Sunday

When Is It OK to Stop Praying?

Sherry has a prodigal son. For years she’s watched him self destruct. After ten years of praying for his salvation, she’s weary and discouraged. She wonders if her prayers are accomplishing anything. Maybe she should just give up and quit praying. 

Lisa lives with a difficult husband. Angry and explosive, he loses his temper often over the smallest things. Although he’s always been faithful to her and provides well for their family, his anger has been an unpleasant part of their relationship for 30 years. Every morning Lisa prays, “Lord, help him not get angry today.” Sometimes her prayers work, and other times it’s as though she’d never prayed. She wonders if praying does any good at all. Maybe she should quit asking God for help. 

Pat has loved to write since she was a teenager. “Lord,” she’s prayed for years, “help me publish a book that will point others to you.” Almost a decade has passed, and although she’s enjoyed some writing success, her dream of publishing a book seems no closer to fulfillment than when she first prayed about it. She wonders if she should quit asking God for something he seems unwilling to grant. 

Christians know we’re supposed to pray, but the results are mixed, at best. Sometimes God answers our requests immediately. Other times it takes weeks, months, or even years to see results. Jesus, our best example of a prayer warrior, acknowledged this when he told his disciples a parable to show them “that they should always pray and not give up” (Luke 18:1). 

But is it ever appropriate to stop praying for something? Is there ever a reason to cross an unanswered request off our list or strike it from our prayer journal? I think so. 

Scripture gives us several good reasons to stop praying: 

1. We should stop praying when God has clearly answered No. 

If you’ve been praying about a relationship with a guy, and he gets married, you can safely stop praying. God has closed that door. If you interviewed for a job, and they hired someone else, it’s time to redirect your petitions. Banging our heads against doors God has unequivocally closed is futile and foolish. It reveals a stubborn heart that thinks we know better than God what’s best for us. 

Pat’s book manuscript was turned down by every publisher she submitted it to. Once she exhausted her sources for book publication, she realized God might have something else in mind for her words of encouragement. She converted her chapters into articles and submitted them to magazine and online publications. So far five of her articles have been published, reaching more than 50,000 readers – far more than most books ever reach. Now, instead of praying for a book, she asks God to direct her to the readers who most need her words. 

2. We should stop praying when God removes our desire for the object of our prayers. 

Many times I’ve begun praying for something, only to find that after a few days, weeks, or months, I don’t really want it any more. Maybe I discover more information about what I thought would make me happy and realize it’s not best after all. Other times my desire just wanes and fades. When this happens, I can confidently stop praying about it. 

Psalm 37:4 promises that when we delight ourselves in the Lord, he will give us the desires of my heart. While this sometimes means he will give us what our heart desires, it usually means that he will give our heart the desires he wants it to have. As we pray in faith and trust that God knows what’s best for us, he takes our desires and molds them to fit his plan and purpose for our lives. In love, he sometimes takes what looks enticing and perfect and rubs the shine off so we can see it as it truly is. 

3. We could stop praying when God shows us a greater purpose for our situation. 

As Lisa faithfully prays about her husband’s temper, he continues to have angry outbursts. Through the years, she’s noticed that her prayers have gradually changed. Instead of asking God to change her husband’s disposition, she finds herself praying more often about her response to his outbursts.

“Lord,” she prayed this week, “help me not return evil for evil, but to use a soft answer to turn away his wrath (Prov. 15:1). Help me love my husband even when he acts unlovable, forgiving him as Christ has forgiven me. Protect my heart from bitterness.” 

Lisa’s husband may always struggle with anger, and it’s never too late for God to change him. But even if he doesn’t, Lisa can grow closer to the Lord and more like Christ through the struggle. By being open to more than one answer to her prayers, Lisa has experienced the closeness and growth in her relationship with Christ that’s even sweeter than a husband with a peaceful disposition. 

Which brings us full circle to Sherry, the woman with the prodigal son who desperately needs salvation. Should she stop praying for him after ten years with no apparent results? 

Never. 

Never. Never. Never. Why? 

1. Because she will never hear God say No to this request. While not every prodigal child will come to faith in Christ, only God alone knows who will ultimately accept or reject him. Sherry’s job is to pray in faith. 

2. Because God will never remove this desire from Sherry’s heart. Because she loves her son, she’ll never stop hoping he’ll accept Christ as his Savior and experience the joy of a transformed life. 

3. The only greater purpose God can reveal to Sherry for her son’s prodigal years is that they demonstrate his need for a Savior. This will only strengthen her resolve to pray. 

If you’ve been praying for something, and God has closed the door, it’s okay to stop praying. If you’ve been praying for something and God has changed your heart, it’s okay to stop praying. If you’ve been praying for something and God has shown you a different purpose for your request, it’s okay to stop praying. 

But if you’re praying for a loved one’s salvation, never stop. 

Never, never stop. 

While there is breath left in your body, continue to pray. “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man accomplishes much,” James 5:16 tells us, and on this we stake our hope. 

If you need a little encouragement, here’s a true story from D.L. Moody about the power of a mother’s prayers: 

The Praying Mother. 

"I remember being in the (military) camp and a man came to me and said, "Mr. Moody, when the Mexican war began I wanted to enlist. My mother, seeing I was resolved, said if I became a Christian I might go. She pleaded and prayed that I might become a Christian, but I wouldn't. I said when the war was over I would become a Christian, but not till then. 

"All her pleading was in vain, and at last, when I was going away, she took out a watch and said: My son, your father left this to me when he died. Take it, and I want you to remember that every day at 12 o'clock your mother will be praying for you. Then she gave me her Bible, and marked out passages, and put a few different references in the fly-leaf. I took the watch and the Bible just because my mother gave them. I never intended to read the Bible. 

"I went off to Mexico, and one day while on a long, weary march, I took out my watch, and it was 12 o'clock. I had been gone four months, but I remembered that my mother at that hour was praying for me. Something prompted me to ask the officer to relieve me for a little while, and I stepped behind a tree away out on those plains of Mexico, and cried to the God of my mother to save me." 

Now it’s your turn. Has there ever been a time when God’s shown you it’s time to stop praying? Leave a comment below and share your story.



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4 comments:

  1. Wow! I pray these three prayers. My son, James, patience when my husband verbalize his displeasure, my writing to be what He desires. Thanks for the encouragement.

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    1. Amen, Cindy. May God be glorified as you trust him with that which is most dear. Father, open James' eyes and help him see that life without you is futile and empty. Open his heart to receive your truth. Save him, in Jesus' name. And Father, help Cindy not grow weary in doing good, knowing that she will reap a spiritual harvest if she doesn't faint. Sustain her and enable her.

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  2. Prayer is powerful communication with God. He whispers encouragement in our ear and comforts our grieving soul. Prayers and petitions are sent wrapped in thanksgiving.

    We want what's best for our loved ones (salvation, peace in their marriage...). We see with our mature eyes what is best for them but they will have none of it.

    The Holy Spirit is still moves in power, counsel and conviction. The Trinity in unity knows the hearts and minds of all humanity. He is at work.

    Let us, with confidence and thankfulness, yield our prayers, petitions and requests to God. We can't change our circumstances or the people we love, but God can give us the peace that passes all understanding and in that peace our hearts and minds are guarded in Christ Jesus.

    Yes! Pray with out ceasing, but pray in thankfulness for the goodness of God means that "everything He does is good" and the righteousness of God means "everything He does is right".

    When we lean in to trust Him we find we can say "O give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, for His steadfast love endures forever."

    Spend one hour reading, meditating, and praying over Psalm 107 and you will see that God answers the cries of His people.

    "Let those who are wise give heed to these things, and consider the steadfast love of the Lord." (psalm 107:43)

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    Replies
    1. Amen and Amen, Christine. Beautifully said and marvelously true. May God be glorified!

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