Hindrances to Prayer

“Hinder me not” (Gen 24:56), said the servant resolutely, as the girl’s mother and brother pleaded for her to stay at least ten more days before leaving on her long journey, never to return. This surprise and noble visitor from a distant land had regaled them with the story of his master Abraham’s greatness, and of Isaac, the beloved son and heir. He told of his official match-making errand and finally of his prayer by the well, which the Lord had answered even before he had finished it, by bringing about this providential encounter with Rebekah. Now, with her “I will” given, even her family bonds must not hinder him from escorting this most beautiful “answer to prayer” to her bridegroom waiting in Canaan.

Hindrances to prayer, either in practice or potential, can come in many forms, even some that seem most reasonable, as in the story above. While it can be, and often is, the simplest plea of “Abba! Father” (Rom 8:15), prayer, at a deeper level, is a profound and delicate matter of spiritual fellowship with our Almighty, Holy, Heavenly Father. But it can be easily hindered by our attitudes, actions and attenuating responses.

Vine’s Dictionary helpfully informs us that the original Greek verbs for hinder (enkopto and ekkopto) mean “to cut into” or “cut out/off/down,” and were used either of breaking up a road or putting obstacles on the path so as to impede a person’s or an army’s advance. It was in an opposite way that John the Baptist’s ministry was to remove the boulders of unbelief and make smooth the path of understanding so that Israel would NOT be hindered in recognizing their coming Messiah (Isa 40:3; Luk 3:7).

Using the analogy of the road of prayer, let’s notice from Scripture some of the potential “boulders” or “potholes” that must be removed or resurfaced for this most vital avenue of fellowship with the Lord to be maximized in our lives.

Personal Sin

Nothing will hinder our prayers more than unconfessed or habitual sin. “If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened” (Psa 66:18).[1] John assures, “Whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him” (1Jn 3:22). Thankfully, when we do sin, because of the Savior’s past work and His present ministry, the way back is always open and accessible to the repentant heart. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1Jn 1:9). Upon confession and without hesitation, we can pray again, the blockage of our sin having been removed!

Marital Insensitivity

In giving one of the most concise yet comprehensive descriptions of the husband’s responsibility to care for his wife, Peter concludes by describing the direct effect that failure to do so will have on his prayers. “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered” (1Pe 3:7). The husband has the God-given role to lead, but equally important, he also has the God-given responsibility to, in humility, live with his wife in an abiding attitude of care, honor and understanding. Certainly, the general principle of sensitivity to others applies to all relationships in the home as well.

Physical Fatigue

The Lord Jesus was and is the supreme example of grace and understanding. Besides tirelessly ministering to the multitudes, He taught and molded an itinerant band of disciples to become His faithful witnesses on earth after He returned to heaven. Their spiritual, mental and physical weakness was especially evident in the crucial hours before the cross. He took Peter, James and John with Him in the garden to watch and pray. Upon returning from praying alone, the first of three times, He found them sleeping, and said, “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mat 26:41).

We, like them, as frail mortals, have the same limitations. However, we can take proactive steps by managing our schedules and activities so as not to be too “worn out” to pray intelligently and substantially. Busy dads and moms will face a particular challenge. Review your daily schedule, check your “screen time,” adjust and perhaps even remove some heretofore unsuspected hindrances that are draining your time and fortitude. We are all “wired” differently, but perhaps the best time to pray seriously is before the day begins and its responsibilities press. Whatever your preference or circumstance, take time, make time, and spend time in prayer before you and your day are spent!

Mental Distraction

Luke emphasizes the Lord Jesus’ teaching of the necessity of steadfastness in prayer with His telling of the parable of the persistent widow before the unjust judge, and by adding that it was “to the effect that they ought always to pray and not to lose heart” (Luk 18:1). James, in addressing the double-minded person, pointedly reminds us, “For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord” (Jas 1:7). The debris of distractions in the form of discouragements, defeats and doubts can also clutter the road of prayer and hinder the frequency, focus and answering of our prayers.

Carnal Desire

More subtle yet equally harmful are the selfish motivations and desires that can surreptitiously creep into our prayers. “Ye ask and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts” (Jas 4:3 KJV). Alarmingly, even the spiritual practice of prayer can become obstructed by our sinful, selfish nature and desires. We need to examine, recognize and, with the Lord’s help, remove these obstacles that can and will impede our prayers.

 A Practical Promise

Most of what we have tried to notice from Scripture regarding the direct hindrances to prayer has been a necessary, albeit negative, way of viewing the subject. Thankfully, James also succinctly gives the same truth in a resoundingly positive way by stating the true character, power and promise of Elijah-like prayers, who, encouragingly, “was a man with a nature like ours” (5:17).  “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (5:16 KJV). Pray on, dear brother and sister; let nothing hinder you!

[1] All Scripture quotations in this article are from the ESV unless otherwise noted.