God Puts Us in Families
Woven into prayer is God's purpose of building relationships. This purpose begins with our earthly families. Although none of us is able to choose our relatives, we have been sovereignly placed among them for God's redemptive blessing. This is why we must honor our father and mother (Exodus 20:12), provide for our widowed grandmother (1 Timothy 5:8), nurture our children in the ways of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4), treat our spouse with dignity and honor (Ephesians 5:22-28), and, in the church family, consider others better than ourselves (Philippians 2:3).
But isn't it difficult to be consistently nice to those we live with? We can politely prefer a pleasant stranger, but to put our younger brother first all the time—that takes some training! We can share a prayer burden with the church without much personal involvement, but to share it with our partner takes vulnerability and tenderness.
Theologians call this the work of the cross: denying ourselves and following the ways of Christ, involving death to selfish ambition and humbly preferring one another. We apply the cross as we work through the ups and downs of relationships. If we fail, our prayers are hindered. “Husbands...be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect...so that nothing will hinder your prayers.” (1 Peter 3:7). View full chapter
God Won't Talk to Me
I have found that whenever I have an argument with my wife, God will not talk with me. It does not matter who is right; He will not draw close to me until I am back in loving harmony with her. Years ago, I was prayer chairman for a local crusade. During the week of meetings, Joy and I had a tense disagreement. I had organized a prayer strategy for each meeting with many people involved, but I felt ineffective. I knew I had to get things right with her. I said, “Joy, we cannot seem to agree on this matter, but I am laying it aside. I am committed to you, and I love you.” As I held her, I sensed God's presence once again and could properly carry out my prayer responsibilities.
Prayer Leads to Accountability
God wants us to be “family” with other Christians and, once again, prayer is His instrument for building relationships. When trouble strikes, we learn to call upon the Lord and each other. In Scripture James says, “Pray for each other so that you may be healed.” (James 5:16). Reaching out to others for prayer keeps us both vulnerable and accountable.
Paul teaches us not to take communion if there are strains in relationships between us. “For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the Body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep.” (1 Corinthians 11:29-30).
Prayer from friends or church elders may be desperately needed, but it brings more than physical healing. It becomes a catalyst for character changes through accountability and counsel, and thus leads to healthy relationships in the Body.
When You Pray, Forgive
The fact that sinful relationships hinder prayer is especially true in the matter of unforgiveness. God has forgiven us our sins and will not tolerate our lack of forgiveness towards others. This is especially evident when we pray. “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive you your sins.” (Mark 11:25-26).
A lady in her fifties began attending our church meetings. She was very troubled, and it did not take long to discover she had been abused as a child. Gently we exhorted her to forgive her father for all he had done, assuring her that God would give her the grace to do so. Regrettably, she did the opposite. Out of her pain, she promised she would never forgive him and was not interested in God helping her in this. Soon afterwards, she left the church, bitter, wounded, and unwilling to walk the only road that would lead to her healing and the restoration of her damaged relationship with God.
The Prayer of Agreement
Unity is the main theme of the high priestly prayer of Jesus in John 17. It is one of the main reasons God gave the five ministry gifts listed in Ephesians 4, and it is the secret that releases God's commanded blessing in Psalm 133. Unity is achieved as we really love one another. If we do not have unity, we do not have love, and all our spiritual gifts are as nothing to God. When we have love and unity, our combined prayers are extremely powerful. “If two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there I am with them.” (Matthew 18:19-20). That is the prayer of agreement. The word, “agree” exemplifies the love and unity that releases God's commanded blessing of life.
When we walk together in loving relationships, our prayers will be more powerful. When we pray together more humbly and more often, we discover God works His love deep into our lives. The Holy Spirit will ask the probing questions, “Is there sin in your lives? Are you relating to others in the love of Christ?” Then, “If not, go and make it right; then bring your offering to the altar.” (See Matthew 5:23-24). Prayer is so very relational. Where the relationships are broken, the prayer will be hindered.