Let's face it, we all encounter problems in our prayer life more often than we'd like to admit. Lack of motivation, not committing the time and energy, failure to believe in the benefits of prayer... all these, and countless other excuses, rob us of powerful experiences in our communication with the Creator.
Aside from our own failure to make prayer a priority, the Bible tells us there are other things that get in the way of our prayers being "powerful and effective" (James 5:16).
First and foremost is sin: "if I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened" (Psalm 66:18) and "your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear" (Isaiah 59:2). Keeping "short accounts" with God is a good way to ensure your prayers are heard. Confess your sin daily and seek His forgiveness so that it doesn't create static in your conversations with the Lord.
Unforgiveness is another deterrent to powerful prayer, "if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins" (Mark 11:25). Both here and in the Lord's Prayer, we learn that God is just as serious about us forgiving others as He is about forgiving us. Holding on to past hurts does more than embitter us, it prevents us from finding freedom in God's forgiveness in our own lives.
Praying with the wrong motives also prevents us from experiencing God's full power in prayer, "When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives..." (James 4:3). Torrey reminds us that even if we're praying for very good and godly things, we may be doing so with selfish motives. For example, when we pray for revival—or simply for our churches to grow—we may care more about the church's reputation than the souls of the lost.
Here's a tough one: our own lack of generosity can cause our prayer life to be weak. While Luke isn't necessarily talking about prayer, this message is clear: God gives abundantly to those who also give abundantly. "Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap" (Luke 6:38). "The generous man is the mighty man of prayer. The stingy man is the powerless man of prayer" (Torrey).
Idolatry is a major impediment to all aspects of our spiritual lives, and its effect on prayer is no exception. God told Ezekiel that Israelite's idols prevented them from communicating with Him, "Son of man, these men have set up idols in their hearts and put wicked stumbling blocks before their faces. Should I let them inquire of me at all?" (Ezekiel 14:3). Many of us think we're too sophisticated for idols, but our calendars and bank accounts tell a truer version of our allegiances.
Here's something that shouldn't surprise us but probably does: poor marital relations pose problems for our prayer lives. Peter ends his advice to husbands and wives with the words, "so that nothing will hinder your prayers" (I Peter 3:7). God calls us as husbands and wives to submit to one another and respect one other not only so that we can have a strong and loving relationship, but so that our prayer life will not be hindered.
The final problem with our prayer lives should be obvious: not believing that God will powerfully answer our prayers becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. "When he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does" (James 1:6-7).