Unconfessed Sin: Why Most Prayers Go Unanswered

by Roger Barrier

Dear Roger,

My wife and I both grew up in the Roman Catholic tradition but lost interest a number of years ago. Recently some of our friends invited us to go to their Protestant church and I must say that we really enjoyed it. In fact, we are going almost every week.

However, I wonder why the leaders never talk about confessing sins. I used to look forward to confession. I know that sounds strange; but, I felt so clean afterwards.

I know that confessing sins is important because we learned James 5:16 in Catholic school: “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed closing quote” (James 5:16).

Sincerely, Evan

Dear Evan,

I consider confession of sin to be the “lost art” of the Evangelical Christian church. I consider this to be a great tragedy. Unconfessed sin dirties up our relationship with God. Unconfessed sin is why most prayers go unanswered.

Isaiah declared this in Isaiah 59:2: “But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.”

It’s not so much that God will not hear us as much as it is that he will not even look at us.

The New Testament parallel is Matthew 5:8: “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.”

People ask me all the time why their prayers are not answered. In my opinion the most often reason is because they are harboring unconfessed sin in their lives.

For example, 95% of all divorces have money problems as significant contributing factors. I’m reminded of how many times I’ve been asked to pray for someone’s finances. They may beg and plead for God to take care of their financial needs but it’s like the heavens are brass. Then, they often get mad at God for not answering their prayers when their lives are falling apart. However, all the time they are trying to pray they are wrapped up in the sin of materialism, spending everything they make on themselves; not having any left over for those in need; neglecting to say for the future; going into credit card debt; and refusing to give God the top 10% of their incomes.

I’m sure that God would love to take care of their finances; and sometimes, in His grace, he does. However, most of the time Isaiah 59:2, and Matthew 5:8 come into play and God doesn’t even hear their prayers, much less answer them.

I’ll make this so simple that no one can miss it: “Unconfessed sin stops prayer in its tracks.”

Of course, there are other things that hinder our prayers. But as far as I’m concerned confessing our sins is where process of answered prayer begins. For example, we can have all the faith in the world! But faith can’t move into the picture until unconfessed sin opens the door.

Fortunately, God has provided confession so that hindered prayer may no longer be hindered.

Unfortunately, through years of neglect, and lack of teaching and practice, it seems to me that most Christians not only neglect confession, they don’t know how to make an effective one!

1 John 1:9 is the foundation of verse, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

Once our sins are confessed, God can begin answering our prayers.

Let me share with you the necessary ingredients for a proper confession of sin.

1. The Word “Confession” Means “To Agree With”.

We began our prayer agreeing with God that what we did was wrong. We need to be specific. This is not the time to argue with God or give rationalizations for why we did what we did.

2. We Repent Of What We Did Wrong.

“Repent” means to turn around. In other words, we tell God that we have no intention of continuing in particular sin. We want to turn around and head a new direction.
Sometimes, we don’t want to turn our lives in the right direction. That’s okay as long as we realize that God will no longer hear our prayers.

3. Dirty Sins Need Individual Attention.

Too often I hear Christians confessing their sins by saying things like, “Dear God, would you please forgive all the sins that I’ve committed today.” I say to that type of confession, “If that’s the best you can do, don’t bother.”

The first time that I ever washed my clothes was after my first week of college. I had other chores that I did at home, but doing the laundry was never one of them. Mom sewed me a canvas bag and told me that when it was full, to go to the laundromat and use a washing machine and close dryer.

I was in a hurry and decided to speed things up by just tossing in a whole duffle bag filled with dirty clothes into the washer. I put money in the slot and turned on the washer. Soon afterward my washer began to jump and wiggle all over the floor. That’s what happens when washers are unbalanced. But I didn’t know that then. I was marveling at what to do next when a pretty college girl tapped me on the shoulder and asked , “Would you like some help?” I nodded.

She lifted the lid and the washer stopped spinning. She then picked up my bag and shook my soaking wet dirty clothes out of the bag and back into the washer. She looked at me and grinned while she said, “Dirty clothes need individual attention. Take them out of the bag next time.”

Dirty sins are like dirty clothes. They need individual attention.

4. It’s Not Possible To Properly Confess Sins Without Entering Into “Godly Sorrow.”

Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians: 7:10: “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.”

“Godly Sorrow” means that I began to feel what Jesus was feeling when he watched me do what I did, or said, or thought, or didn’t do what I should’ve done.

My wife, Julie, is a creative genius. Totally right brained, she has difficulty accomplishing last brain tasks–like keeping up with her keys. Sometimes, she calls me from the shopping mall and frantically tell me that someone has stolen her car. Of course, it’s not stolen, she just lost it. Being an orchestra conductor requires many hours of rehearsals. I can’t tell you how many times she’s called me at ten or eleven o’clock at night to tell me that she can’t find her keys and that I need to come to church and take her home. I get so tired of it.

One afternoon I pulled up beside her car in the church parking lot. I looked in the front seat and the keys were on the front seat and the doors were locked. I thought, “Once again the late night phone call to pick her up would come.”

I decided to settle this once and for all.

I went into the church building where Julie was practicing with seven child violinists to lead worship on Sunday. I was so angry that I stormed down the aisle, shaking her keys. I was shouting, “Do you know where these were? Do you know where these were? Of course you don’t. You lost them again and I’ve just about had it!” I threw the keys on the piano, turned around, and stormed back to my office. I imagine that the seven children are still in a state of shock from observing their pastor’s behavior!

As I cooled down I began to feel really badly about my behavior. In fact, it was time for some godly sorrow. I begin to imagine what Jesus was feeling when I stormed down the aisle shaking the keys and yelling at Julie. Jesus’ heart was hurting for her. I’m twice her size and I stood over her shaking keys yelling. I began to realize she was probably afraid. I had not only sinned against Jesus I’d send against Julie Jesus was hurting from her. I was feeling very sorry for how I behave.

Then I imagined Jesus turning his attention toward me. “Look at Roger! Look how he’s behaving. Look at is out of control anger. It breaks my heart to see how he’s acting.”

I began to imagine Jesus was weeping for Julie and weeping for me as he watched my escapade. Godly sorrow was occurring.

We need to be careful at this point. Too many of us commit ten gallons of sin and only ask for a pint’s worth of forgiveness. Godly sorrow helps us to ask for enough forgiveness to cover all ten gallons..

5. Now It’s Time To Tell God How Sorry We Are And To Ask For His Forgiveness.

Once we begin to experience godly sorrow there’s no doubt we will truly be sorry when we ask for forgiveness.

6. Now it’s time to ask for forgiveness.

Out of mercy, grace and Christ’s work on the cross, he forgives us. He’s ready now to listen and respond to our prayers.

Of course, I need to deal with Julie’s pain, fear and hurt. So, I sit quietly with Julie and take all the time needed to confess my sin against her. I want her to tell me how much that I’ve hurt her. I don’t want to ask for a pint’s worth of forgiveness when I heard her 10 gallons worth the pain.

7. Don’t Worry About The Sins You Can’t Remember.

However, when God brings them to mind, stop what you’re doing and confess.

We want our inner spirits to be clean and pure. We want nothing to impair our praying and talking with God.

When I confess my sins to God I might pray something like this:

“Dear father, today at 4 o’clock in the worship center, I sinned against Julie and against you. I agree with you that yelling at Julie, shaking the keys, throwing them on the piano and losing control of my emotions were all wrong.
I repent of these sins. I want to turn my life around and never ever act like that against Julie or against anyone else.
I want to now enter into godly sorrow and imagine what you were feeling when you watched me treat Julie like I did. I’m sorry for what I did. Will you please forgive me?

I suggest that you get a close friend and confess your sins. Remember James wrote that we should confess our sins to each other so that our prayers won’t be hindered.

Evan, may your innermost spirit be always clean and pure so that your prayers may never be hindered.

Sincerely, Roger

Love, Roger

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