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That your prayers may not be hindered

 We've all felt at times like our prayers go nowhere.

Hopefully we walk through these valleys with Jesus, and rediscover the invunerable love of our Father--that He always listens, He always cares, He always acts.

But, sometimes our prayers keep seeming to be hampered, thartwed, hindered.

prayer 3

Pastor John Piper has written a great message from 1 Peter 3 about three things that hinder our prayers. I've found his teaching fruitful in my life as I walk in the Gospel of Jesus.

Peter's Words About Prayer

In Peter's first letter—that we have been focusing on since last September—Peter mentions prayer three times. What is remarkable about these three instances is that there is something common to each of them. Let me read them to you and see if you can detect the common thread running through each.

The First Mention

First, Peter has a word for husbands about prayer and their relationship with their wives (3:7):

You husbands likewise, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with a weaker vessel, since she is a woman; and grant her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.

The Second Mention

In the very next paragraph he speaks to all believers (in v. 8) about being brotherly and kindhearted and humble and (in v. 9) not returning evil for evil but instead giving a blessing. Then to support these admonitions he quotes Psalm 34 in vv. 10–12:

For, "Let him who means to love life and see good days refrain his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking guile. And let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears attend to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil."

The Third Mention

In 1 Peter 4:7 he says,

The end of all things is at hand; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer [literally: for the sake of prayers].

What Is the Common Thread?

Now what is the unusual common thread running through those three references to prayer? What struck me is that all three teach us not that praying helps us live right, but that living right helps us pray. Now it's true that praying is one of the ways God has appointed to help us live the way we should (cf. Colossians 1:9–10). But Peter's point in every one of these texts is that it's true the other way around: God has appointed a way for us to live which will help us pray. There are ways live that hinder prayers and there is a way to live that helps prayer.

Right Living Helps Our Praying

Let's look at these similarities again and you ask this time: what is Peter telling us about how living helps praying.

How Husbands Live with Their Wives

The first one in 3:7 tells us husbands that there is a way to live with our wives that can clog our prayers, and a way to live with our wives that will help our prayers.

You husbands likewise, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with a weaker vessel, since she is a woman; and grant her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.

If you want your prayers to be helped and not hindered you have to live with your wife in a certain way. There has to be an effort to understand her so as to know her needs. There has to be a special solicitousness of her weaknesses and what she especially needs from you. There has to be a recognition that she is a fellow heir of the grace of life and an accompanying bestowal of honor rather than any belittling or demeaning. When we husbands live like this (with understanding, tender care, and honor), our prayers will not be hindered. If we do not live like this, our prayers will be hindered.

Here's the way one good commentary put it:

So concerned is God that Christian husbands live in an understanding and loving way with their wives, that he "interrupts" his relationship with them when they are not doing so. No Christian husband should presume to think that any spiritual good will be accomplished by his life without an effective ministry of prayer. And no husband may expect an effective prayer life unless he lives with his wife "in an understanding way, bestowing honor" on her. To take the time to develop and maintain a good marriage is God's will; it is serving God; it is a spiritual activity pleasing in his sight. (Wayne Grudem, 1 Peter, p. 146.)

There is a way to live with our wives that clogs our prayers and ruins our spiritual impact. And there is a way to live with our wives that frees our prayers and helps empower our spiritual impact.

How All Believers Live

Second, Peter goes on in verses 8 and 9 to call all of us, not just husbands, to be sympathetic, and brotherly and kindhearted and humble, and not to return evil for evil but to bless those who are unkind to us. Then he gives a reason for why we should live like this. It's a quote from Psalm 34 and in verse 12 the reason comes to a climax with the same kind of argument as in 3:7, namely, prayers are hindered if you don't live this way. God has a special openness to the prayers of those who pursue peace and whose lips are pure and who don't use guile (deceit). Verse 12: "For the eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears attend to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil."

God listens to the prayers of those who live like this: keep the tongue from evil, refrain from guile, seek peace, do righteousness. So here again Peter is telling us how to keep our prayers from being hindered. It's the same thing Jesus was teaching in the Lord's Prayer when he told us to pray, "Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us" (Matthew 6:12). Not forgiving those who repent will clog our prayers. That's Peter's point too. There is a way to live that hinders our prayers and a way to live that helps our prayers.

Special Endeavors We Can Make

Third, in 4:7 he says, that there are special endeavors we can make so that our prayers will be helped and not hindered:

The end of all things is at hand; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the sake of prayers.

Two things: first, be of sound judgment for the sake of your prayers; second, be sober for the sake of your prayers. In other words, there is a way to think and live that will hinder your prayers and there is a way to think and live that will help your prayers.

The Truth from These Texts

So there is a doctrine—a biblical truth—that we can now state with great confidence from these texts:

Christians must endeavor to live in a way that does not hinder their prayers.

It has three parts:

1. It implies that prayers can be hindered. Our prayer life can be clogged, blocked.

2. What blocks prayer is often our lives—the way we live, the way we relate to wives or husbands or kids or parents or colleagues or neighbors.

3. Opening the way of prayer to God involves a conscious endeavor. In each of these texts Peter is telling us to resolve to do something so that our prayers will not be hindered.

In other words a free, open, real, satisfying life of prayer is not automatic. It doesn't just happen to you while you are passive. If it did, these three texts would be pointless. Your prayer life in 1994 depends in part—under God and his enabling grace (1 Corinthians 15:10)—on how you choose to live at home and at work and in your private life of solitude.

So another way to state the doctrine we've seen in these verses would be: do whatever you must do so that your prayers are not hindered. Form the resolution right now in your heart while I am preaching that you will not be passive about your prayer life this year; that you will take some active steps to make it good.

Why Does It Matter?

Let me ask a question that might increase your incentive to do that. Why does it matter that your prayer life not be hindered? There are a lot of tremendously important answers to that question. Next week we'll talk about one that relates your little life to the greatness of heaven and the end of the world. But let me give an answer today that lies close to my own experience.

You don't want your prayers to be hindered because when your prayers are hindered, it means you are not connecting with God, and that God himself starts to seem distant and unreal.

Now for an unbeliever who has never known a peaceful, personal walk with God, that would not be so unusual. Unless the Holy Spirit is at work in their lives, they have deadened themselves to it. But for a person who has known God and loved him, and tasted the sweetness of peace and fellowship, and a sense of being right with God, nothing is more terrifying than the growing feeling that God does not seem to be there anymore.

•To wake up in the morning or to go to bed at night and to lie there and stare at the ceiling and feel, "It's not real. He's not listening."

•To feel like all the bolts in your mind are coming loose and it won't hold still long enough to focus on anything, let alone God. There's just an uneasy rattling and slipping of instability.

•To try to formulate a prayer and feel utterly phony because your mind is so full of worldly stuff and earthly feelings and fleshly desires that a sweet, peaceful, confident communion with God in prayer seems about as possible as flying to the moon.

These are terrifying experiences for a Christian who has known peace with God, and unhindered communion with him. And so I am saying that Peter wants to spare you that. I want to spare you that. I want to avoid it myself at any price.

Resolve to Take Peter's Teaching Seriously

So Peter tells us: endeavor to live in a way that does not hinder your prayers. (Note: it almost goes without saying that this endeavor is not an effort to earn wages from God but is an effort to follow our Good Physician's loving prescription because we trust him.) Resolve this morning that during Prayer Week, you will take his teaching seriously and seek to do whatever you need to do to unclog your prayers and set them free.

•It may be that changes need to be made at home. Nothing is more important than unclogging the streams of prayer and power that are clogged at home.

•It may be that changes need to be made in the wider circle of relationships where there is bitterness or guile.

•Or it may be that there are simple awakenings that need to happen concerning the pattern of prayer in your life. When Peter says in 4:7, "Be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the sake of prayers," he means that there are disciplines of the mind and the spirit which can preserve unhindered prayer in your life.

This I think, is what God wants you to especially hear from this message this morning: make Prayer Week 1994 a week of freshly awakened sound judgment regarding what hinders prayer in your life and a week of sobriety of spirit regarding prayer. Sound mind. Sober spirit.

Jesus Does Not Kiss a Drunk Wife

Jesus does not kiss a drunk wife. He may carry her off the street and back to bed. He may be utterly patient with her, and set before her hot coffee and fresh starts. But he will not kiss a drunk wife.

What do I mean? I mean that when the bride of Christ, the church, is drunk with the world, she may turn to him for a brief kiss of prayer, but her breath wreaks so bad of worldliness that he turns his face away.

Nobody Coasts into Sobriety

"Be sober for the sake of your prayers," Peter says. But whoever sobered up by coasting? Nobody coasts into sobriety. Not physical sobriety, and not spiritual sobriety. Sobriety happens when we begin to use sound judgment about our lives. Sound judgment about how we spend our time. Sound judgment about the spiritual climate of our homes. Sound judgment about the worldliness of our leisure. Sound judgment about the music we listen to, the movies we attend, the TV we watch.

Nobody sobers up without intentional steps to get the bottles of worldliness off the shelves, out of the cabinet, and out of the house. When that happens, then the spiritual breath begins to clear up and the kiss of prayer is not hindered.

Helping Each Other to This End

There are so many ways we can be helpful to each other at this point. There are so many things God has been teaching some of you recently, several of you have told me examples. I want us tonight to teach and exhort and encourage and if necessary rebuke each other. I invite you to pray this afternoon about what God might be wanting you to say to us this evening. I also invite questions and struggles to be shared. We need to hear about the real world of warfare that you are waging.

I will share some of the things that help me in the fight for unhindered prayer. But I fully expect that what you say tonight will be what God uses most. Pray. Come. Speak in weakness or in strength. Someone will be here needing exactly what God prompts you to say.


John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including A Peculiar Glory.