Why Your Prayers Aren't 'Working'
How prayer can turn into an empty exercise.
I wish I could say that my prayer life is one defined by consistent authenticity and audacious faith.
But if I’m being honest …
Prayer is one of the places I struggle the most in my walk with God. I struggle with slowing down long enough to pray. I struggle with finding a quiet place and getting alone. I struggle with praying big prayers with big faith. I struggle with being consistent and fervent with my prayers. I even struggle sometimes with following through with a promise I make to pray for someone.
What I realized recently though is that the place I may struggle the most in prayer is actually my expectancy. I’ve discovered my really biggest problem with prayer is that I just go through the motions.
I love our corporate prayer times at church because it reminds me to pray with faith and expectancy. We meet weekly for a dedicated hour of corporate prayer, and it is truly a beautiful sight. It’s also quite obvious that there is a atmosphere of expectancy. There’s really no other way to explain why hundreds of people would show up to pray together in the middle of the week. We don’t just show up to pray. We show up to pray to watch God move.
You might be thinking that it wouldn’t make a lot of sense to go through the trouble of praying if you didn’t expect something to happen—but I can assure you that it is quite easy to do.
In my case, it’s not that I doubt God’s power; it’s just that I so easily fall into a pattern of checklist Christianity.
I make prayer a religious task instead of a natural part of my relationship with Him. Instead of praying with heartfelt expectation, I often find myself just going through the motions. I allow it to become more discipline, than delight—more duty than devotion.
Prayer without expectancy is prayer without power. And what I learned by watching a room filled with expectant prayer is that if I am praying without expectancy then I’m really praying without faith. And prayer without faith is not really prayer at all – it’s just empty religion.
Prayer was never meant to be part of checklist or just a bunch of empty words tossed up in the air. In fact, Jesus specifically warns of this type of heartless, faithless prayer in Matthew 6:7: “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words.”
Prayer is simply a conversation with God that is defined by faith. It’s the humble act of taking our natural concerns to a supernatural God.
I don’t really think that the prayer has to look a certain way or sound a certain way to be heard by God. I don’t think that we have to be kneeled by a bed or locked in a prayer closet. And I don’t believe that a long prayer impresses Him or a short prayer disappoints Him. I just think that He wants us to be honest with Him and to pray with whatever faith that we can muster.
We can always pray with expectancy, because God always hears and answers our prayers. It may not be a “Yes”, but it will always be what is best, whether we understand it or not. Tim Keller says, “God will either give us what we ask or give us what we would have asked if we knew everything He knows.”
Never forget that we pray to a God who works wonders (Psalm 77:14). A God who raises the dead and heals the brokenhearted (Psalm 147:3). A God who gives sight to the blind and strength to the weak (Isaiah 40:29). A God who is able to do far above anything we could ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20).
Prayer is far too powerful to allow routine or religion to steal its effectiveness.