Christian Living

When Prayer Doesn’t Work

I know, I know–blasphemous to suggest that prayer doesn’t work. Hear me out 🙂 Do you ever read something and it’s like a punch in the gut? A good one in the sense that it exposes an issue in your life but, man, is it uncomfortable. That happened to me recently. I’m still working my way through Live a Praying Life by Jennifer Kennedy Dean. As you might imagine, it’s all about prayer. She has a section on sort of trouble-shooting why your prayers might not be working.

She says, “Attempting to justify the lack of powerful praying, we have tried to reduce prayer to an activity that will match our experience, rather than looking for the source of prayer’s failure in ourselves,” (Live a Praying Life, 139).


She goes on to list a few verses where God makes some incredible promises about prayer and has you note both the promise and the condition. Here, I’ll show you:

  • Mark 11:24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.
  • John 14:14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.
  • John 15:7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.
  • John 16:23 In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.
  • Matt 21:22 If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.
    Mark 9:23 “ ‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”

Those are some surreal promises–at least for me. The idea that God will give us whatever we ask for in prayer is crazy-go-nuts. I have definitely fallen into the trap of dumbing my prayers down to match what I think is reasonable to ask for. I love where Jennifer Dean says that our lack of power in prayer isn’t prayer’s fault or God’s fault. Her example in the book is someone who has an illness and goes to a doctor. The doctor gives them medicine and then tells them to take it a certain way at a certain time for ten days. The person maybe takes the medicine for a few days but then gives up when they don’t notice enough of a change. If they go back to the doctor and say they still aren’t healthy, whose fault is it?

God has given us the prerequisites for making prayer work–believe that we’ve received what we’ve prayed for, ask in Jesus’ name, remain in Jesus and have His words remain in us, ask for the things we want, ask in Jesus’ name, believe, ask in prayer, and believe. Notice the recurring themes there? Lots of believing and asking and being in Jesus.

If my prayers aren’t being answered, the issue somewhere in the prerequisites. Or sometimes its in the fact that I haven’t actually taken the step to pray. Sometimes I just wish that God would do something rather than ask Him to, if that makes sense.

Obviously, God does sometimes say “no.” No is still an answer–I like to remind myself that it’s “No, I have something better.” So, I’m not saying that if you pray for something that’s horrible for you, God will give it to you. I think our position as God’s children means He is careful to give us the things that are good for us. As Jennifer Kennedy Dean puts it, “prayer is releasing the power of God for the purposes of God” (Praying Life, 150). God’s not going to release His power to accomplish something that isn’t for our best (Rom. 8:28) because that would be against His purposes.

These verses really challenged me to think about what I’m praying for and to be bolder in my prayers. I hope they do the same for you!

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