Why Prayer is Not Enough: What to Do When You’re Still Struggling

For the follower of Jesus who is feeling close to Him, the words “prayer is not enough” may seem like heresy, or at least click-bait. But for some Christians who have prayed and prayed and prayed and are still struggling and suffering, those words may feel like “tell me something I don’t know.” How are we to think of this? And what do we do from here?

A brief clarification; based on everything Jesus did and said, God invites us to talk to Him and bring Him our needs. He loves to hear us call to Him, and like a good Father He delights to give good gifts to His children.

And, God is not a heavenly vending machine; put in the right prayer and get out the blessing you want. He’s too big for that. Jesus did not call His followers to a “good life,” but as Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” In this world we will have both real joy and real suffering.

But some, even much, of our suffering is optional. Often we are own worst enemy. And let me also remind you that we have an enemy who delights in nothing more than to induce people to blame God for the havoc he himself creates or that we as sinful human beings do to ourselves.

This applies especially to our transformation. In healing from brokenness or trauma, in overcoming sinful attitudes or behavior patterns, in becoming “more than conquerors” (Romans 8:37), what do we do when it feels like prayer is not enough?

Ask Jesus Questions

Asking God to “fix” you is a good prayer. It’s right to ask Him to set you free from addiction such as to porn, to heal your trauma that makes you recoil from intimacy, to fix your troubled marriage, etc. Jesus, HELP! Call out to Him and keep doing so.

And prayer is more than making requests. If your conversations with your best friend were only asking for things it wouldn’t be much of a relationship. You need to listen as much or more than ask. And an ideal way to do that is to ask questions. Here are two helpful questions to pray:

  • Jesus, what’s going on here? You need His perspective! Are you dealing with consequences of your own bad behavior? With others’ bad behavior? With direct spiritual warfare? Perhaps this is just living in a sinful world. Don’t assume you know the answer; ask Him.
  • Jesus, what step am I to take next? You need His answer to this question even more. God rarely drops healing or freedom or any goodness on you as if from “on high;” almost always He works through a process of your transformation in which you must cooperate with Him. What does He want you to do?

When you ask these questions in prayer, take time to get quiet and listen for His answers.

Do the Work

Even in the worst possible circumstances take time to prayerfully consider, “Who is God asking me to be in this season?” Get His input on where you have agency, and then do whatever He tells you.

Jesus made clear that when He asks us to do something He expects us to follow through (see Matthew 7:24-27). This is not “trying harder!” It’s not working to figure it out and make it happen. You are following Jesus.

For example, Step 3 of the 12 steps is to turn your life over to the care of God. And the rest of steps are walking that out. There are always things we do to walk out what God is doing in us (see Philippians 2:12-13). This is not passive; it’s actively cooperating with God.

Neurobiologically, think of how sin has corrupted and messed up our brain pathways – sin done to us, and that which we do ourselves. As wonderful as forgiveness is, it’s just one step. The things we do in cooperating with God are what’s required to build new brain pathways so that we become who God is inviting us to become.

That includes getting below the surface and looking at the roots of your “stuff.” You develop a robust escape plan for where you are vulnerable and tempted. You become ruthlessly intentional about the media input and people you allow into your life. And you do the work of staying deeply connected with Jesus. If your “stuff” is related to sexuality, we have a special download that talks about this more: A 5-Part Prescription for Sexual Healing – God’s Way.

Stay Connected

There’s no more important part of doing the work than to stay connected – with others, and with God.

So many people I talk with who are struggling with “stuff” want to do this on their own, just “me and Jesus.” But that’s almost never how God works. He created you and me with the true need for intimacy, for connection, to know and be known. That applies regardless of gender, age, or relationship status. It’s messy, scary, and hard. But you cannot become whole without that! You absolutely must find your people. Put extraordinary effort there.

And of course you must stay connected with Jesus. This has absolutely nothing to do with religious rituals or an intellectual Bible study. This is about bringing your deepest self into God’s presence, with all the angst that’s there, and allowing Him to see you and be with you.

This kind of connection with God and with others is how Jesus intended us to become like Him. You cannot help but become like those you spend the most time with. Neurobiologically we understand a lot today about how this works, but it’s always been how Jesus planned for us to be transformed. It’s how Peter and John (and the other disciples) became changed; “they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13). Being with is what makes the difference.

Prayer Not Enough?

If you’ve been praying and praying and it seems nothing is “working,” look again at these aspects of your life. Are you asking Jesus questions and getting quiet long enough to listen for the answers? Are you doing the work once you hear something He’s asking you to do? And are you investing deeply, scarily, and often in staying connected with Him and with others?

If it seems prayer is not enough, which of these things do you need to pay attention to?

Your Turn: Have you been frustrated when it seems prayer is not enough? Which of these steps are you going to invest in next? Leave a comment below.

Want more? This week on the podcast I outline why more information won’t change our sexually broken culture, and what is needed instead. Listen or watch.

Tweetables: why not share this post?

  • Prayer is not enough. As heretical as that may sound, Jesus was clear that asking God for things is not enough. We must also listen for His voice, do what He says, and stay deeply connected – to God Himself and to others. Tweet that.

Need Help to Apply This to Your Sexuality?

My new book is about just that; Sexpectations: Reframing Your Good and Not-So-Good Stories About God, Love, and Relationships.

If your heart is struggling with anything around sex, love, and intimacy, you need this! This book will help you:

  • reinterpret your sexual story with honesty and compassion
  • find freedom from shame, compulsive behaviors, past harm, and hiding
  • redefine the way you look at God, sex, love, and relationships
  • orient your sexuality as God intended and embrace what He has for your future
  • experience Jesus coming right into the middle of your story to bring healing and wholeness

Check out our new Sexpectations website where you can find related resources. You can download a free chapter of the book, and order the book for yourself.