[This is a post in our ongoing series looking at the themes raised by David Crump in his book Knocking on Heaven’s Door: A New Testament Theology of Petitionary Prayer. We began this series here.]
Several weeks ago, a reader asked in a comment for clarification regarding what we called one of prayer’s ‘limiting factors’. Circumstances prevented a rapid response, so it now seems better to reply here as one more post dedicated to prayer.
The questioner asked for clarification regarding the fifth limiting factor. This suggested that prayer might be hindered by ‘broken and unreconciled relationships’. The kind of relational brokenness in view is pictured here:
Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered. (1 Peter 3:7)
As a husband, this verse is sobering. Mistreatment of my wife will not be tolerated by a just and compassionate heavenly Father and may even cause him to turn a deaf ear to my prayers. Crump is very careful in how he develops this, however. One might say that in my weakness, I’m rarely treating Barb in an ‘understanding way’. Am I always to despair of my prayers being heard? Crump anticipates such concerns.
Persistent mistreatment of brothers and sisters in Christ inhibits our ability to communicate with the Father, and this Father never turns a blind eye to domestic abuse. Until the perpetrators repent and seek the necessary reconciliation, their petitions will remain ineffective.
The question whether there are relationships unreconciled in our lives and hindering our prayers is one that is worth asking. Nevertheless we should not become desperately self-critical.
It would certainly be disheartening to imagine that none of my petitions have any hope of ever being heard by God until every aspect of all my relationships are put in perfect working order. If that were the case, all petition becomes hopeless again! Fortunately, by revisiting the original contexts we are reminded that the New Testament writers were addressing deliberate, persistent misbehavior. The sinner refuses to change despite (a) the sin having been openly confronted and (b) the necessary correction having been explained and then ignored. Consequently because the culprit willfully ignores God’s word, the Father may choose to ignore his or her prayers.
Self-examination is always appropriate, but perfection is never in view. God welcomes prayers from his most broken and inconsistent and weary disciples. Just keep praying.