August 30, 2015
By John Ulrich, Senior Pastor
Did you know that Moses, the Great Moses, had an unanswered prayer — one that plagued him throughout most of his last years?
Last week we talked about prayers unanswered. This week we talk about sin getting in the way of prayer.
This story weaves its way through three books of the Bible.
The Israelites are wandering in the desert, and are running out of water. They are grumbling and so angry that they want to kill Moses. So God says to Moses, “Strike your staff on this rock and water will come.” So he does, and water flows like forever!
Then a few years later, it happens again. Moses prays again, and God answers again, but this time God says, “Speak to the rock.”
In between, the Israelites have had some really bad behavior. They have been grumbling and not following God. And Moses is really getting angry with them. Frustrated, he goes to the rock and he strikes it with his staff, not speaking to it. This was in direct disobedience to God.
Not only did God not give them water, but He tells Moses, that for his disobedience, Moses will lead them to the Promised Land, but he will never enter it. (Deuteronomy 3:23-26)
Moses pleads and begs with God. Jewish tradition says he prays about this 515 times.
Moses died there in Moab, as the Lord had said. Moses’ sin, his disobedience to God, led his prayer to be unanswered.
Let’s reflect on two areas: 1) how sin affects our prayer life; and 2) how prayer is the cure.
- Sin can block prayer
Sin can block answers or cause a disruption in the lines of communication.
David spent a week in prayer over his dying son, but because of his sin and adultery, God did not answer his prayer. Saul prayed, but God still took away his kingship. Joshua lost the battle of Ai because of sin.
Sin blocks prayer all through the Bible. And at times when I feel that prayers are not answered, I have to ask, “Where is the sin in my life that is blocking my prayer life?”
It’s not every little sin — we all struggle with sin! This is not about everything adding up so God doesn’t listen. I can’t make it through the day, even the first hour of the day, without sin. We each have our own “special sin” that really weighs us down — self-righteousness, gossip, judgment. Not every little sin shuts down our prayer life.
But there are certain sins that block our prayer life. God doesn’t give us the list, but it’s not the Dirty Dozen we would think of. It’s stuff like:
- Direct disobedience – God is calling you specifically to do something, but you refuse.
- Sustained disobedience – You constantly push back on God and His will.
- Relational disobedience – This is the one most mentioned. If we treat our family — brothers, sisters, wives, husbands — poorly (1Peter 3:7), this will block our prayers
But God really doesn’t give us a list, because God doesn’t look at sin the way we do. It’s not about the top 10, because he looks at our heart! It’s about how we treat others and withholding parts of our hearts from Him.
But there is also good news!
- The cure for sin-blocked prayer is confession.
Confession is where we bring our sin to God and we deal with it openly right there in front of Him. It could be that our disobedience may block His answer, but if we confess He will listen.
1 John 1:7-9 is one of my favorite, life-changing passages in the bible. This really brings out the family nature of prayer. Let’s look at this passage as simply as we can. John says here that the thing that restores fellowship and prayer life is confession.
Four basic questions about confession of our sin:
- What does confession mean? If you grew up Catholic, you may think of a booth. Others may think of tears and wailing and anguish. Many of us think about an agonizing, tearful experience. But that’s not what that confession really means. It means to “say the same thing as” – speak the same thing in unison. To confess my sin is to say the same thing about it that God does.
- Why confession? John says If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just. But why not a sacrifice, an act of penance, or drop $20 in the offering plate? Why confession? Because God is a loving Father who wants my whole heart! Because this is family relationship and He wants us to get right — and we have to share with Him to receive God’s whole and true love. Take that part of me that I most want to hide. The part that gives me shame, makes me unlovable — my addiction, my infidelity, my disobedience. God requires us to take that, get it out, name it and put in on the table so that He can look right past us into our hearts and eyes, and tell us how much He loves us. Sometimes He will tell us that it’s worse than we think, and sometimes we need to let it go, so we can truly experience God’s love.
- What kind of forgiveness does confession bring? If you have never been a part of God’s family? If you don’t know that you will go to heaven? Then you need to bring all that to God and confess that you are a sinner. If you are starting a relationship with God, you must start with confession. But the focus of the passage is not about new Christians and starting the relationship with God, but about fellowship with God. This is about whether there is anything between me and God; it’s about family forgiveness. Our relationship needs attention. We confess so we can be in full fellowship.
- Which sins are forgiven? This is the part of the passage that I really love. If I tell you that confessing a sin is the basis of forgiveness for that sin, then I have a serious problem! Because I can’t confess and name all my sins — I can’t keep up! This is the way of the human condition – we sin constantly! What occurred to me is that we sin, and we don’t even realize or name it, or keep track! It’s a big problem if we have to name them all. What about all those unconfessed sins? “If we confess our sin, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sin, and will cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). There are two results: 1) in the original language, it says “the sins” not “our sin” — God forgives me of the sins; and 2) He purifies us from all unrighteousness — that means ALL my sins!
My walk with God is not a checklist, it’s a father relationship. I walk with Him as a loving Father.
When [my son] Calvin was born, I wanted certain things for him. To be responsible, polite, to be honest, to be loving and a loving husband and dad — I wanted all these wonderful things for him. But back then, he wasn’t fully mature, so how would I move him to what I want him to be? Did I give him a checklist of the “standards?” No, I met him where he was at, and we walked together. We walk through life together, and I point out what I want him to work on next. When we run into a problem, I let him know about it. But I’m not after punishment and tears — I want him in his heart to know what is good and right. And then we will be at peace. Why do we do it this way? Because that’s what it means to be a father!
God doesn’t judge us all the time. He wants us to grow up to be closer to Him. Sin can block your prayer life, but confession restores!