Hindrances to Prayer

By Joseph Ametepe


"That your prayers may not be hindered" (1 Peter 3:7).

Prayer is God's idea and must therefore be answered according to His standards. God wants us to be able to receive answers to prayer, for each answer we receive brings glory and praise to Him. Further, God desires for His children to know Him increasingly better. Through prayer and answers to prayer we come to know God, growing in our understanding of His heart and character.

However, this goal is often not attained because hindrances block our progress. The term translated hindrance is from the Greek noun egkope, which means hindrance or obstacle. The verb form egkopto means to prevent, to detain, to thwart or to weary. Most hindrances are caused by us, never by God. The one exception is that which comes from Satan, our archenemy, whose aim is to keep us from doing damage to his kingdom through our prayers.

Why would God reveal hindrances to prayer in His Word? He does so because each generation of God's people need to learn from and avoid the mistakes of the past. We need to realize that our hearts have wicked and wrong desires, so we will seek to be transformed by God and desire more of what delights His heart.


A. Hindrances


1. Sin


"Behold, the LORD’s hand is not so short that it cannot save; neither is His ear so dull that it cannot hear. But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He does not hear" (Isaiah 59:1-2).


  • Israel had been seeking God for deliverance from bondage, but it did not come. God, through the prophet Isaiah said the problem was not with Him, but with Israel. The problem was their sins. (See Isaiah 57-59.)


R.A. Torrey writes: "Anyone who finds his prayers ineffective should not conclude that the thing which he asks of God is not according to His will, but should go alone with God with the psalmist’s prayer, 'Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in me' (Psalm 139:23-24), and wait before Him until He puts His finger upon the thing that is displeasing in His sight. Then this sin should be confessed and put away."


2. Setting up idols in our hearts


"Son of man, these men have set up their idols in their hearts, and have put right before their faces the stumbling block of iniquity. Should I be consulted by them at all? Therefore speak to them and tell them, 'Thus says the Lord GOD, any man of the house of Israel who sets up his idols in his heart, puts right before his face the stumbling block of his iniquity, and then comes to the prophet, I the LORD will be brought to give him an answer in the matter in view of the multitude of his idols, in order to lay hold of the hearts of the house of Israel who are estranged from Me through all their idols" (Ezekiel 14:3-5).


  • God wants to be our first love and our supreme object of affection.

  • An idol in the heart is anything that has ascended to take over the throne of our heart, demoting God from His rightful place of being our first love.
  • The Hebrew verb alah means to set up, to be lifted up, to impose, to pride oneself.


  • An idol in the heart of the believer results in the estrangement of the believer from God. It breaks the intimate fellowship God wants to have with him.
  • God is a jealous God (Deuteronomy 4:246:15). He wants us for Himself. He does not like to be put in second place.
  • If believers are to seek God, they must do so having no other competitor in their hearts.


R.A. Torrey wrote: "One great question for us to decide, if we would have power in prayer is, Is God absolutely first? Is He before wife, before children, before reputation, before business, before our own lives? If not, prevailing prayer is impossible."


3. Selfishness


"You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures" (James 4:3).


  • Christ and His interests must be reigning supreme in our hearts.

  • The Greek word that is translated wrong motives in James 4:3 is kakos, which means evil, bad, injury, harm or wrong motives.
  • Wrong motives in prayer seek to gratify the pleasurable desires of self.


  • Prayer is God's idea.

  • He gave believers the privilege of asking and the promise that they will receive.
  • God will not lower His standards and give us what is not good. (See Matthew 7:11)


  • The chief end of prayer is that God may be glorified in the answer.


4. Stubbornness of heart

"As for you, do not pray for this people, or lift up a cry or prayer for them, and do not intercede with Me, for I do not hear you. Do you not see what they are doing in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem?... But this command I gave them, Obey My voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be My people; and walk in all the way that I command you, that it may be well with you. But they did not obey or incline their ear, but walked in their own counsels and the stubbornness of their evil hearts, and went backward and not forward. From the day that your fathers came out of the land of Egypt to this day, I have persistently sent all My servants the prophets to them, day after day; yet they did not listen to Me, or incline their ear, but stiffened their neck. They did worse than their fathers" (Jeremiah 7:16-26; cf. 11:7-17 and 13:8-11;14:11-16).


  • Before the Babylonian captivity, God gave one last opportunity to the people to turn away from their stubbornness of heart. When they refused, God spoke the words in the above passage.


  • Stubbornness of heart is the refusal to respond to God's persistent warnings and wise counsel.
  • The Hebrew word is sheriyruwth, which means twisted; firmness, obstinacy, stubbornness of heart.
  • The result of stubbornness of heart is going backward and never forward in God's plans and purposes for our lives.


  • Questions to ask ourselves.
  • Can the churches of God today be rebuked for stubbornness of heart?
  • In what ways are we as believers being stubborn of heart to God's warnings?


5. Stinginess and shutting one's ear to the cry of the poor


"He who shuts his ear to the cry of the poor will also cry himself and not be answered" (Proverbs 21:13).

"He who sows sparingly shall also reap sparingly; and he who sows bountifully shall also reap bountifully" (2 Corinthians 9:6).

"Give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, they will pour into your lap. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you " (Luke 6:38).


  • God does not want us to hoard, but to be channels through which His blessings flow.
  • Believers are not to be tight-fisted with the material blessings God has given us.


R.A. Torrey wrote: "When one thinks of the selfishness of the professing church today, how the orthodox [evangelical] churches of this land do not average one dollar per year per member for foreign missions, it is no wonder that the church has little power in prayer."


6. Spirit of unforgiveness


"And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your transgressions. But if you do not forgive, neither will your heavenly Father who is in heaven forgive your transgression" (Mark 11:25; see also Matthew 6:14-15Proverbs 21:13).


  • Unforgiveness in the heart of believers grieves God and hinders prayers.
  • God refuses to be approached with an unforgiving spirit.
  • A grudge or a root of bitterness, may be blocking the answers to our prayers.


  • This is the most common hindrance to prayer because we are living in a broken world and among people of broken lives.


7. Strained relationships

"Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors... 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" (Matthew 6:1214-15; cf. 18:21-35).


  • We all too often allow conflict with others to harm our relationship with God.


"You husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with a weaker vessel, since she is a woman; and grant her honor as fellow heir, so that your prayers may not be hindered" (1 Peter 3:7).


  • This is a specific application for strained relationships of believing couples.


8. Selective listening to the Word of God


"He who turns his ear away from listening to the law, even his prayer is an abomination" (Proverbs 28:9; cf. Mark 11:25Matthew 6:14-15Proverbs 21:13).


  • There is a tendency in all believers to be selective in listening to God's Word.

  • The Hebrew shama which is often translated as listeningmeans to hear intelligently, with attention or obedience; to give undivided listening attention, to obey, to give heed.


  • Believers usually do not outrightly chooses to turn his ears from listening to God's truth.
  • Instead, we pick and choose those portions of Scripture which will not shake us from our comfort zones.


  • Paul spoke of the fact that many in the last days will only want their ears to be tickled, and therefore they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires (see 2 Timothy 4:3).


9. Unbelief


"But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man expect anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man unstable in all his ways" (James 1:5-8).


  • God wants to be trusted for He is trustworthy.
  • To doubt God and His promises is therefore very insulting to Him.


  • Believers are to approach God with singleness of mind and heart, not with hearts that are divided and full of doubts about His faithfulness and reliability.

  • The Greek word translated doubts in James 1:6 isdiakrino, which means to doubt, to be divided in one's mind.


  • Because Abraham did not waver in unbelief, but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God (Romans 4:20), he received what was promised, even though it was impossible.
  • Some have not because they ask not. Others have not because they believe not.


"Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is the rewarder of those who seek Him" (Hebrews 11:6).


  • Clearly unbelief hinders effective prayer, but how can we overcome unbelief?
  • By focusing on the glorious majesty of our Lord and the wonders of His love, grace and goodness.


10. Satanic hindrances


"Then he said to me, Do not be afraid, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart on understanding this and on humbling yourself before God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to your words. But the prince of the kingdom of Persia was withstanding me for twenty-one days; then behold, Michael, one of the chief princes came to help me, for I had been left there with the kings of Persia" (Daniel 10:12-13).


  • Satan is against anything that is of God, therefore he is opposed to the people of God and the work of God.

  • The word translated withstanding is the Hebrew wordneged which literally means standing opposite in a hostile sense.
  • We are living in a world in which Satan has been permitted to have some dominion. He is described as the god of this age (see 2 Corinthians 4:4) and the ruler of this world (see John 12:31).
  • Satan does not want God’s children to pray and does all he can to hinder them.

  • While Daniel was fasting and praying, there was a satanic hindrance.
  • Paul was also hindered by Satan for a season, when he had requested to go to Thessaloniki (see 1 Thessalonians 2:18).
  • Satan knows that the prayers of the righteous man can accomplish much and do great damage to his kingdom.
  • If he can keep us busy and distracted, we are made ineffective in prayer.


B. Overcoming Inner Hindrances to Effective Prayer


1. Most hindrances to effective prayer come from ourselves.


  • Can the hindrances be removed from our lives so that our prayers will be heard?
  • Thank God, hindrances can be removed and overcome.


2. Confession is the way to overcoming hindrances to effective prayer.


"If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9).


  • Christ alone has offered one sacrifice to atone for sins for all time (see Hebrews 10:12).

  • A believer does not have to atone for his/her sins (see Hebrews 10:12).
  • No one can possibly atone for his or her sins.
  • Doing penance will never atone for any sin.


3. Confession should involve the following:


  • Honest realization in the heart of one's failure and sin against a holy God.
  • It is not merely saying "I have sinned," when one's heart only regrets being caught.


  • Genuine repentance of sin.
  • There must be godly sorrow for grieving the Holy Spirit of God in us.
  • This godly sorrow produces sincere repentance (see 2 Corinthians 7:10).


  • Simple faith that God is willing to forgive and cleanse us from our sin.
  • Our forgiveness is based on His faithfulness, not on our faithfulness.


  • Thanksgiving for the forgiveness and the cleansing which God has promised us so freely and fully in Christ.
  • This will result in the restoration of intimacy and fellowship with God.


C. Overcoming Satanic Hindrances to Effective Prayer


"Be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places"(Ephesians 6:10-12).


1. We are to be strong in Christ and the strength of His might while facing satanic hindrance.


  • Daniel persevered in the strength of the Lord as he continued in fervent prayer.


2. We are not to fear, for God is the overall victor and greater than Satan.


3. Christ has disarmed and triumphed over Satan and his forces (see Colossians 2:15).


  • We are therefore to stand firmly in the victory of Christ, for His victory is for us. It is our victory to be obtained by faith.


God Bless You.