What to do When Frustrated that Your Prayer Isn’t Working

As a Christian your head believes prayer works, and you might even try to “defend” God if someone tries to tell you otherwise. But if that’s true, why do so many Christians seem frustrated that God hasn’t answered their prayers? Does God not care? What do you do when prayer isn’t working?

It might seem dangerous to ask those questions. But I come from the premise that God is good – all the time, and that He invites our questions. So if the problem is not on God’s side, what are we missing? Many times each week I hear from people frustrated that their prayer isn’t working. Perhaps you can identify:

  • Salome’s anxiety is paralyzing regardless of how many Bible verses she recites or how often she begs God for relief.
  • Jeremiah keeps asking God to remove his decades-long pornography addiction, but he always finds himself going back to the same behavior.
  • Martha’s husband blames her for their marriage problems and spends most of his time with another woman. How long is she supposed to keep praying for God to fix her marriage?

As a doctor one of the things I do is write prescriptions. If a patient puts that piece of paper in her purse it won’t work. She can even read it every day, or try to eat the paper; it still won’t work. She might even get angry and call be a bad doctor for not helping her.

Like a prescription from your doctor, prayer does work! But it works when we get it filled and take it “as directed.”

So when your prayer isn’t working, are you taking the prescription? How do you do that?

Beyond Making Requests, Ask Questions

You’ve heard repeatedly that God wants a relationship with You. What would your relationship with your spouse or best friend be like if the only communication you had with them was asking for things? That’s not much of a relationship!

It’s the same with God.

Yes, ask God for what you need! Jesus would often ask those who came to Him, “What do you want?” (See John 1:38, Mark 10:36, Luke 18:41) As a parent, you honor God when He is the One to whom you bring your requests. He often told His followers to ask God for their needs.

But if your prayers are nothing more than a list of requests, they will soon get stale, repetitive, and meaningless.

Prayer is intended to be a conversation. You share your heart with God, give Him access to your feelings, doubts, fears, hopes, all of it. You spend time thanking Him for what He has done for you. And it’s so important to just be with Him.

And then ask questions. “Jesus, will You interpret this for me? What’s going on here?” Or, “Jesus, what step am I supposed to take next? How do You want me to cooperate with what You are doing?” Or, “Jesus, who do You need me to be to my [spouse, friend, child, boss, coworker, etc.] in this season?”

I can’t express how deeply asking questions revolutionized my prayer life. It’s not me trying to figure things out and then asking God to “bless” what I want to do. Instead, it’s a posture of following Jesus, seeking to understand what He is doing, and coming to trust Him when I don’t yet understand.

Working With God

Asking questions becomes especially powerful in helping you understand what you are to do next.

If you’ve been here a while, you’ve seen me refer to this passage from Paul: “Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12-13)

God works. And we work. It’s cooperating with Him.

Scientific research on spirituality and health bears this out. Those who sit back and wait for someone – even God – to “fix” them don’t do well. Neither do those who try to figure it out and fix things on their own. The ones who come through challenges with the most resilience and wellbeing are those who see themselves cooperating with God.

This means letting go of the outcome. Yes, you make your requests known to God, but you have decided to trust and follow Him even if. You ask Him to heal you, but you choose to trust Him even if you remain ill. He can work in your marriage, but you will trust Him regardless of whether or not your marriage is restored. Don’t pretend God is working for you! You are His child, His servant, not the other way around.

Things in this world are not yet as God would have them We live in the in-between time, between the kingdom of God coming in reality when Jesus came to earth, and the time yet to come when it will be manifest in fullness at His Second Coming. And we can trust Him even in this season.

Your Actions

So what do you do in addition to prayer? That depends primarily on what you have heard from God. And be especially cautious if you hear exactly what you want to hear; your emotions can cloud God’s voice. That doesn’t mean God won’t say what you want, but be cautious.

And when you ask what step you are to take next, that might be something like;

  • Take your grubby hands off your spouse so God can do His work
  • Change your eating or exercise patterns in order to steward your body as His temple
  • Say NO to some people or opportunities that are hard to say No to
  • Risk getting vulnerable with someone or a few people, for your own healing
  • Be outrageously generous when it seems you will have nothing left
  • Move forward in taking steps that seem risky, crazy, and scary
  • Spend consistent time alone with Him preparing your soul’s foundation before doing anything else

As Mary told the servants at the wedding at Cana, “Do whatever he tells you.” (John 2:5)

When God tells you something, just say Yes. Not “but I can’t,” or “if You will, then I will,” or “that doesn’t make sense.” Just say Yes.

And keep doing whatever He tells you until He tells you differently. Keep listening, of course. But trust that He’s good enough for you too!

Your Turn: Has it seemed your prayer isn’t “working?” What questions do you need to ask? Are you staying quiet long enough to hear whatever God might say? And are you doing anything He tells you to do?  Leave a comment below.

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  • If it seems your prayer isn’t working, it’s time to look deeper. Let go of the outcome. Ask questions. And when God tells you to do something, just do it. Tweet that.

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