Hindrances to Prayer

by Evangelist John R. Rice

III. Unforgiveness Grieves God and Hinders Prayers

Unforgiveness in the heart of a Christian hinders the answer to his prayers. A grudge, a root of bitterness, or even hate, it may be, may be blocking the answer to your prayers.

In Matthew 6:9-13 we are given the model prayer, or the Lord's Prayer. And in that model prayer the Saviour taught us to pray daily, "And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors." And when the prayer was finished Jesus added this plain, sharp word of warning,

"For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: but if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses" (Matt. 6:14,15).

Here it is clearly taught in the solemn words of our Saviour that Christians who will not forgive others will not be heard when they ask for forgiveness. And when we come to pray that our Heavenly Father will take sins out of the way, will cleanse them and forgive them, not let them hinder our communion with Him or our service for Him, all our praying is useless unless we forgive others who may have wronged us.

You understand, I trust, that forgiveness of sins has two meanings in the Bible. In the first place, when a poor lost sinner comes to Christ and trusts Him for salvation, then all of his sins are forgiven and blotted out and will be remembered against him no more forever, as far as the damnation of his soul is concerned. "Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin" (Romans 4:8). In getting saved we do not get sins forgiven one at a time; but all at once the glorious transaction is finished and all of our sins are laid on Jesus and forgiven, blotted out, never to be held against us any more and never to endanger our poor souls again! What wonderful salvation! What marvelous mercy in the forgiveness of vile sinners!

But after one is already a child of God, after one is born again, after one has been made a partaker of the divine nature, he is still, while in this world, as sinner. "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us" (I John 1:8). Paul, the mighty apostle, yet in the midst of his great ministry claimed still to be the very chief of sinners (I Tim. 1:15). And David in that inspired fifty-first Psalm, was led to write, "My sin is ever before me." And the Saviour in the Lord's Prayer is expressly teaching us that we ought daily to confess our sins and ask forgiveness. so besides the forgiveness of our sins we get in salvation, one can have, and needs a day-to-day clearing of sin out of the way.

Although the Lord has forgiven all of our sins, yet He still hates sin. God hates sin in David or in Peter or in Paul; God hates it in you, beloved Christian. And if your sin is not confessed and cleansed day by day, it piles up between you and God to hinder your communion, to block your prayers, to taint your testimony, and to grieve the blessed Holy Spirit. So the Lord teaches us here to come daily and confess our sins, asking for forgiveness.

The Scofield Reference Bible has wonderful helps; I use it constantly and recommend it. But no one man can know all about the Bible, and here the Scofield Reference Bible has a very foolish note, saying this is legal ground. No, this is not legal ground. This does not contradict Ephesians 4:32.

We should forgive others, Ephesians 4:32 tells us, because Christ has already forgiven us all o four sins in salvation so that they are not held against our souls' welfare. But here in Matthew 6:14,15 the Saviour warns us that we should forgive others that we as Christians may have the daily cleansing, the daily renewal of fellowship, the daily fullness of the Holy Spirit which God desires for all His dear children, but which He cannot give without a daily confession and forsaking of sin.

When Jesus washed the disciples' feet, He said, "He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit: and ye are clean, but not all" (John 13:10). He meant that the disciples were already saved and all their sins were under the blood. But Christians walking in a dirty world need day-by-day confession of their defilement that they may have daily forgiveness and cleansing as the dear children of God in order to have His fullness and power and fellowship. The washing of the whole body, which these disciples already had, represents salvation, the forgiveness of all sin. That cleansing is once for all at regeneration. Bu the washing of the disciples' feet represented that day-by-day cleansing which is offered Christians who confess and forsake their sins (I John 1:9).

But unforgiveness blocks this daily cleansing and forgiveness and so hinders our prayers. Unforgiveness, holding grudges or enmity against others, may seem to be a very respectable sin. People who would never get drunk, who would not gamble, who would not steal, who scorn a lie, are yet guilty of this wicked sin. The temptation to this sin attacks preachers and soul winners who would never be tempted to grosser things. I know Christians who would never attend the theater nor belong to a lodge nor play a game of bridge, but who have been guilty of this horrible sin. In God's sight, it is truly hideous.

In Matthew 18:21-35 is the following remarkable teaching of our Saviour about the need for Christians to forgive others and of how God hates the wicked sin of unforgiveness.

Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven. Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants. And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents. But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made. The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt. But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellowservants, which owed him and hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest. And his fellowservant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt. So when his fellowservants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done. Then is lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee? And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him. So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses."

How many times shall we forgive one who sins against us? Peter thought seven times would be the perfect number; but Jesus answered back, "I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven." And when you have forgiven the same person 490 times, no doubt you would have lost count and would have conquered that wicked disposition to temper and bitterness in your own heart!

In the above parable, the Saviour illustrates our awful debt to God by the man who owed his king 10,000 talents. Ten thousand talents would be nearly twenty million dollars if they were silver talents, nearly three hundred million dollars if the talents were gold. In either case it would be an unpayable amount, no doubt beyond the capacity of any man living in the world at that time. So great is our sin toward God which needs forgiveness!

And then the sins of one against others is represented by the Saviour in this parable by the debt of one hundred pence. And the servant who had been forgiven 10,000 talents took his fellowservant by the throat saying, "Pay me that thou owest," and would not give him time, but cast him into prison until he should pay that trifling debt of a hundred pence, when he himself had been forgiven 10,000 talents that he owed!

How trifling, how insignificant are all the sins that anybody ever did against us compared to our horrible sins against God all the days of our lives! This parable tells us how God sees the sin of unforgiveness.

And note the punishment of the wicked servant. Jesus said, "And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him."

Here the king delivered the evil servant "to the tormentors." And then Jesus warns Simon Peter and the other disciples, in a lesson which is meant for us Christians, "So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses." God will deliver His own children over to tormentors, will allow their hearts to be miserable, their lives to be unhappy, their prayers to be blocked, their homes to be accursed, if they do not forgive others! The Lord does not mean that saved people will lose their salvation and go to Hell because of unforgiveness, but He certainly does mean that here in this life they will miss many, many blessings and suffer torment of soul because of the horrible sin of unforgiveness. And how ashamed they will be when they face Jesus!

I have known brother who would not speak to brother. I have seen churches split into factions, I have seen homes broken, I have seen Christians so embittered by this horrible sin that they made shipwreck of all their lives. Terrible punishment will be the lot of every Christian who carries a grudge and unforgiveness in his heart.

And note that the Saviour said this forgiveness must be "from your hearts." To live nominally at peace is not enough. Sometimes a Christian will say, "Well, I will forgive her, but I will never forget." Or a brother may say, "I will forgive him, yes, because it is commanded me; but I will never have anything more to do with him." Such forgiveness is no forgiveness at all in God's sight. When God forgives, He forgets. How would you like for God to say about you, "Well, I will forgive your sins; but I never want to have anything more to do with you"? You know that is not forgiveness in a real, genuine sense. By God's grace, a Christian can so forgive that every memory brings not bitterness but a sweet sense of peace without any rancor or bitterness whatever.

If we want to be like Jesus, we must forgive. Dying on the cross, He prayed about the people who crucified Him, who mocked Him while He died, who gave Him vinegar mingled with gall when He was thirsty, who had spit in His face - for these He prayed, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do." One of the names of the Lord Jesus is "Prince of Peace." And if we forgive, we become Christlike. That is the reason why the Beatitudes say, "Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God" (Matt. 5:9). Every one who makes peace is that much like Jesus Christ. The Beatitudes promise that those who are pure in heart shall see God, that the meek shall inherit the earth; but they give the blessed promise to the peacemakers that they shall not only see God but shall be called His children, and shall not only inherit the earth, but even inherit Heaven as heirs of God! How blessed to be a peacemaker, with forgiveness toward brethren, "even as God for Christ's sake hat forgiven you."

And that attitude of mind and heart which Jesus had is to be ours, also. Stephen had it when, dying, he prayed about his tormentors, "Lord, lay not this sin to their charge" (Acts 7:60). And, oh, dear Christian, if you are to have your prayers answered, you, too, must learn to forgive!

When boiled down to its essence, unforgiveness it hatred. And I John 3:15 says, "Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer." If you think a little grudge is very respectable, then you should remember that God looks into your wicked heart and calls it murder!

In Mark 11:22-24 is that marvelous promise about prayer that "whosoever" (anybody) can have "whatsoever" (anything) he asks, if he has faith. But Jesus qualifies even that great promise by these words in the following verses: "And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses" (Mark 11:25,26). It is obvious that every Christian who tries to pray with unforgiveness in his heart finds a great wall of his sins piled up between him and God which he cannot get removed and cannot get taken out of the way until he forgives all that others have done against him.

The Lord's Prayer is to be a daily prayer, for daily bread and daily needs, and confessing daily sins. And that indicates that every Christian every day ought to go about this important matter of seeing that all grudges are forgiven. Thus Ephesians 4:26 commands us, "Let not the sun go down upon your wrath." A grudge, if left in your heart overnight, may so take root as to embitter your whole life and ruin your testimony. So daily, before sundown every day, search out your heart, judge every little grudge, every bit of enmity, every slightest passion of unforgiveness. Confess it to God as a sin and turn your heart away from it, and God will take i tout and cleanse it. But if you do not forgive, neither will you be forgiven.

Have you honestly searched your heart as you have read this? Is there any root of bitterness, any of the sin of unforgiveness in your heart blocking your prayers?

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