This concept of clean hands is not only used in referring to the sanitation of our actual hands but in the legal system is a reference to someone coming to court without any current pending legal litigation, liabilities, or outstanding warrants. You cannot come into court and ask a judge to grant you a court order for what you are asking if you have pending legal action against you. This is referred to as not having “clean hands”. The judge will not hear the case or will not decide in your favor if you do not have clean hands because it proves that you are not able to live within the laws of the land at the current time. I’ve sat in court many times and witnessed people attempting to sue someone over money or possessions, or even custody of children, only for them to walk away empty-handed because they did not have “clean hands.” It is not until they have proven that they are living within the law that the judge will actually hear what they have to say and consider ruling within their favor.
It is this concept of “clean hands” that started me thinking about prayers and why some prayers are answered and some seem to go unanswered. I have counseled many people who are living a righteous life and I see God living in their life and their prayers being answered in God’s time. Then I have also worked with those who believe they are living a righteous life, when in actuality they are not, and their prayers rarely become answered but they do not understand why. In the Bible it does state to fervently ask in prayer and you shall receive but it does not say when you shall receive it or under what condition. This concept of clean hands started me with a little research about our prayer lives and how that Christ is our ultimate judge, then how can we come to him in prayer without clean hands and expect them to be honored.
There are many Scriptures that reference prayer and how our prayer life is to be. If we look at Matthew 6, we are told not to babble on and asked over and over again and then we are given the Lord’s Prayer as an example to follow. In Luke 18, we are given the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector where the Pharisee “stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank you that I am not like other men – extortioners unjust adulterers or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I possess” (Luke 18:11-12 NKJ V). While the tax collector stood “far-off would not even raise his eyes to the heaven, but beat his breast saying, God, be merciful to me a sinner!” (Luke 18:13 NKJV). Jesus reply was in verse 14 and it says “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted”.
As I studied, I started seeing the trend of having clean hands in order for our prayers to be answered. In James 5:16 it states “confess your trespasses to one another and pray for another that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” If you look at this verse in a different version it says “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.” It is the confessing of our sins that creates the clean hands so that we may approach God with our prayers and He will listen” (NLT).
As I reflected in the Scriptures, I started remembering an old saying that I used to hear when I was young that I do not hear much today, and that is “clean hands, clean heart”. As I remembered that saying, it finally made sense to me what “clean hands, clean heart” meant. If our hands are clean, our hearts are clean and it allows us to approach Christ in prayer so that the things that we ask, if they are within his will, will be answered. On the other hand, what right do we have to expect Christ to answer our prayers when we approach him with dirty hands and a heart full of sin that we are unwilling to repent or confess? It is just like the judge who looks at the person who has filed suit against another but does not have clean hands. If you can’t live within the laws of this land then why should I grant you judgment in your favor based on the laws of this land?
In first Peter 3:7, we are even given individual instruction for men, for it says “In the same way, you husbands must give honor to your wives. Treat your wife with understanding as you live together. She may be weaker than you are, but she is your equal partner in God’s gift of new life. Treat her as you should so your prayers will not be hindered” (NLT). So as a husband my instruction is to give honor to my wife and to treat her with understanding as we live together so that my prayers will not be hindered. I wonder how many husbands have actually read and understand the meaning of that verse?
I think Proverbs 15: 28-30 makes it plain, “ the heart of the godly thinks carefully before speaking; the mouth of the wicked overflows with evil words The Lord is far from the wicked,
but he hears the prayers of the righteous. A cheerful look brings joy to the heart; good news makes for good health” (NLT). The Lord is far from the wicked but he hears the prayers of the righteous, what a profound statement.
It seems that since God is a personal God, all people can offer prayers but not all people will have their prayers answered. Sinners who have not trusted Jesus Christ for the salvation will remain alienated from God and their prayers will go unanswered. They have not met the conditions laid down in the Bible for effectiveness and prayer. Effective prayer must be a scripturally informed response of a person who is saved by grace from the living God who in Christ Jesus paid the penalty for our sins through his blood on the cross.
So what makes a prayer and effective prayer? In order for it to be effective we must first have faith in Christ, we must worship him and recognize that he is of the highest worth in our life; not ourselves, our spouse, or others, only God. We must have adoration for God and his love for us and all that He has demonstrated through the gift of His son. Our lives should be expressed, as His has been expressed, in both our words, and our actions. We must give Thanksgiving for all things that we have received whether they are pleasant or unpleasant. As sinners we are not people of God by nature, we have no claim upon His mercy or grace. It is when we do not show gratitude for what God has given us, that we do not glorify him, that we are not be an effective in prayer. We must show dedicated action as a believer in Christ in order to have effective prayer. God did not call us to withdraw from society but to render service to the needy in the spirit of prayer and service. Our prayers can include a request, but not just a quest for our needs but also the needs of others. Prayer is a powerful tool that God has given us and the effective prayer can meet the inner needs of anyone. It will give us freedom from our fear, guidance and satisfaction, wisdom and understanding, deliverance from harm, reward, good gifts, fullness of joy, peace, and freedom from anxiety. Prayer can and will make a difference in your life and others if it is an effective prayer from a person with clean hands and a clean heart.
According to Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary there are several hindrances to answered prayer and they are:
· iniquity in the heart
· refusal to hear God’s law
· an estranged heart
· sinful separation from God
· offering unworthy sacrifices
· praying to be seen by people
· pride in fasting and tithing
· lack of faith
· doubting or double mindedness (p.1023)
So when it comes to our prayer life, the term “clean hands” has a specific meaning. We must examine our own heart and the cleanliness of our hands and heart before we are to approach our Savior with prayer and expect it to be answered. As I worked in the counseling field I find in many people the lack of clean hands. As a society we have become afraid to stand up to someone and a question their motives for why they do what they do. As I sit and talk to those who are brokenhearted and cannot understand why God has not answered their prayer, I listened to the many things in their life that they have placed before God and the many ways in their life that they have replaced God’s law with their own version of law. So I ask each of you and anyone that reads this, before your next prayer sit down in a quiet spot and talk to God and confess your sins to him, repent of your sins, and clean your hands while you clean your heart so that he may listen to your prayer, and that it may be an effective prayer, and one that will be answered. For Christ is the judge of all and in order for us to be heard we must all have “clean hands, clean hearts”.