When You Pray and it Doesn’t “Work”

For 6 months I got used to waking in the middle of the night, prompted to pray for my brother, who was fighting cancer. I prayed with many others for healing. I prayed specifically, passionately and with complete faith in God’s power.

He died July 18th.

You’ve had a similar experience? Yeah, I thought so.

These days I can get downright snippy with God. Now I wake in the night, or my mind turns to Him through the day and I sometimes think, “Why bother? Why talk to God about the lesser things when He did not seem to care enough to fix this great big thing?”IMG_1403

Of course I know some of the “right” theological answers to this question.

Yes, David was ultimately healed and is alive and whole and free of pain with Jesus.

Yes, we live in a broken world and illness and death are a consequence of the fall…God is sovereign…Our minds are too small to grasp His grander plans…He will cause ALL things to work together for good to those who love Him…He is more concerned about our character than our comfort… Blah blah blah…


Sometimes when you FEEL in the “depths of despair” as Anne of Green Gables would say, you don’t care about the words.

But I keep praying. I keep talking to God and I’ll tell you why.

I keep praying for the same reason a child keeps talking to her parents after she hasn’t gotten her way.

There’s something deep inside me that still knows that God loves me and I am drawn to Him.

There is something in me that knows there is something bigger going on.

Prayer doesn’t “work” in the way we’d like it to. It doesn’t “work” as in we pray to get what we want. We pray to get what God wants.

I think we make the mistake of seeing prayer as transactional, when it’s primarily relational.

I still don’t know what to do with those verses that exhort us to ask and receive, be the widow badgering the judge, have faith to move mountains, but I can get on-board with this thought from Tim Keller.

We can be sure our prayers are answered precisely in the way we would want them to be answered if we knew everything God knows. Tim Keller

Prayer makes more sense to me when I envision myself in a boat tethered to the shore (God) and prayer is the process by which I pull myself to it/Him – pull my will in line with His.


Still, I often feel tossed around by the huge waves of confusion. I squint to even see the shore, desperately trying to hold on to the rope that tethers me to to Truth. I have been reading Philip Yancey’s book on prayer and find I’m in good company.

“The only final solution to unanswered prayer is Paul’s explanation to the Corinthians: ‘For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.’ No human being, no matter how wise or how spiritual, can interpret the ways of God, explaining why one miracle and not another, why an apparent intervention here and not there. Along with the apostle Paul, we can only wait, and trust.” Philip Yancey

What has your experience been with understanding prayer?

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  1. so appreciative of your words in the midst of the mess of life

  2. So wish all of these pearls of wisdom had been in my head and heart during the tough times of my earlier years. A deep and abiding trust in The Lord’s will and faithfulness, is a wonderful, peace-giving thing!

  3. Trust.. for me that’s a biggee. I feel frustrated and sometimes angry when I have folded my hands in prayer and opened my heart, praying for good things, godly things. Praying for God’s will. And he seems slow to take action. For me it’s about trust–trusting in a big God who does big things. Trust is a definite faith stretcher.

  4. Hi Laura,

    I have been an avid follower for some time now and say amen! I am praying for your family in this really hard season. I love your view on unanswered prayer and how we make sense of it. May I repost this entry to our collegeprayingmoms.com site? It is so true and very helpful.

  5. Laura, another good blog. Many years ago I asked my wise husband “why o why do we keep praying when God seems to be fickle and spurious?” He responded, We pray now so, on that day when we are driven to our knees, we’ll be all practiced up.”

    You continue to be in my prayers.

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