Prayer and a Clean Heart

By Alvin VanderGriend

Sin hinders prayer. A person may pray and pray without receiving an answer, and then conclude that the problem is in God. In reality the problem may be in the person’s heart. David understood that if he cherished sin in his heart, the Lord would not hear him.

One of the worst things about sin is that it obstructs prayer. We are shut out from God when we cherish sin because God is holy and cannot tolerate sin in his presence.

When sin blocks prayer, the real problem is not that we have sinned but that, having sinned, we have not repented. It is only unconfessed sin, cherished in our hearts, that inhibits our prayers. Forgiven sin does not hinder prayer. Forgiven sinners are welcome in God’s presence.

Always eager to have us come into his presence, God has provided a way for sin to be removed through Jesus’ blood so that we can come and not be hindered. John says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). When it’s forgiven, our sin is gone, and it no longer impedes.

The first requirement of prayer, then, is to confess anything in your heart that is not of God. When your sin is forgiven, you can be confident that God will hear and answer your prayers.

Don’t be afraid to take inventory and to deal with what you find. Recently when I was confronted with a list of 20 sin-identifying Scripture texts, I at first thought, “My heart is clean before God. I don’t have anything to confess.” But I went through the list anyway, and to my amazement I found five areas of sin that needed to be dealt with. So I clearly identified what was offensive to God, confessed those things, and claimed God’s forgiving grace. Through that I again discovered complete freedom in prayer. We can’t have the privilege of prayer without purity of heart.

Not only does sin hinder prayer; prayer hinders sin. The two are always opposed. The more careless we are about sin, the less we will pray. The more we pray, the less careless we will be about sin. Both sin and prayer are powerful forces. Which one is moving you?


Is there any area of your life about which you are uneasy before God? Risk taking a closer look at it. You may find a “cherished” sin. Can you say to yourself with confidence what David said: “God has surely listened and heard my voice in prayer”?


  • Praise God that “he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins” (1 John 1:9).
  • Ask God to search your heart and life and to reveal to you any sin you may need to deal with.
  • Confess any sin that the Spirit brings to your attention.
  • Thank God for forgiving your sin and purifying you from all unrighteousness so that you can go confidently into his presence.

–Dr. Alvin VanderGriend was the founder of the Denominational Prayer Leaders Network and the author of numerous books on prayer. Many prayer leaders feel that his bestseller, Love to Pray, from which this article is adapted, easily has the most complete, yet simple, theology of prayer of any book in print. Do yourself a favor and get a copy!