A “shipwreck” is always a tragedy. In the history of navigating the vast oceans, a shipwreck is something entirely unforeseen and unexpected by captains, sailors, and crewman alike. A shipwreck can be the result of a sudden storm, hidden rocks, error or even incompetence.
Often, there is no recovery from a shipwreck.
Sometimes we spend vast amounts of energy trying to rocket-launch our dreams and fulfill our destinies. We drive hard, burn the midnight oil (especially as writers), and follow the experts, trying to do everything they say. Now I’m not knocking the experts; they’re experts for a reason. But sometimes in spite of the sacrifice of time, the worry, and the fervent prayers, things just don’t happen like they’re supposed to. And the frustrating part is that there seems to be no rhyme or reason as to why. Right?
But there may be a reason. Sometimes we spend so much time trying to pursue the “shoulds” that we don’t recognize when we’re doing the “should nots”. In other words, there are some Biblical principles which, when violated, will shipwreck any good thing we’re trying to do.
Thing #1: Put God First.
In other words, we cannot put our dreams, visions or destinies before God. Jesus says, ‘”Your heavenly Father already knows all of your needs… Seek first his kingdom and righteousness, and all of these things will be given to you as well…’” (Matt. 6:33). Our “needs” are not just categorized as physical needs; we need all kinds of intervention for all kinds of things. No matter—same principle applies: the big “if-then”—if we put God first, then he supplies whatever we might need. Period.
Thing #2: Misusing Authority.
I Peter 3:7 admonishes husbands to treat their wives with understanding and respect “as the weaker partner… so that nothing will hinder your prayers”. Now forget the debate over whether wives are the “weaker partner”—not the point here. The point is a larger one: A “weaker” person is defined as anyone who is under the authority of another person. Furthermore, everyone in authority is held accountable for how they treat the “weaker” people under their authority. Whether it be a child, student, employee, or congregation member, the warning is real: If we abuse or treat poorly people under our authority, we can’t then wonder why our prayers concerning our dreams and destiny are having no effect.
Thing #3: Disobedience.
We’ve all heard the term “brass heaven” meaning, essentially, that our prayers are “bouncing off the ceiling” or blocked. A “brass heaven” is referred to in Deuteronomy when God gives several “if—then” consequences to his people for both blessings and curses. In short, obedience = blessing and disobedience = curses, and one of those curses is hindered prayer. “’And your heaven that is over your head shall be brass, and the earth that is under you shall be iron.’” (vs. 23-28). While in context this curse for disobedience refers to a lack of rain, Matthew Henry makes the point that the curse impacts all things affecting the person, not just rain. Disobedience causes God’s deafness for everything from pleas for relief from curses to petitions for blessings.
Thing #4: Lack of Love.
Lack of love, particularly in a practical sense, hinders prayer. God has always had a soft spot for underdogs whom he vows to protect and vindicate. In Isaiah 58:6-12, the Lord clearly indicates that our actions impact our consequences. The “’fast [sacrifice] that God has chosen [is to] loose the cords/chains of injustice… untie the cords of the yoke… set the oppressed free… share food with the hungry… shelter the wanderers [homeless]… clothe the naked…’” The Living Bible expands upon this principle: “’Stop oppressing those who work for you. Treat them fairly and give them what they earn.’” And the result? Then you will have revelation, healing, righteousness, protection and “’Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and He will say: Here I am’” (vs. 8-9). The lesson? We reap what we sow and if we sow mercy, then God answers our prayers. For example, a Roman centurion asked Jesus to come and heal his servant and the Jewish elders “earnestly implored Him [Jesus], saying, ‘He is worthy for You to grant this to him; for he loves our nation and it was he who built us our synagogue’” (Luke 7:1-5). As a result of the centurion’s love-in-action, Jesus listened to the man’s petition and went to his house.
Thing #5: Unconfessed Sin.
The prophet Habakkuk says to God, “’Your eyes are too pure [even] to look upon evil; you cannot tolerate sin’” (1:13). “Tolerate” is a little mild for the translation. The KJ version says, “’You cannot [even] look upon sin’”. And the word “cannot” in all translations means “cannot”. It doesn’t mean “might not” or “can-if-He-wants-to-but-just-doesn’t-want-to”. God is not able even to look at sin, much less have fellowship with someone in it (thus the reason Christ died—but that’s another post entirely).
Therefore, since prayer is interaction with God (and God cannot interact with sin), then unconfessed sin results in unanswered prayers.
However, confession of sin restores fellowship with God. For example, King David committed adultery with Bathsheba, lied about it, and then killed her husband, Uriah, to cover it up. Now if anyone should have had their prayers tuned out by God, it would be someone who’d done all that. But David repented of his sin, pleading, “’Don’t keep looking at my sin. Remove the stain of my guilt. Create in me a clean heart, O God, Renew a right spirit in me…’” (Ps. 51:9-10, LB). After David confessed his sin, God was able to interact with him again.
Thing #6: Unforgiveness.
In Matt. 18, we’re told the parable of the servant who was forgiven by his master but who wouldn’t forgive his fellow servant. The master finds out and says to him, “‘Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?'” He goes on to tell the servant that because he would not forgive another, he would not be forgiven. Therefore, if we refuse to forgive and so are not forgiven ourselves, we carry sin, and this renders God unable to answer our prayers. (Reference #5 above.)
If you’re feeling like your prayers are bouncing off of that “brass ceiling,” then how do you undo the hindrances to prayer that you might have unknowingly activated? It’s simple: a sincere and heartfelt, “Lord, I’m sorry for…” will open the heavens to you. “For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer” (I Peter 3:12).
That’s a promise.