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Magazine > Content

When Prayer Isn’t Prayer

What to do when intercession turns into anxiety.

By Sandy Feit


“I don’t want to be the grownup!”

This has become my anguished response to the role reversal I find myself in—as “mother" to my mother—and to the intensifying decisions surrounding end-of-life care. It’s not that I bemoan the task. On the contrary, I see caring for Mom as a privilege and wouldn’t trade places with my brother or sister, who live out of state. But this is a rigorous honor, and despite my siblings’ supportiveness and much appreciated visits, I’ve been feeling the weight and loneliness of such responsibility.

There’s also another dimension: I’m concerned about Mom spiritually. For more than three decades, God has been hearing me request, plead, and cry out on her behalf. But with each passing day, my dream of seeing this relentless prayer “tied in a bow” seems less likely.

As a result, I live in the tension of Mark 9:24 (NKJV)—the verse where the desperate father cries, “I believe; help my unbelief!” In this uneasy place, the line between faith and doubt blurs: I am certain God can but have no assurance that He will. After all, I’ve witnessed His miracles in others’ lives as well as my own, but I’ve also seen Him say no.

So I review what I am sure of: that I can’t move God’s hand; that I am not to presume on Him or put Him to the test (Deut. 6:16); that the clay has no business telling the potter what to do (Isaiah 29:16).

And I go over how He wants us to pray. Doesn’t the Lord tell us to make our requests known to Him (Phil. 4:6) and to do so without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:17)? Doesn’t He assure us that our fervent prayers avail much (James 5:16)? So I remind Him of His own promises that support what I want—about His not being willing that any should perish (2 Peter 3:9), about Him being the one who “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4). And as He urges in Matthew 7:7 (AMP), I “keep on asking, keep on seeking, keep on knocking.”  

Why, then, does my ardor to pray “right” somehow lead me to a place that runs counter to God’s very intention for prayer? I am fervent. Yet over time, in His lengthening silence and now with Mom’s worsening condition, my heartfelt supplications are sounding like rote pleas—could this be the meaningless repetition Matthew 6:7 warned against? Do I suppose I’ll “be heard for my many words”?

And when I step back to take an honest look, I realize that desperation has turned prayer into frenzy. God tells His righteous to cry out (Ps. 34:17), but in doing so, even I can detect a lack of faith tainting my obedience. Or at the very least, my zealousness ruins any ability to be still, to cast my cares on the Lord, or simply approach Him for rest (Ps. 46:10; 1 Peter 5:7; Matt. 11:29).

In the course of a single week, two different Christians observed my weariness (worry-ness?) and advised—one of them strongly—that I stop praying for this request. It was a rather jolting suggestion. Instead, they instructed my husband to pray for that particular outcome but counseled me to focus elsewhere: on God’s faithfulness, provision, and the many scriptural assurances of His love.

Apparently they recognized that in this instance, prayer had become something other than prayer. I’d tried hard to do everything “by the Book,” but in the process, trust-filled dependence on God had disintegrated into a legalistic attempt to take control. Despite my best efforts and good intentions, the way I prayed was tinged with unbelief and actually feeding my doubts and unrest.

The advice to “cease and desist” shocked me into observing the reality of how I approached God in the loneliness of my responsibilities. And though I’ve yet to become good at it, I at least see that the solution to “being the grownup” is simply to come, trusting, as a little child (Matt. 19:14).

And the solution to feeling alone is to realize that I never am.

Copyright 2015 In Touch Ministries, Inc. All rights reserved. In Touch grants permission to print for personal use only.

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  • November 01, 2012 01:30 PM


    This is a good article but I thought the same thing as the author's mentors did - what was the prayer? Prayer should be also listening to God, not just making our wants and wishes known. In my experience, God sometimes answers in different ways than I had thought but God answers His way and in His time and sometimes God doesn't supply my want at all. Or even what I think is a need. He doesn't always replace people or things lost - you learn more from Him in prayer than you ever will from other people. That's been my experience anyway. God is God, I am woman - trying to understand God but knowing I never will entirely. Such a great journey that I am on. I'm so glad for In Touch and the ministry there!
  • October 31, 2012 10:50 AM


    As for the reader above who's son believes in science, I work within the biochemistry field and I encounter my shares of unbelievers too. To me science is just humans trying to understand God's physical laws, and humans throughout history have constantly been surprised and disproved about arrogant pompous laws/theories of science. (Take for example a lobotomy, it was considered acceptable medical practice just 60 years ago and now is abhorred in medical practice.)

    Back to the article, this a wonderful and reassuring because I know I have a tendency to pray about my problems/difficulties again and again that becomes more anxiety driven than faith driven. It becomes a slippery slope of "not wanting to miss out on God's signs on what to do" into becoming an anxiety-driven search of finding ANYTHING that God is doing to the point of overanalyzing.

    It's so hard sometimes to let go when we as Christians have been taught to be so responsible, to not burden others with our problems, and to at least demonstrate competence in handling our problems, but I have to daily remind myself that: God DOES care and God WANTS to help in every aspect of our lives and that whatever I cannot change, see a solution to, or feel confused by...God WILL provide a clear path/answer, but in His time.

    I think our anxiety also comes from the time-pressures we feel from society/environment that we want to do something now about it, but its usually these waiting times that reveals to us our character and spiritual growth...which is something God always wants to improve in us with our spiritual journey with Him.
  • October 30, 2012 11:56 PM


    And the solution to feeling alone is to realize that I never am
    so true,
    enjoyed the article...heart felt insight
  • October 29, 2012 04:31 PM


    This story really hit home. I often pray for something over and and over again to a point of mental exhaustion. So why do I do that, why cant I simple pray once, take it to God and let it go. Is it human nature or my untrusting nature.
    I need to remember that all in God's time, God makes all things good. Your story helped me let go and let God!!!
  • October 28, 2012 08:17 PM


    Thank you for sharing this. You have given me much to consider about myself and my situation. Kindest regards, Mary
  • October 27, 2012 02:34 PM


    I've been going through this same very exact situation and this is my advice:
    #1 - Know that salvation is God's and only God's supernatural work. God has to draw the unbeliever, God has to remove the veil, God has to do this work so that the Unbeliever will KNOW this is God's work.

    #2 - God is SOVEREIGN. He is able to do what he pleases and we must never forget that salvation is not too difficult to the Lord. (Yes it cost Him a lot...but it's not too difficult to him). So while the situation is's not at all for God.

    #3 - Keep praying with the above points deeply ingrained in your heart. Know God more and more. Get closer to him. If you have to stop praying about this matter for a while so you can get closer to God and ask His leading and Help to pray for this matter...he will listen. After all, you are asking for His will and you are eager and prepared to do all His will including how to pray for your unbelieving loved one.

    I've experience this time and time again..I cry out.."Lord i don't know how to pray for her (my unbelieving friend). My heart is breaking, not my will Lord..but yours. HELP" I then praise and worship him and soon either the Lord reminds me something about HIm or i remember a story from the bible that encourages me..and then i proceed to pray.

    The thing is that..PRAYER is NEEDED for God's awesome work to be done. It's a mystery how this's just that we need to FIGHT our own motives, emotions, and the Devil's voice and noise to get to it.

    Finally...i also am honest in prayer with God. I don't hide the fact that knowing she is not saved is crushing to the core. I tell him this since i am in a relationship with the Lord first and foremost. I don't hide it. I can't pretend not a day goes by when i don't at some point or another have a heartache. Call it unbelief, call it lack of faith but i come to his feet and ask God for himself.

    Don't despair and keep praying. I'll pray for the posters here and please pray for me.
  • October 12, 2012 06:47 PM


    I think your artical is good and same clear.I feel same .
    god bless
  • October 11, 2012 01:06 PM


    The hardest thing about prayer - is bringing it to God - AND letting go in FAITH. Helpful reminder to know once we have brought it to the Lord - even though he already knew it was in our heart - we believe he will deliver according to His will.
  • October 10, 2012 10:48 AM


    I think we keep on following many books guidelines about how to pray, what to say, what do not say, and so on and we forget that the Lord command us to rest in Him and rejoice in Him to receive the desires of our hearts.
    If we really believe in His love we will know for sure that He never will let us down.
  • October 06, 2012 07:34 PM


    Thank you. At least I know I'm not alone in this same situation. All of it. Still not sure what to do about it
  • October 05, 2012 09:13 AM


    This really spoke to me on a situation with my son and his wife that I have been praying about for a long long time. Lord teach me to trust more and to rest in you
  • October 03, 2012 01:07 PM


    I am glad you got that out.
  • October 03, 2012 11:02 AM


    Thank you for this article. I can relate.
  • October 03, 2012 09:09 AM


    I have a son, who is very young. But is increasingly becoming more and more comfortable with speaking his unbelief with me. He is amazed and believes in science. I can sense that he seeking answers to questions that pertain to his existence. But is refusing to look to God for them. So I pray and have been praying for years. I am having some health issues and am afraid when I leave there will be no-one to intercede for him. Not the way I do. What should I do? I can relate to this article. Because it is the exact way I have been going about things. Not only for this one child but also for another. So what do I do.
  • October 02, 2012 11:24 PM


    True!!! Believers are never alone for Jesus Christ lives in us...
    Let us depend & trust on our Saviour!^_^

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