Hearing aids are a significant blessing to our family. In God’s gracious providence, these electronic devices have given the gift of hearing to four of our children. Whether it’s the typical battery-powered hearing aid, which became popular in the 1950’s, or the newer bionic technology known as cochlear implants, our family has been tremendously blessed by our children being given the ability to interact and succeed in the hearing world.
Over the years, the ability to hear or not hear—to listen or not listen—has been a tool to remind me of an important lesson pertaining to prayer. God delights in hearing His children. However, Scripture also teaches us that there are reasons He may choose not to listen. Simple stated, God listens to those who listen to Him. He makes that clear in His Word. God said to His people through the prophet Isaiah, “to this one I will look, to him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word” (Isa 66:2). Jeremiah also warned rebellious Israel (Jer 11:9-11). But Isaiah and Jeremiah were not the only prophets who announced this kind of warning. Zechariah was another. And from his words we learn how stubbornness hinders prayer.
Who was Zechariah?
Zechariah was one of the prophets who spoke God’s Word to His people during the period following the exile, when God had His people carried away to foreign lands. Together with Haggai and Malachi, Zechariah called the people to repentance and renewed obedience. His name means “the Lord remembers,” which is fitting. For 70 years, God had chastened His people by means of the captivity in Babylon, but clearly God had not forgotten them. He remembered His covenant promise to them. Central to the covenant was the promise of the Messiah. Therefore, it’s no surprise to find that Zechariah prophesied of both the first and second comings of the Messiah.
Zechariah was born in Babylon, but returned to Jerusalem with his father and grandfather as part of the first wave of people who returned from captivity. This took place in 538 B.C., when Cyrus the king of Persia freed the captives so that they could return to their homeland. About 50,000 returned to Jerusalem in the first wave. Immediately they began rebuilding the temple, but they were opposed from outside, and attacked and discouraged from within. So the building project stopped, and was stalled for 16 years. Then God sent Zechariah and Haggai. Haggai called the people to resume and complete the rebuilding of the temple, while Zechariah called them to repent of their false worship and return to obeying the Lord from a true heart.
The book begins this way, “Return to me, says the Lord.” Why Did God Command His People to Return to Him? They had wandered away from Him and His Word. How had they strayed? They would not listen to God’s messengers (Zech 1:1-4). Instead of being attentive to God’s voice spoken through his prophets the people closed their ears to God. This was the first step to their spiritual decline. This led to a surface religion, heartless ritual (Zech 7:1-7). From the prophet’s rebuke, we learn about the relationship between stubbornness and prayer. What does stubbornness do to our prayer lives? In the interaction between God’s prophet and the God’s people, we learn the answer. First, the prophet reminded them of God’s requirements.
GOD’S REQUIREMENTS (vv. 8-10)
Zechariah reminded the people of Judah that God had made His expectations clear through previous prophets. He had no use for their hypocritical, empty worship. What He wanted from them was the practical outworking of righteousness that flows from obedience to His word. But what was their response to God’s prophets?
JUDAH’S REFUSAL (vv. 11-12a)
But the people did not listen to, or obey, the previous prophets. Instead they refused to heed the commandments of God, turned a stubborn shoulder (Like a stubborn animal turns away from the yoke that his owner attempts to place on its shoulder), plugged their ears, and hardened their hearts.
Stubbornness makes us want what we want when we want it, even if it is ultimately not for our good. An illustration of this is found in 1 Samuel 8, in the people’s demand for a king. God would not listen to the people’s cry because they had already determined in their heart that they would not listen to Him. Getting their own way, and becoming like the peoples around them, were more important to them than learning and doing the will of God. But God loved them too much to leave them alone. He responded with discipline, just as the prophets had warned.
GOD’S RESPONSE (vv. 12b-14)
God was angry, closed His ears to their cries, and disciplined them. Sadly, we are not all that different from the Old Testament people of God. We, too, are sometimes stubborn in our hearts, rebellious in our wills, our hearts become hardened to the Word, and we invite the discipline of God. When we allow stubbornness to imprison our hearts then we lose fellowship with God and, as a result, God does not listen to our prayers. Why? Because our hearts are not soft and pliable toward Him.
Psalm 51:17 describes the kind of heart that God will never ever reject: The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise. A stubborn heart is the direct opposite of a contrite heart, a heart broken with humility. God says, “A contrite heart I will never despise.” But will God despise a stubborn heart? Yes, He will. If we are stubborn and close our ears to His Word, thus becoming unteachable and resistant, then we can pray until we are blue in the face, but God will not answer. He will say, “I called to you and you would not listen, so you will call to Me and I will not listen.” But there is hope. If that stubborn heart becomes a broken heart, then God will listen again.
Where Do We Go From Here?
In Psalm 32, King David begins a song rejoicing in the blessing of forgiveness (Ps 32:1-2). But it wasn’t always this way. David did not always know the blessing of being forgiven (Ps 32:3-5). What kept David from experiencing the blessing of forgiveness and fellowship with God for so long? Stubbornness (verse 9). However, once he confessed his sin to God and received His merciful cleansing he was prepared to teach us a very important lesson: The godly person is not one who does not sin, but rather one who is quick to admit his or her sin and seek forgiveness. Sin is ungodly, but there is a godly response to sin.
Stubbornness hinders our relationship with God and, consequently, hinders our prayers. If this describes you then let the Holy Spirit soften your hardened heart. Confess your stubbornness to God and ask Him to give you a broken spirit and a contrite heart in its place. Jesus died for your stubbornness.
In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus invites us: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you [Don’t turn a stubborn shoulder away from the lordship of Christ], and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” When we are tender and humble before the Lord, He opens His ears wide to our prayers. It is only Jesus who makes this possible.
Read more about hindrances to prayer in Brass Heavens: 6 Reasons for Unanswered Prayer.