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The trip to Afghanistan had been planned for several months. I was traveling with a team of 20 medical specialists and we looked forward to going into the war-torn, poverty-stricken country to help alleviate some of the suffering. We also had a great expectation of bringing hope to the Afghans for a better tomorrow.
Afghanistan is a country in transition. Although the nation is no longer under the rule of the Taliban, it has not yet experienced all the changes necessary to make it whole. Poverty still abounds. Sickness and disease are everywhere. Buildings lie in ruin, and crime runs rampant.
How wonderful it was when we discovered a hotel available for us in Kabul! Due to the massive destruction from 25 years of war, we had anticipated the possibility of sleeping in a tent. A hotel-any hotel-would be better than that! We later laughed and told people we stayed in a five-star hotel; the only problem was that all the stars fell off.
At least we had running water and electricity-most of the time. However, we never knew when the power would go off. When the electricity was on, we could turn on fans to keep a small amount of air moving in the sweltering heat. We could use our hair dryers and turn on lights for reading or dressing. We truly counted our blessings because other parts of the city had been without electricity for many months.
I never was able to discover why the power in Afghanistan would be on for a while and then off for a period of time. If electricity was available, why didn't we have access to it all of the time? What caused the inconsistency?
Often I have had the same questions about my prayer life. Sometimes, when I am praying, the power of God seems almost tangible. Later, the answers to those prayers manifest in the situations I addressed. Other times, it seems like the heavens are brass. I pray every way I know to pray, but nothing seems to happen. The necessary power to produce the necessary results does not seem to be present. Situations remain the same, even though change and transformation desperately need to occur.
On one particular Sunday morning the power of prayer was evident in our home church. My husband, Dale, had been experiencing an annoying heart skip for many years. At times this would not occur for months. At other times it would skip beats several times a day. On this occasion his heart had been skipping beats throughout the day for a number of weeks. Dale was standing next to Chuck Pierce at our church, Glory of Zion, in Denton, Texas. Pastor Robert Heidler asked the people to turn and pray for the person next to them. Chuck laid a hand over Dale's heart and spoke to the condition: "I command this heart to beat normally."
Such a short prayer, yet such powerful results! The next day Dale's heart skipped only two beats; the day after, only one. Beginning on the third day, Dale's heart beat normally. It was obvious that transformation in his physical heart had occurred.
Many prayers had been prayed over Dale's heart throughout the years. Why did this short, simple prayer suddenly get such powerful results when other prayers did not seem to change his situation?
I was speaking at a Bible school in Canada several years ago. For many years the students and faculty had been praying about the desire for a new facility. The student enrollment had increased, and the school needed more room to accommodate those wanting to attend.
One evening the school director, his wife and I drove to a nearby building that belonged to a church. We sat in the car in front of the facility for several minutes. The director explained the situation surrounding the possible sale of that building and property. Although the building was beautiful and fairly new, the attendance of the church was not large enough to continue to pay for it. Some of the members wanted to sell it to be free from the debt. Other members wanted to continue to hold the property in hopes of more income.
The three of us sat in the car and prayed:
Lord, You know the answer to this situation. We believe You have the answer for the members of this church. We also believe You have the answer for the Bible schooL We believe You have shown us that this building is to be used for the Bible school. We therefore speak to this property and tell it to be released. We now call it into the hands of this student body to train the next generation. We speak release of debt to the members of this church. We call forth the right facility that will meet their needs and not entangle them with debt. Lord, we thank You now for answering this prayer. Thank You that both the church and the Bible school will be blessed in this transaction.
A few weeks later I received a phone call from the Bible school director. "Barbara, I have to tell you what has happened," the director said. "Remember the church property we prayed over? The members have come into agreement that they want to sell the property to us. They have found a facility that will meet their needs and free them from debt. There is unity and joy in the congregation over this decision. Up until now, the whole issue of the property was bringing division among the members. Now they are excited at the Lord's provision."
When praying this kind of prayer, we have to truly seek God's will for everyone involved, not just the solution that best fits what we want at the moment. In this case, the answer was best for both parties. If God had wanted the church to grow in that facility, He would have provided another building for the Bible school.
I was both thrilled and amazed. How often I had prayed over similar situations and nothing happened. This time, there seemed to be a power in the prayer that brought about resolution. Why wasn't there power like this each time I prayed?
Many times I have asked myself about the inconsistencies in my prayer life:
• Why do my prayers sometimes fail to bring transformation to the subject of my prayers?
• Why are some people more effective than others in getting their prayers answered?
• Is there a way to increase the power in my prayers?
• Why should I want more power? Is it pride?
• Are there limitations to the effectiveness of my prayers?
• How can I tell the difference between a lack of prayer power and God simply saying "No" or "Not right now"?
God has many people who are faithful in prayer. These people love the Lord with all their hearts. However, they also realize that they need more power in their prayer lives because they just do not see the results for which they long in prayer.
Hindrances to Answered Prayer
I must confess that I do not have all the answers to these questions about prayer. However, I have discovered some principles that give me a better understanding and make my prayers more effective.
One of the principles for releasing more power in prayer is to be sure our lives are as free from sin as possible. I am not speaking of sinless perfection. When I first read the Scripture that told me to be perfect (see Matt. 5:48), I thought it meant I was never to miss the mark. However, the word "perfect" in this Scripture really means "to complete thoroughly; to mend or to restore." God wants us to be so complete in Him that we are fully restored to look and act like Him. He wants us to be mature children of God.
At the same time, God does not want us to practice habitual sin. He knows that sin brings destruction to our lives and separates us from fellowship with Him. Our prayers can be hindered by sin-particularly habitual sin-in our lives:
If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me (Ps. 66:18, KJV).
However, when we do sin, the Lord has made a way for us to be forgiven and restored. If we pray and "confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9).
God always hears our prayers; it is just the effectiveness of them and the answers that are hindered by sin. When we have confessed our sins and received the Lord's forgiveness, we can approach Him in prayer, knowing the barrier has been removed. We do not have to carry guilt and condemnation from past sins. We can then be God-conscious and not sin-conscious. What joy in knowing that we are forgiven, cleansed and free to fully participate with God in His plans!
Another hindrance to answered prayer is unbelief. After praying with someone, that person may respond, "I wish I could believe that God will do what you have prayed." God characterizes an unbelieving heart as an evil heart (see Heb. 3:12).
The Bible gives many examples of people who failed to receive God's blessings because of unbelief. In Romans we see that there were those who by their unbelief were cut off from God's promises. The writer tells us to not be ensnared by the same unbelief but to stand firm in our faith toward God (see 11:17-21).
Even when we have seen the goodness of the Lord toward our lives, we can find ourselves in seasons of unbelief. How do we end up in that state when God has been so good to us? One reason is that we tend to recall and obsess on our unworthiness. We remember the mistakes we have made in the past. Our emotions and lives have told us that we are not worthy of God's blessings. Somehow we come into agreement with the unworthiness. What freedom when we come to understand fully that Jesus has made us righteous! We are not made worthy when we keep all the rules and regulations; we are made righteous because of our faith:
Not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith (Phil. 3:9).
A revelation of what Jesus has done for us will destroy the imprisonment of unworthiness.
Another area of unbelief arises when God seemingly answers the prayers of others but not our own. It is easy to believe God will answer the prayers of pastors, evangelists or leaders of ministry organizations. When they relate their stories of victories in prayer, they seem to be such powerful people. The problem is that frequently these people fail to honestly disclose the many prayers that have gone unanswered. I think that is one reason I love Scripture so much. Throughout the Bible, we read about people's failures as well as their victories.
Peter was a person who did not always do the right thing. He had an excellent revelation by the Spirit of God about who Jesus was. Then in the next breath he tried to talk Jesus out of doing God's will. Jesus had to say to Peter, "Get behind Me, Satan!" (Matt. 16:23). Peter was allowing the enemy to influence his thoughts. He was thinking in a carnal way rather than in God's way.
In spite of that, God still used Peter dynamically on the Day of Pentecost. He was able to preach a powerful sermon that resulted in 3,000 people being saved (see Acts 2:14-41). God empowers people to do powerful exploits for Him, though they are not usually the people we would choose. God will use whoever comes to Him with a heart that is set toward Him and His purposes. Let the Lord remove any place of doubt that is in you. Then pray and see what great things He will do through you!
Bad Religious Teachings
Our prayers can often be hindered due to unexamined or erroneous religious teachings. I grew up in a church that told me that many things in the Bible had ceased. I was taught that healings, supernatural signs and wonders, miracles and deliverance had ended with the early apostles. Therefore I never expected God to answer my prayers in an authoritative way. How surprised I was when He miraculously healed our youngest son of rectal polyps at the age of two! It no longer mattered that others told me God does not carry out miracles today. The Lord performed a miracle for our son-even the doctors confirmed it.
Lack of Knowledge
Another hindrance to getting answers to prayers is a lack of knowledge. The Lord desires to free us from small thinking. He is bigger than the box we attempt to put Him in. He is the same yesterday, today and forever (see Heb. 13:8). We can pray and see the authority of God perform miraculous deeds today.
Sometimes we have tunnel vision. Due to our lack of knowledge, we are aware only of what is happening around us. If we are not established in present truth, we may not be aware of some of the things God is doing around the world (see 2 Pet. 1:12). We are living in days of restoration. God is restoring much that occurred during New Testament days. Just because we do not see it where we live does not mean it is not happening.
We tend to think that revival is not occurring because it is not happening in our church or city. However, Christianity today is growing rapidly in many places and remains the largest religious faith in the world. The church in China is adding 25,000 new members each day. Nigeria is experiencing phenomenal church growth. Monthly prayer meetings in one area of that nation include almost half a million people. Redeemed Church of God is the size of 86 football fields. It is the equivalent to Denver's Mile High Stadium being filled nearly four times.
The Bible tells us that God's people perish, or are destroyed, due to a lack of knowledge (see Hos. 4:6). Keeping alert to what is happening throughout the world in the Body of Christ will help dismantle our unbelief.
Another thing that hinders answered prayer is disunity. Throughout history great leaders have understood the power of unity. Unity can be used for good or evil. The results are different depending on the intent of the unity. At the tower of Babel, unity was used for evil purposes:
The Lord said, "Behold, they are one people, and they all have the same language. And this is what they began to do, and now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them" (Gen. 11:6).
The power of unity caused them to be able to do anything they proposed, even though it was with evil intent.
Osama bin Laden knows the power of unity. His networking of the al-Qaeda terrorist cells released a power that was able to destroy the Twin Towers in New York City on September 11, 2001. Unity, even for evil purposes, is indeed a powerful force.
When God's people walk in unity, however, the corporate prayers of the united group releases power to bring positive change and transformation (see Ps. 133). Dutch Sheets, along with other writers, tracked how much prayer accompanied the United States presidential election of 2000.
Excerpted from Praying with Authority by Barbara Wentroble Copyright © 2003 by Barbara Wentroble
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.