THE PRODUCTIVITY OF PRAYER
It is evident from the Scriptures that God promises to answer the prayers of His people. This is clear from the assurances found in Matthew 7:7. The Christian is to expect that God will answer prayer. Great things may be wrought in answer to prayer. God says that He will do "great and mighty things.” (Jeremiah 33:3). This ought not to surprise us since He, "....is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think.” (Ephesians 3:20).
There are occasions, however, when God does not answer as we hope, and we do not receive what He is able to give. The reason for this lies with us. There is something in us that hinders the fruitful and productive exercise of prayer.
Scripture gives general reasons that answers to our prayers may be withheld. These may be grouped in two categories, each one having to do with relationships.
SIN IN OUR LIVES
In our relationship with God, a number of things may be obstacles to success in prayer. If there is sin in our lives (accepted or approved of by us), then God will be displeased and will refuse to hear us when we pray: "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.” (Psalm 66:18; cf. Isaiah 59:1-2; EzekieI14:3)
Furthermore, the success of prayer is obstructed when we ask something from the Lord with an impure motive:
"Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.” (James 4:3)
The petition itself may be proper, but our motive in presenting it may not be so.
RELATIONSHIPS WITH ONE ANOTHER
Our praying may also be hindered because of problems in our relationships with one another. We will find that our praying will fail to have the answer we sought if we disregard the needs of the poor when it is in our power to assist them.
While Proverbs 21:13 may primarily mean that one who has no regard for the poor will find in his own time of poverty that there will be none to come to his aid, there is undoubtedly another application. The Lord Himself will not answer him when he prays for relief from his material lack. The important words of Psalm 41:1-3 ought to be seriously considered by every Christian.
HUSBANDS AND WIVES
An improper relationship between husbands and wives (especially when the greater responsibility lies with the husband) adversely affects the fruitfulness and power of prayer. Scripture is clear on this matter in 1 Peter 3: 1-7 because when Peter instructs husbands to treat their wives properly he gives as the reason, "that your prayers be not hindered.” (v7) Both husbands and wives, however, must look well to themselves and to the well-being of each other if they desire effective prayer lives.
Not only should there be a good relationship between husband and wife but between Christians generally.
ABSENCE OF A FORGIVING SPIRIT
The absence of a forgiving spirit is a further reason for answers to prayer being withheld. It is a matter for thanksgiving that the sins of the Christian are forgiven by the Lord in answer to prayer (1 John 1:9). But his prayer will not be heard-even when he is concerned about his sin - if he harbours bitterness and an unforgiving spirit in his heart towards another believer. Christ is adamant about this (Mark 11:25). Christians are to manifest a forgiving spirit to one another. We are ever to maintain the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace and to be kind and tender-hearted, forgiving one another as the Lord has forgiven us (See Ephesians 4:3, 32).
The liberty to address Almighty God is a tremendous privilege extended to us. May we give ourselves to the constant practice of prayer, and may we witness the productivity of it that God by His Grace and Power will reveal.