When Prayer Doesn’t Work

If prayer is the pipeline through which we communicate with God, do you ever feel like your plumbing is blocked? Have you ever felt like when you pray your words get stuck somewhere between your mouth and God’s heart? Do you ever get the sense that prayer simply doesn’t work?

Me, too.

I think most Christians face seasons when their prayers feel blocked. The standard answer I hear others give for this problem is “Sometimes God answers ‘yes.’ Sometimes He says ‘No’ and sometimes He says ‘not yet.’”

There’s some truth to that statement. Just because God doesn’t answer my prayers in the way that I want Him to doesn’t mean He isn’t getting the message. But the answer to a clogged prayer life may not be as simple as an unexpected answer.

Did you know that the Bible actually gives at least eight specific reasons why our connection to God gets blocked?

Check them out:

1. Sin (Isaiah 59:1-2)
2. Disregarding God’s law (Proverbs 28:9)
3. Lack of compassion for those in need (Proverbs 21:13)
4. Pride (James 4:6)
5. Disobedience (Deuteronomy 1:45)
6. Wrong motives (James 4:1-3)
7. Doubt (James 1:5-7)
8. Broken relationships (Matthew 5:23-26)

Big list, huh? As I started digging into God’s Word for answers for my own weak prayer life recently, I was amazed to find all of the reasons the Bible gives for why my prayers may not be working. As I think back over the 15 years I’ve known Jesus as my savior I can think of many, many times when I’ve felt disconnected from God but didn’t have the spiritual Drano to push through the clog. I was tickled pink to discover that God’s Word actually outlines the specific reasons why our prayers don’t always work. Instead of looking at the list of prayer blockers above as a minefield waiting to derail my prayers I see them as an action plan to get back on track any time my prayer life seems to hit a wall.

That’s why I hope you will stick with me for a couple posts as we take a closer look at each of these prayer blockers. Here we go . . .

Isaiah 59:1-2 outlines this Truth clearly. “Your iniquities have separated you from your God. Your sins have hidden his face from you so that He will not hear.”

While it is true that God will never abandon us (2 Corinthians 4:9), He will not tolerate our sin. That doesn’t mean He will ditch us or decide He no longer wants us as His children, but it does mean that continuing to sin separates us from Him.

Psalm 66:16-20 says, “Come and hear, all you who fear God; let me tell you what he has done for me. I cried out to him with my mouth; his praise was on my tongue. If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened; but God has surely listened and has heard my prayer. Praise be to God, who has not rejected my prayer or withheld his love from me!”


This Psalm wasn’t written by someone experiencing a blocked prayer life. Clearly David is bursting with excitement over a God who answers prayers. But sin’s potential to clog his connection wasn’t lost on David. In verse 18 he says, “if I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.” David gives us examples of the power of confessed sin over and over throughout the Psalms. If sin is like a clog in the plumbing of prayer, confession is like dynamite with the power to burst through.

It is true that you can confess your sin right to God and He will readily forgive you (1 John 1:9) but the Bible also urges us to confess our sin to each other.

James 5:16 says, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”

Did you notice the connection here between confessing your sin and the strength of your prayers? This verse clearly calls us to confess to each other and pray for each other. How does it describe the prayers of those who take these steps? Powerful and effective! That’s the opposite of a blocked prayer life.

Have you ever sensed that the Lord was asking you to do something but you made the choice not to? That’s called disobedience and Scripture calls it a prayer blocker.

The Israelites learned this lesson the hard way. In Deuteronomy 1:40-46 God commanded His people to move into the Promised Land. They disobeyed, though, and their connection with God was blocked.

“But you were unwilling to go up; you rebelled against the command of the LORD your God…You came back and wept before the LORD, but he paid no attention to your weeping and turned a deaf ear to you (vs. 26, 45).

When they realized the cost of their disobedience, the Israelites cried out to God, but this passage tells us that He “turned a deaf ear.” In other words, their prayers were blocked.

James 4:17 puts it this way. “If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.”
When God asks you to do something and you choose to disobey you are sinning. One of the results of that sin is a weakened prayer life.

Disregard for God’s Law
How’s this for a warning:

“If anyone turns a deaf ear to my instruction, even their prayers are detestable” (Proverbs 28:9).

God uses strong language here to describe how He feels when we disregard His law. It makes our prayers detestable to Him. How can we know what His instruction is? He’s given it to us through His Word.

These three prayer blockers seem to go hand in hand. When we know God’s Word we have a better understanding of sin. When we commit to rid our lives of sin we work hard to obey God in all areas. When we make a habit of confessing our sin to other Christians we build in accountability to help us run from sin and obey Him more and more.

Is your prayer life blocked? Is it possible that the clog was caused by one of these three prayer blockers?

About the Author

Erin Davis

Erin Davis

Erin Davis is married to her high school sweetheart, Jason, and together they parent four energetic boys on their small farm in the midwest. She is the author of more than a dozen books and Bible studies, the content manager … read more …

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