minds 7: But God Knows Our Needs 8a: Pray Specifics? 8b: Three Keys For Next Step 8c: About Smaller Decisions 9a: Name It Claim It 9b: Help
9c: Verses 9d: Idolatry 9e: Unanswered 9f: Not Listening 9g: More Verses 9h: Effective Prayer 9i: Still Waiting 10: Bad Things Happen 11a: Happens For A Reason? 11b: Marriage Trouble 11c: Deliberate Ignorance 11d: Bad Things Beyond Us 12: God Works Good 13: Limiting God? 14/15: God Forcing Things? 16: Change God's Mind? 17: But God Can't Change? 18: Our Responsibilities