Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
Pressing Through the Problems of Prayer
By Belinda Elliott
CBN.com Daily Life Producer
CBN.com Author Philip Yancey believes that many Christians are not satisfied with their prayer lives. In his book Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference?, he explores the questions and frustrations that can plague even the most seasoned pray-ers.
Approaching the subject as a student of prayer, rather than writing as someone who knows all the answers, Yancey guides readers through the difficult areas of prayer and provides observations from his own experiences.
He offered advice about the following problems that Christians commonly experience in their prayer lives.
When you find it difficult to pray at all.
If you have experienced this, you are not alone. Yancey said he has struggled with this too. Suddenly one day, his prayers seemed as if they were “bouncing off the ceiling,” and He could not feel the presence of God.
“I didn’t know what to do. I had never had that kind of sense of desolation before,” Yancey said.
He purchased a book that was a collection of prayers, both from the Bible and from other Christians.
“I would read them,” Yancey said, “and I would preface it by saying God I don’t have any prayers of my own so I’m going to read this prayer and ask you to somehow make this prayer my prayer.”
He did that for an entire year. Then, just as suddenly as it had started, he said his difficulty with prayer stopped.
“Since then I’ve found that even great saints go through a period like that, a dark night of the soul,” he said.
When God is silent.
It can be frustrating for Christians when they hear nothing from God and they feel like He has become distant. Sometimes things like sin or praying with the wrong motives can block our communication with God, but other times there are no good explanations. During those times, Yancey said, it can be helpful to do what he calls “leaning on the faith of others”.
“The Christian life should come with a warning,” he said, “do not practice this alone.”
It is important for Christians to be a part of a small group or church fellowship where they can be honest about what they are experiencing and not be made to feel like they are less spiritual or somehow deficient.
“When you hit those dry times and when you hit those silent times,” Yancey said, “then you have other people whose faith you can lean on, and then hopefully get strong, and you can do the same thing for them down the road.”
People can also find encouragement in the Psalms.
“I think that’s why we have the book of Psalms. We have 150 very good prayers, and they cover virtually every emotional experience that you have.”
When you are tired of praying about the same things over and over.
Most Christians have probably experienced this. Scripture seems to imply that there is value in persistent prayer (See the parable of the persistent widow in Luke 18:1-8). Does that mean God wants us to beg? Doesn’t it seem a little cruel that God would have us continue to ask Him for something when He has the power to answer us immediately?
“If you view prayer as a transaction where I’m trying to get something from God, then you are right,” Yancey said. “It does seem cruel. It seems like jumping through hoops just to get God’s attention. But if you view prayer primarily as a relationship, then persistence is a way of building the relationship.”
For example, he said, he and his wife often talk about trivial matters like the weather or sports, but by talking they are sharing their lives.
“I believe that is what prayer can be and should be too,” Yancey said. “Why do people who are in love spend hours and hours on their telephones jabbering about things that don’t matter? It’s what you do because you’re in love. That’s the way relationships work. And I think that may not be the reason for persistence, but that’s the by-product of persistence. It’s the incentive to keep involving God in the details of my life.”
In addition to building our relationship with God, persistent prayers probably accomplish more than we realize. There are some things that happen only by our prayers, Yancey said.
“I think that Jesus teaches that very strongly,” he said. “That’s why He tells us don’t give up, keep charging, keep knocking, keep praying. It matters. Your prayers matter. They make a difference. They can change history. Things happen on earth that wouldn’t happen apart from our prayers.”
When you pray for healing for yourself or someone else and they do not get healed.
Because of the types of books he has written (Disappointment with God, Where is God When it Hurts?) Yancey has received letters from numerous people who have prayed for things, many of them prayers for physical healing, and they have not received answers.
Though this is difficult for Christians, we are not alone in the experience. Yancey points to Scripture where Paul prays for three different friends to be healed, but there is no record that they ever experienced healing. Paul himself also prayed for the removal of his thorn in the flesh, but God chose not to act.
We know that God still does miracles, Yancey said, but we can usually find more people who have not been healed than those who have.
“And miracles are never going to be the total answer because every human person eventually dies,” he said. “We don’t experience final healing on this earth. We never do. So if you stake everything on counting on physical healing, there is a good chance that you are going to be disappointed.”
When your prayers go unanswered.
Other times when our prayers seem to go unanswered, Yancey believes that perhaps the “unanswer” is really a part of the answer.
“I use a phrase in the book called the “surprise factor,” he said, “because so many of the prayers that we pray are answered in ways that we can’t imagine, maybe we wouldn’t even want, but tends to be much better.”
He points to the example of missionaries in China who were kicked out of the country during the days of Communism. They left distraught and feeling as if they had misheard God, but while they were gone one of the world’s largest revivals broke out in China.
"I would never discourage someone from bringing exactly what they want to happen to God,” Yancey said. “I think we can do that. But at the same time we really do need to leave room for the fact that God knows more about what is better for us than we do.”
Perhaps by not answering our prayers, God is supplying other things that are important for us to have.
“Maybe the main thing I need is to learn patience or to learn faith,” he said, “and the only way that I can learn that thing is through prayer that doesn’t seem to be answered, at least on the time scale that I want it answered.”
Unanswered prayers can also serve as a call to action, Yancey said. As he has visited ministries around the world, he has often asked leaders how the ministry started. Many times it began with a prayer, much like an orphanage he recently visited in Africa.
“The person prays, maybe for a long time, maybe for months or years,” Yancey said. “They pray, ‘God, don’t you care about the orphans in Africa?’ And the answer to that prayer is, ‘Yes, I care, and I want you to do something about it.’”
But it is not always such a large undertaking to act on our prayers. If you have repeatedly felt a burden to pray for someone in your church or in your neighborhood, maybe God wants to use you to meet that person’s needs. Yancey said he has often found this to be the case in his own prayer life.
“I think that’s one of the ways in which prayer aligns us with what God already is doing and wants to do in the world,” Yancey said. “It’s easy to think that what we do doesn’t matter. We want a supernatural 'God thing' to happen, and actually most of the time God wants to work through us. And it is supernatural, but it doesn’t look supernatural.”
The important thing for Christians, Yancey said, is to not get too caught up in the problems with prayer or in the fear that they are not “doing it right.”
“The most important part of prayer is just doing it” he said. “Mother Theresa said she learned to pray by praying. That’s how you learn to pray.”
We can take comfort in the fact that prayer was not always easy for Jesus either, but He placed a great emphasis on it.
“Jesus would spend long hours, getting up long before sunrise, spending sometimes all night in prayer,” Yancey said. “And here was somebody who was directly connected to the Father and had a lot of work to do on earth, but He valued prayer that much.”
As with any relationship, he said, our relationship with God will go through highs and lows. Though prayer does take some effort on our part, it is imperative that we not give up.
“It does take some discipline,” Yancey said. “It takes practice, but it is a privilege.”
Want to learn more about prayer? Check out Yancey’s book Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference?
Comments? Email me
More articles by Belinda on CBN.com
CBN IS HERE FOR YOU!
Are you seeking answers in life? Are you hurting?
Are you facing a difficult situation?
A caring friend will be there to pray with you in your time of need.