Hindrances to Prayer
by Evangelist John R. Rice
II. Prayers Blocked by Wrongs Unrighted, Debts Unpaid, Offended Brothers Unreconciled
If a wife's prayers are hindered by the sin of rebellion against her husband, and the husband's prayers are hindered by not taking his Scriptural position in the home and in relation to his wife; it is also true that every wrong against others which is not made right stands between the Christian and God to hinder his prayers.
This must be the meaning of our Saviour in Matthew 5:23,24 when He said,
"If thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hat ought against thee; leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift."
The Old Testament saint who came to present himself before God at the temple and offer a lamb for a sacrifice, represents a Christian in his prayers and service and praise. If the Hebrew saint were spiritually minded, he knew that that lamb represented Christ, the Lamb of God which should take away the sins of the world. He knew, if he were taught by the Holy Spirit, that the blood of that lamb pictured the blood of Calvary that would be shed for sinners. All his heart's devotion to God would be expressed by the offering of this lamb, all his hope of pardon, all his trust in the atoning blood, all his loving adoration. But the Lord Jesus plainly said that if one should bring a lamb for a sacrifice or any kind of an offering to God and there at the altar should remember a brother whom he had wronged or offended, then he must at once stop the sacrifice. 'Leave the lamb with its feet tied together on the ground before the altar! I will not receive it! I will not hear your prayers, I will not be pleased with your offerings. Nothing you can do for Me can be viewed with favor until you go and make right the wrong done your brother!' said the Saviour in effect.
Some of you pray long, and God never hears you. Some of you give much money, and the sight of it is an abomination to God. Some of you work and toil doing "church work," and God hates it. Anything you can offer to God is hateful in His sight if you will not go and be reconciled to others you have wronged. There is a fundamental hypocrisy in any attempt at worship or service by those who do not honestly forsake sin and make an effort to undo the wrong that has been done, to pay debts that have been made, to ask forgiveness for sins committed against others.
Many of us cannot get our prayers heard because already the cry of others whom we have wronged has been heard by God. Cain tried to talk to God; but the blood of his slain brother, Abel, had cried out of the ground to God against Cain. Pharaoh in Egypt made fair promises, but already he was marked for destruction, and God brought along one crisis after another that forced Pharaoh to choose, knowing that Pharaoh would harden his heart and die under the wrath of God. The reason was that God had heard the groanings and the cries of the oppressed multitudes of the Israelites; of mothers whose babies were murdered; of toiling laborers who had to make brick without straw. May God pity Hitler if ever he tries to pray; for ringing in the ears of God already are the groans and pleadings of the martyred dead, the slaughtered Poles, the murdered Jews, the betrayed French, the starved Greeks, and the downtrodden millions of poor and oppressed in all of Europe!
God told the Jews in the days of Malachi that divorced wives had covered the altar of the Lord with tears until He would no longer regard the offering or receive it with good will at the hands of the Jews because He was a witness between the sin of the men who tried to pray and their treacherously divorced wives (Mal. 2:13,14). And the Lord warns in Exodus 22:22,23 that any afflicted widow or fatherless child could cry to God and that their faintest cry would be heard, and God's wrath would wax hot against those who oppressed them. And verse 27 of the same chapter tells us that if the poor man should cry at all to God against those who take away his garment and covering, that God would hear.
Do you then, dear Christian, believe that God will hear you pray when there are wrongs against others that you have not made right and debts that you have not paid?
God commands all men to repent, we are told. And repentance means a sincere, heart-turning away from sin, a change of mind and disposition toward sin and toward God. How, then, could God be pleased to bless His own children who have not themselves honestly turned away from some sin in their own lives?
More than once when I have urged some businessman to come out to the services at the house of God, he has replied, "Well, if the members of that church would pay me what they owe me I would feel a good deal more like going to their church." Anyone who is well acquainted with retail credit business knows that multitudes of church people will not pay honest debts unless the bill collector follows them up to get it. Sometimes Christians move out of apartments or houses owing back rent which they never pay. some Christians owe long-standing bills to doctors, good physicians who cared for them in the time of deepest distress. Students leave Christian colleges with bills that they never pay. A brother borrows money from a Christian brother, promises to repay it within a certain time; and then the debt becomes so old that he is ashamed to pay it, and never does! I am not speaking about unusual circumstances. As a pastor, as an evangelist, as an editor, as a radio preacher, and as one who feels the heartbeat of multitudes through the thousands of letters that come to me each year, I know something of the shockingly lax standards of Christians about debt paying. I know of churches, more than one, who borrowed money in good faith on buildings, and then in depression years turned the buildings back to the creditor, buildings which were not useful for other purposes and had no sale, and then bought back the same buildings at reduced prices. The creditors in such cases took a net loss. They would rather have part of the money than none of it. But the results is that church loans are not counted good business loans in America!
From a small town in Texas a storekeeper who heard my radio broadcasts in Dallas wrote to me about as follows:
"Dear Brother Rice:
"The other day a man came into my store and handed me $25.00 to pay a debt that was ten years old. I had given up all hope of ever collecting the debt. I had tried again and again, and the debtor would make no effort to pay. When he came in to pay the debt, I told him frankly, 'That's $25.00 I never expected to see. And he answered back, 'Yes, it's $25.00 I never intended to pay. But I've been hearing Brother John r. Rice on the radio. He showed me from the Bible that if I ever expected God to hear my prayers for the salvation of my children, to hear my call for daily help, I must make things right and be reconciled to those I had wronged. so I resolved to pay this debt. I must make it so God will hear my prayers and save my children!' "
The storekeeper then wrote me that he felt the money ought to go to God's cause since long ago he had marked it off of his books as a loss. He said, "I have given $5.00 to a Methodist pastor here who I know preaches honestly that Christians must get right with others if they expect God to hear their prayers. I am sending you $10.00, and I will give the other $10.00 to the next preacher I hear who preaches that you must pay your honest debts if you expect God to hear your prayers."
I beg you to read this, if there are debts unpaid, that you go now and make them right at any cost so God will hear your prayers.
In a Sunday morning revival service in St. Paul, Minnesota, a number were led to trust happily in Christ. After the benediction, a woman with a troubled face came to me and said, "What did you do with my daughter? Where is she?" She was in the inquiry room being instructed by the pastor's wife with a group of other women and girls, I explained. And then I said, "Are you a Christian? Hadn't you better get this matter settled for yourself?"
"I don't know whether I am saved or not. I guess I'm not. I must talk to somebody." And she began to weep. We sat down together, and I asked her what her trouble was and why it was she could not know whether she was a Christian or not.
"Well, every time I start to pray," she said, "God says to me, 'What about that $800.00?' I never can get anywhere with my praying. God won't talk to me about anything else," she exclaimed.
"Well, what about the $800.00?" I asked.
Then she told me the sad story that she had never told another living soul. Her husband had died fourteen years before. She had two children. She knew of no way to make money. So when the children had gone to school, she set fire to the little home and burned it to the ground. The insurance company paid without question the full $800.00 of insurance. With that money she had moved to St. Paul, got the children in school, and got stared in a livelihood. The lovely grown daughter who had that morning accepted Christ never dreamed it, nor did the son. Not a breath of suspicion had ever been attached to her. yet God still remembered that she was a thief, that she was crooked; and every time she started to pray God said to her, "What are you going to do about that $800.00?"
I told her that she must at once go to the officials of the insurance company and make confession.
"But I have no money; I could not pay it," she said. But I reminded her that she had beautiful clothes, that both she and her daughter now had good jobs, and that if she had to pay it just a few dollars a week she could begin to pay it and at least show good faith.
"But I would land in jail," she said. "I have broken the law, and they would brand me before the whole world as a thief. I can't do that," she said.
"But you are a thief, whether anybody knows it or not," I said. "And if you do not pay this honest debt, you will never have any peace with God. If you go to jail, then go to jail; and God will there give you peace in your mind and heart and hear you pray. As it is, God will never hear you pray as long as this wicked sin is between you and Him."
Again she objected saying, "But I don't even remember the name of the insurance company. I do not know where its offices are. I could not pay them if I had the money."
"Just turn the thing around," I said. "If an insurance company owed you $800.00, and you did not know which insurance company it was, don't you believe that you could find out who it was?" She agreed that she would try mighty hard and she thought she could find out under those circumstances. So I showed her that she ought to try just as earnestly to find out so that she might confess a known sin and pay an honest debt and clear the waybefore God so He would hear her prayers which He had refused to hear for fourteen years!
Beloved reader, you may be God's own child, dear as the apple of His eye. You may be as dear to Him as David, a man after His own heart; or as Samson, a judge of Israel; or as Peter, the first apostle. But I warn you solemnly that God hates sin even in the dearest of His children. God demands that you forsake it, that you hate it, that you honestly try to make right the things you have done wrong.
Some things, of course, can never be undone. If you killed a man, you cannot bring him back to life. But as long as there is a sin which you could make right and have not honestly tried to do it, you are still as guilty as Satan; and every prayer you offer to God stinks of hypocrisy!
Oh, I long to see the kind of Christian lives that prove honest repentance! Zacchaeus, converted as he slid down a sycamore tree to face Jesus, made sudden high resolves that showed that he meant business. He said, "Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken anything from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold" (Luke 19:8). He meant that beginning that very moment he would try to make right the wicked sins of his career as a crooked tax collector. No wonder that Jesus said, "This day is a salvation come to this house."
The wicked jailer at Philippi, when he came trembling to lead Paul and Silas out of the wrecked jail following the midnight earthquake, was wonderfully saved by simply believing on the Lord Jesus Christ. And the same night, with scarcely an hour gone by, we suppose, he saw every member of his own family wonderfully converted. Do you know why? It was not simply because he was saved. Some of you who read this have been saved ten years, twenty years, thirty years. Yet you wives cannot win your own husbands. You parents cannot win your own children. But that poor, wicked jailer won every person in his household before morning, that same night. And I will tell you how he did it.
First, he took Paul and Silas the same hour of the night and was baptized. It was a wholesale turning of his life over to God in public profession and declaration.
Then he washed the stripes of Paul and Silas, long welts and cuts made by the Roman cat-o'-nin-tails, or scourge. I can imagine that with tears running down his old face, marked perhaps by years of sin, he said to Paul, "Oh, I'm so sorry I stood there and laughed while they beat you. I helped to tear your clothes off of you! I put you in the jail and in the innermost prison and fastened your feet in the stocks, and you had never wronged me. I treated you like a common criminal. God forgive me! I want to make it right the best I can!"
And then a midnight meal was prepared for these two preachers let out of jail in such strange circumstances. They had been put in the dungeon the night before without supper, and the jailer could not rest until he had made that right with a meal that showed his love.
It is not hard for me to believe that if there were a profligate, drunken son who had followed the father into all kinds of sin, when he saw what happened that strange night he may well have said to himself, "Well, the old man sure means business this time! Something surely has changed him. And if God can do that for Dad, He can do it for me, and I'm going, too!" At any rate, the whole family was saved and baptized. What a happy scene they must have made, sitting around that table in the wee morning hours, the whole family saved, the whole family rejoicing after being baptized as a public profession of their faith!
Some of you pray and pray, but your prayers are not heard. You had as well never offer them any more until you make a genuine effort to pay the bills you owe, to right the wrongs you have done, to apologize for sins committed and to be reconciled with others.
Oh, what zeal we ought to have about making wrongs right! Jesus said, "Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: but I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat let him have thy cloke also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away" (Matt. 5:38-42). You will never understand that passage until you remember that it is a matter of restitution God is talking about.
Under the Mosaic law if a man put out his neighbor's eye, he was to be held and his eye put out. If one man's ox killed his neighbor's ox, he was to give the live ox for the dead. If one farmer's cattle ate his neighbor's crop, he was to make it good out of his own crop. And so the Saviour says if a man says that you owe it to him to let him hit you on the right cheek, they you are not only to allow that but to turn the other cheek also, and so see that you satisfy your neighbor's claim against you. If he claims that you have his coat, then you make sure that you satisfy his claim perfectly so that your brother can have nothing against you. give him your cloak also. If he says he has carried your burden a mile and you should go a mile with him, then offer to go with him two. In other words, a Christian should earnestly set out, at any cost, to be reconciled to people he has wronged.
Your hot words may have cut some dear one to the heart, and you have never confessed and asked forgiveness for that sin. You may have slandered some man of God, some innocent girl, or some thoughtless neighbor. I beg you, go be reconciled! Confess your wrong and earnestly try to make it right.
Someone hears me who has a mother or father far away. They long to hear from you. You have your own home, your own business, your own interests. They have now only memories of the past. How can God bless you who neglect heartbroken mothers and cause grief to those who gave everything for you?
Dear Christian, many times I have had to write letters asking forgiveness, or write a check to pay an honest debt before I could have assurance that God would hear my prayers. Are you prayers hindered because there are those you have wronged with sins that you have never tried to undo? Then the Saviour said, "If thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hat ought against thee; leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer they gift."
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"I am an old-fashioned preacher of the old-time religion, that has warmed this cold world's heart for two thousand years." -Billy SUNDAY.