We all know that we should be praying, right? But with so many demands on our time, it can be difficult to sit quietly before God. Especially when we feel like we aren’t accomplishing anything with our prayers.
Everyone has times when it feels as though their prayers are bouncing off the ceiling. It doesn’t matter how many times we are told that prayer is powerful and that God always hears us. When we don’t get answers to our prayers, it’s discouraging. When we feel far from God, it is hard to talk to Him. Many times, we just give up. It’s just not worth the frustration.
Except it is. Cultivating a relationship with God that includes a vibrant prayer life is most definitely worth any amount of frustration. You can get there. God will help. You just have to be patient and persistent.
The first step is to identify what is making it so difficult for you to connect with God during your prayers. Be honest as you read down through the list and try to figure out if any of these apply to you.
You Aren’t in a Relationship with Jesus
God hears everyone, Christian and non-Christian, and does sometimes choose to answer the prayers of the unsaved. But He has made special promises to hear His people that don’t apply to those not saved. The Bible is full of these promises, like John 15:7. “If you abide in me and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”
If it seems that your prayers are not making a difference, perhaps you need to reevaluate your relationship with God.
You’re Holding onto Sin
Sin is what originally separated us from God, and it still causes problems even after we’re saved. Unconfessed sin wreaks havoc on our prayer lives. God often holds Himself apart from us while we are refusing to repent in order to humble us and bring us back to Him. The Bible mentions several sins in particular in conjunction with ineffective prayer, including mistreating your spouse (1 Peter 3:7), ignoring the poor (Proverbs 21:13), and withholding forgiveness (Mark 11:25-26). Psalm 66:18 makes it clear that this doesn’t just apply to certain sins, however. It reads, “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.”
If God isn’t listening, perhaps you are ignoring sin in your life.
Praying for the Wrong Reasons
We should pray because we want to spend time with God and want to include Him in our lives. We pray because we need God’s power in our lives, and because we want Him to glorify Himself through us. What we shouldn’t do is pray to impress others or to get stuff.
Jesus says that if we are praying to put on a show for other people, God is not pleased (Matthew 6:5). While we shouldn’t be ashamed to be seen praying in public, our prayers are for God’s ears only. This can be particularly difficult to remember when we are praying in a group. Make sure you aren’t using prayer as a way to address the other people in the room. God should always be the focus of prayer.
Psalm 37:4 tells us to “delight yourself in the Lord; and He will give you the desires of your heart.” James, however, warns us that this doesn’t mean we can just use God to get whatever we want. “You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures” (James 4:3).
Take a look and what you’ve been praying for. Perhaps you need to change your motives for prayer.
You’re Praying Empty Prayers
Matthew 6:7 reads, “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.” This verse has been used to condemn rote prayers, which can turn into empty phrases if we repeat them day after day without thinking about what we’re doing. But just as rote prayers can be meaningful, our own words can be empty if we aren’t being genuine.
It’s easy to slip into the Christian lingo when we start to pray. “Dear God, thank you for this day. Please bless So-and-So and be with us this week. Amen.” If we’re not paying attention to our own prayers, why should God? We need to be fully engaged in what we’re doing when we address God.
If you really have trouble with your mind wandering, using a prayer journal can help keep you focused.
You Lack Faith
If there’s a recurring pattern of not getting the answer you want to prayer, it can be hard to really believe that this time will be any different. But praying without faith will not have nearly the same effect as boldly praying without doubt. In Mark 11:24 Jesus says, “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”
No matter how hard it gets, keep praying. No matter how many times God tells you no, keep praying. God is listening, and He will reward your perseverance. Ask for His help in overcoming these obstacles to prayer. When you are in tune with God, all those frustrating, empty prayers will have absolutely been worth it.