The Sin of Prayerlessness

1 Tim 2:8
8 I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting. KJV

James 4:17
17 Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin. KJV

Disclaimer – a number of thoughts and words are borrowed, some of them intact, from Andrew Murray’s book “The Prayer Life.” I am much indebted to him for his work on this subject.

A group of ministers met to discuss the sad state of spirituality in the church. There was a discussion concerning the need for daily prayer and the group was asked to give a sincere answer to the questions. “Would everyone who spends a half hour every day with God in connection with his work hold up a hand?” One hand was raised. “All who thus spend fifteen minutes hold up a hand.” Not half of the hands were raised. “All who spend five minutes hold up hands.” The rest of the hands went up. But one man came later with the confession that he was not quite sure if he actually spent five minutes in prayer every day. He said, “It is a terrible revelation of how little time I spend with God.”

The year was 1898 in New York City scarcely 40 years after prayer meetings had rocked the city and brought an incredible revival, just 40 years as well from the great Revival in Northern Island, and…at the same time that a Revival was raging in Wales.

Far be it from me to judge anyone, but I fear that the situation has grown worse instead of better in our day.

What is the cause of Prayerlessness in the lives of God’s people?

Consider how Jesus dealt with the issue with His disciples.

Matt 17:14-21
14 And when they were come to the multitude, there came to him a certain man, kneeling down to him, and saying,
15 Lord, have mercy on my son: for he is lunatick, and sore vexed: for ofttimes he falleth into the fire, and oft into the water.
16 And I brought him to thy disciples, and they could not cure him.
17 Then Jesus answered and said, O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? bring him hither to me.
18 And Jesus rebuked the devil; and he departed out of him: and the child was cured from that very hour.
19 Then came the disciples to Jesus apart, and said, Why could not we cast him out?
20 And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.
21 Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting. KJV

I want you to consider how Jesus connected the dots. This particular kind of demon could only be cast out through prayer and fasting. The disciples could not cast him out and Jesus said that it was their unbelief.

What else can we conclude but that it was their unbelief that had caused them not to pray and fast over this issue so as to be able to cast out the demon? Or was it their unbelief that had caused them not to fast and pray in advance so as to be prepared to encounter such demons?

I would ask you to call to your mind the life stories you know of people considered to be people of faith, such as George Mueller and others like him. Were they not also people of prayer? Do we know of scenarios in which there were people of great faith who were not also praying people? Do we know of people known for prayer who were not also people of faith?

Does it not then follow that the reason for prayerlessness in any of our lives is nothing other than the sin of unbelief, the sin of low and small faith? I remind you that in the language of scripture, faith is the noun form of the verb, ‘to believe.’ They are one and the same thing.

The disciples failed to be able to bring the power of God to bear on a situation because they did not pray and they did not pray because of unbelief. I wonder in how many situations and scenarios in our lives the same charge could be laid.

There are two possibilities laid before the mind of children of God in the scripture. One they are urged to lay hold of and one they are warned to avoid at all costs.

Gal 5:16-17
16 This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.
17 For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would. KJV

One of the things that a sincere Christian certainly ‘would’ do under ideal circumstances is pray, pray faithfully, pray intensely and earnestly, for his own needs and the needs around him. Certainly if he ‘walked’ in the Spirit, he would give all due attention to his prayer life. So, what does Paul envision as hindering such a ‘walk’? The flesh, the carnal nature, which wars against the Spirit and hinders service to God.

1 Peter 2:11
11 Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul; KJV

Now we do not subscribe to the popular ‘Carnal Christian’ theory which teaches that a person can be truly saved and yet go on living unrepentantly and continually in sin. This is not what Paul and Peter are discussing.

But they are laying a very real and very dangerous proposition and possibility before us that carnality in our lives, if it is not ‘abstained’ from and put away can produces situations in which we do not do all that we ought for the sake of the kingdom of God. We do not believe as we ought, therefore we do not pray as we ought.

What is it, then, that makes prayerlessness such a great sin?

James rebuked the believer of his day, “ye have not because ye ask not.”

But we tend to look at prayerlessness as only a weakness. We have so much to do, there are so many demands on our time, so many distractions, that we simply do not have the time to give to extended prayer, especially not on a daily basis.

Would it be too much of a stretch for us to make the effort to see that our prayerlessness is truly sinful?


1. What a reproach it is to God

The holy and most glorious God invites us to come to him, to hold conversation with him, to ask from him such things as we need, and to experience what a blessing there is in fellowship with him. He has created us so that in Him we might find our highest glory and salvation.

He said, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matt 11:28)

But what use do we make of this heavenly privilege?

How many there are who take only five minutes for prayer!

“They say that they have no time and that the heart desire for prayer is lacking; they do not know how to spend half an hour with God! It is not that they absolutely do not pray; they pray every day – but they have no joy in prayer, as a token of communion with God which shows that God is everything to them.

“If a friend comes to visit them, they have time, they make time, even at the cost of sacrifice, for the sake of enjoying converse with him. Yes, they have time for everything that really interests them, but no time to practise fellowship with God and delight themselves in him! They find time for a creature who can be of service to them; but day after day, month after month passes, and there is no time to spend one hour with God.

“Could we not acknowledge what a dishonor and a disregarding of God and His provided blessings this is? We cannot find so much as an hour in a day to fellowship with Him. Does it not provoke us to cry out, “’Woe is me, for I am undone, 0 God; be merciful to me, and forgive this awful sin of prayerlessness?” Consider further

2. It is the cause of a deficient spiritual life

It is a proof that, for the most part, our life is still, in some sense and in some way, under the power of ‘the flesh’. Our heartbeat is the pulse of life; by it the doctor can tell what is the condition of the heart. And Prayer is the pulse of the soul. The sin of prayerlessness is a proof both for the ordinary Christian and the minister of the gospel that the life of God in the soul is in deadly sickness and weakness.

Jesus asked His disciples a plaintive question in the Garden the night before the crucifixion. As He wrestled in prayer over the mighty task ahead of Him, they dozed and slept. He asked, “what, could ye not watch with me one hour?” I wonder if we never hear that question from Him in our own souls? I wonder if there are not many nights when we have spent the day breathing God’s air, taking advantage of the blessings of life and health that He has given us and then lain down without so much as spending a half hour with Him out of gratitude and concern for His Kingdom. I wonder how many nights we would hear, if we could hear the words spoken in heaven, “What, could you not watch with me one hour?”

Much is said and many complaints are made about the feebleness of the Church to fulfill her calling, to exercise an influence over her members, to deliver them from the power of the world, and to bring them to a life of holy consecration to God.

Much is also spoken about her indifference to the millions of heathen whom Christ entrusted to her that she might make known to them his love and salvation. What is the reason that many thousands of Christian workers in the world have not a greater influence? Nothing save this – the prayerlessness of their service. In the midst of all their zeal in the study and in the work of the Church, of all their faithfulness in preaching and conversation with the people, they lack that ceaseless prayer which has attached to it the sure promise of the Spirit and the power from on high. It is nothing but the sin of prayerlessness which is the cause of the lack of a powerful spiritual life! Consider further

3. The dreadful loss which the Church suffers as a result of the prayerlessness of the minister

It is the business of a ministers, deacons, Sunday School teachers and parents to train believers up to a life of prayer; but how can they do this if they themselves understand so very little concerning the art of conversing with God and of receiving from the Holy Spirit, every day, out of heaven, abundant grace for themselves and for their work? A minister or teacher of any kind cannot lead a congregation, a family, or a child higher than he is himself. He cannot with enthusiasm point out a way, or explain a work, in which he is not himself walking or living.

As I have sought to lay hold of the Christian grace of prayer in recent years, I have been plagued with memories from my younger days when I was under the guidance of older and more experienced ministers. In all 5 years that I was associated with my Bible College, never once did any preacher ever take me or any group of us and say, “boys, let’s go pray for a while.” Oh, there was much preaching, much exhortation, much duty laid on us. But there was never any teaching as to how to lay hold of God for the power and strength to do what we were being urged to do.

How many thousands of Christians there are who know next to nothing of the blessedness of prayer fellowship with God!

How many there are who know something of it and long for a further increase of this knowledge, but in the preaching of the Word and the examples of others they are not persistently urged to keep on till they obtain the blessing!

The reason, I fear, is simply and only that the ministers and the saints understand so little about the secret of powerful prayer and does not give prayer the place in their service which, in the nature of the case and in the will of God, is indispensably necessary. Oh, what a difference we should notice in our congregations and in our families if God’s people could be brought to see in its right light the sin of prayerlessness and were delivered from it! Once more consider

4. The impossibility of preaching the gospel to all men-as we are commanded by Christ to do -so long as this sin is not overcome and cast out.

Many feel that the great need of missions is the obtaining of men and women who will give themselves to the Lord to strive in prayer for the salvation of souls. It has also been said that God is eager and able to deliver and bless the world he has redeemed, if his people were but willing, if they were but ready, to cry to him day and night But how can congregations be brought to that unless there comes first an entire change in ministers and that they begin to see that the indispensable thing is not preaching, not pastoral visitation, not church work, but fellowship with God in prayer till they are clothed with power from on high?

Oh, that all thought and work and expectation concerning the kingdom might drive us to the acknowledgment of the sin of prayerlessness! God help us to root it out! God deliver us from it through the blood and power of Christ Jesus!

God teach every minister of the Word to see what a glorious place he may occupy if he first of all is delivered from this root of evils; so that with courage and joy, in faith and perseverance, he can go on with his God!

The sin of prayerlessness! The Lord lay the burden of it so heavy on our hearts that we may not rest till it is taken far from us through the name and power of Jesus.

The storm center on the battlefield

When a general chooses the place from which he intends to strike the enemy, he pays most attention to those points which he thinks most important in the fight. Thus there was on the battlefield of Waterloo a farmhouse which Wellington immediately saw was the key to the situation. He did not spare his troops in his endeavours to hold that point: the victory depended on it. So it actually happened. It is the same in the conflict between the believer and the powers of darkness. The inner chamber is the place where the decisive victory is obtained.

The enemy uses all his power to lead the Christian and above all the minister, to neglect prayer. He knows that however admirable the sermon may be, however attractive the service, however faithful the pastoral visitation, none of these things can damage him or his kingdom if prayer is neglected. When the Church shuts herself up to the power of the inner chamber, and the soldiers of the Lord have received on their knees ‘power from on high’, then the powers of darkness will be shaken and souls will be delivered. In the Church, on the mission field, with the minister and his congregation, everything depends on the faithful exercise of the power of prayer.

Two persons quarrel over a certain point. We call them Christian and Apollyon. Apollyon notices that Christian has a certain weapon which would give him a sure victory. They meet in deadly strife, and Apollyon resolves to take away the weapon from his opponent and destroy it. For the moment the main cause of the strife has become subordinate; the great point now is who shall get possession of the weapon on which everything depends? It is of vital importance to get hold of that.

So it is in the conflict between Satan and the believer. God’s child can conquer everything by prayer. Is it any wonder that Satan does his utmost to snatch that weapon from the Christian, or to hinder him in the use of it?

How now does Satan hinder prayer? By temptation to postpone or curtail it, by bringing in wandering thoughts and all sorts of distractions; through unbelief and hopelessness. Happy is the prayer hero who, through it all, takes care to hold fast and use his weapon. Like our Lord in Gethsemane, the more violently the enemy attacked the more earnestly he prayed and ceased not till he had obtained the victory. After all the other parts of the armour had been named, Paul adds: ‘with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit’ (Eph. 6.18). Without prayer, the helmet of salvation, and the shield of faith, and the sword of the Spirit which is God’s word, have no power. All depends on prayer. God teach us to believe and hold this fast!
We must not comfort ourselves with the thought of standing in a right relationship to the Lord Jesus while the sin of prayerlessness has power over us, and while we, along with the whole Church, have to complain about our feeble life which makes us unfit to pray for ourselves, for the Church, or for missions, as we ought. But if we recognise, in the first place, that a right relationship to the Lord Jesus, above all else, includes prayer, with both the desire and power to pray according to God’s will, then we have something which gives us the right to rejoice in him and to rest in him.

If now we are delivered from the sin of prayerlessness, and understand how this deliverance may continue to be experienced, what will be the fruit of our liberty?

He who sees this aright will, with renewed earnestness and perseverance, seek after this liberty. His life and experience will indeed be an evidence that he has obtained something of unspeakable worth. He will be a living witness of the blessing which victory has brought.

Consider –

1. The blessedness of unbroken fellowship with God

Think of being rid of the shame of knowing that we ought to pray but do not do so as we ought.

Think of the blessing of a daily renewal and blessing in our communion with God.

Think of the profound knowledge that God really had done a work of grace in us and that we really are functioning as a child of God.

Think of how that ‘closet’ that Jesus mentioned, that secret place of prayer and the time we spend there each day will become the happiest place and time for us.

And thing of how God may use it in our lives to give glory to Him and be a blessing to others..

2. The power which we may have for the work to which we are called

The things that we long to do we will be enabled to do.

The wisdom we long for will be granted to us.

The faithfulness we crave to show to God will really be working and manifest in us.

We will be able to say with Paul: ‘I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me’ (Ph 4.13). ‘We are more than conquerors through him th loved us’ (Rom. 8.37). ‘We are ambassadors for Christ … we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconcil to God’ (2 Cor. 5.20).

These are not vain dreams or notions dreamed up by a foolish imagination. These are actually things that might be if we could but lay aside the sin of prayerlessness.

3. The prospect which opens before us for the future

What a blessing would be ours to be consecrated to take part as intercessors in great work of bearing on our hearts the need of the entire Church and world.

We can hardly imagine the power God might bestow on us, if only we get freed from the sin of prayerlessness and pray with the daring which reaches heaven and brings down blessing in the Almighty Name of Christ.

What a idea! Ministers and congregations together brought by God’s grace to pray, let us say twice as much as formerly, with twofold faith and joy!

What a difference it would make in the preaching, in the prayer meeting, in the fellowship with others!

What a gentle power would come down in an inner chamber, sanctified by communion with God and his love in Christ!

What an influence would be exercised on others, in urging them forward to the work of intercession!

How greatly would this influence be felt in the Church and among the heathen!

What power might be exercised over other churches, and who knows how God might use us for his Church through the whole world!

Is it not worth while to sacrifice everything, and to beseech God without ceasing to give us real and full victory over the prayerlessness which has covered us with such shame?

There are three of my favorite stories of the OT that I would like to weave together with you for a moment.

In 2 Kings 6 we are told of an invasion of Israel by Syria and a siege that was laid against Samaria. The people grew so hungry that some were killing their children and eating them as well as doing other disgusting things. Four lepers sat at the gate of the city and they discussed their situation and their options.

2 Kings 7:4-8
4 If we say, We will enter into the city, then the famine is in the city, and we shall die there: and if we sit still here, we die also. Now therefore come, and let us fall unto the host of the Syrians: if they save us alive, we shall live; and if they kill us, we shall but die.
5 And they rose up in the twilight, to go unto the camp of the Syrians: and when they were come to the uttermost part of the camp of Syria, behold, there was no man there.
6 For the Lord had made the host of the Syrians to hear a noise of chariots, and a noise of horses, even the noise of a great host: and they said one to another, Lo, the king of Israel hath hired against us the kings of the Hittites, and the kings of the Egyptians, to come upon us.
7 Wherefore they arose and fled in the twilight, and left their tents, and their horses, and their asses, even the camp as it was, and fled for their life.
8 And when these lepers came to the uttermost part of the camp, they went into one tent, and did eat and drink, and carried thence silver, and gold, and raiment, and went and hid it; and came again, and entered into another tent, and carried thence also, and went and hid it. KJV

Another story is told from the adventures of Jonathan, Saul’s son and David’s friend.

Without Saul’s knowledge, Jonathan and his armor bearer slipped away from the camp and approached a Philistine outpost. Jonathan decided that he and his servant should attack it.

1 Sam 14:6
6 And Jonathan said to the young man that bare his armour, Come, and let us go over unto the garrison of these uncircumcised: it may be that the LORD will work for us: for there is no restraint to the LORD to save by many or by few. KJV

And you know the outcome. They did indeed attack the Philistine garrison and killed them all, just the two of them.

The third story is taken from the life of Elisha in 2 Kings 6. You will recall that the king of Syria had sent his army to Dothan to capture the prophet because he always warned the king of Israel concerning his plans. They surrounded the city and the prophets servant arose and saw the army and became dismayed.

2 Kings 6:15-16
15 And when the servant of the man of God was risen early, and gone forth, behold, an host compassed the city both with horses and chariots. And his servant said unto him, Alas, my master! how shall we do?
16 And he answered, Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them. KJV

Elisha asked God to smite the Syrians with blindness and he led them away from the city.

Now, here is the application that I want to make.

You men know the situation that we are facing in our land. Christianity as we know it is dying and dying swiftly. The Philistine garrisons are everywhere. The cause is lost unless God does something dramatic.

If we sit still we will die. If we join ourselves to the failing church of our day, we shall die.
But it is nothing with God whether to save by many or by few.
And….those that be with us are more than they that be with them.

Let us then, armed with the whole armor of God, with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, advance on the enemy positions, laying hold of the great promises of God.

We say that we believe that our God is Sovereign. We say that we believe that He can do anything. We say that we believe in Him.

We know what He has done in the past for the Church when prayer warriors have stormed the gates of heaven imploring Him for a blessing. We have read of the mighty movings of God upon His people that have change the course of cultures and continents.

Then, let us venture forth, then, upon the Providence of God in prayer. Let us lay hold of Him and His promises and cry to Him until He hears our prayers. Even if He rebukes us and commands us to let Him go as He did Jacob. Though He wound us mightily, let us cling to Him and His promises until we are endued with power from on High, until He has granted us the request of our souls.

You know, for some of us, the end of our journey is not that far off. We have more days behind us than we have ahead of us. The night comes for us when we will no longer be able to work.

If there is any sin of prayerlessness in us, let us cast is from us in a mighty renewal of repentance in our souls and run the rest of our race in a dead sprint if, perchance, God might, like He did with Samson, use us just this once more before we die to bring this country back to Him.

Suppose we do this and fail. Suppose we apply all of our effort and He chooses not to give us our answer. Do you suppose that He will rebuke us at the Great Judgment for our labor?

Or do you suppose that it is more likely we will be rebuked for doing too little?

Let me share a little story with you in closing.

You may not know it but just off the western coast of Scotland is a string of islands. They are called ‘The Hebrides.’ In the last 1940’s those islands were visited in a remarkable way by the Spirit of God.

The islands were in a great spiritual difficulty. Scarcely any of the young people attended church at all and there was no real interest among them in the things of God.

One of the islands was called the Island of Mann. On the outskirts of a village named Barvas lived two elderly women, sisters named Peggy and Christine Smith. Peggy was 84 years old and completely blind. Christine was 82 and almost bent double with arthritis. Neither of the could get out of the house to attend church but they were greatly concerned about the people of their island, particularly the young folks. So, they committed themselves to pray earnestly for the Lord to do something to help their island. “Unable to attend public worship, their humble cottage became a sanctuary where they met with God.” One particular scripture became the focus of their prayers.

Isa 44:3-5
3 For I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground: I will pour my spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon thine offspring:
4 And they shall spring up as among the grass, as willows by the water courses.
5 One shall say, I am the LORD’s; and another shall call himself by the name of Jacob; and another shall subscribe with his hand unto the LORD, and surname himself by the name of Israel. KJV

“One night Peggy had a revelation, revival was coming and the church of her fathers would be crowded again with young people! She sent for the minister, the Rev. James Murray MacKay, and told him what God had shown her, asking him to call his elders and deacons together for special times of waiting upon God.”

At some point they became convinced that a man by the name of Duncan Campbell was the man that God wanted to come and speak to their church and their island. They persuaded their pastor to invited him but Mr. Campbell was not inclined to come and turned down the invitation. When their pastor told the ladies the news, they said something like, “do not worry, he will be here within four days.” Mr. Campbell was led to change his mind and did indeed come to the island.

For the next two years the Lord visited not only the Island of Mann but almost all of the other islands as will with a tremendous outpouring of His Spirit. Hundreds of people were converted including the majority of the young people of the island. Many of them became ministers, missionaries and church workers.

All because two little ladies gave themselves to pray and God used them.

Who knows what God might do with you?