How do you determine when to stop praying for/about something and when to persevere and press in?
That’s not really the question you want to ask, is it? It’s not, I know, because I’ve asked the real question—the question behind the question—endless times. And while it may seem to some that you’re simply asking me to engage in an theological tussle where we have a spirited debate surrounding the right views of prayer and how God equips his people to speak to Him—your question is deeper, and I’m guessing more personal.
What I hear you saying is that you’ve been praying for something, have heard nothing nothing from God, and are figuring out if it may just be time to take this particular request out of God’s hands and into your own. Is that closer to that you’re really asking? Maybe I could reduce the question one statement further:
God, where are you?
Who among us hasn’t asked that question endless times? When life has failed, the need is insurmountable, or the choices are just too confusing, we beg God to break the stalemate. Yet we hear nothing, and wonder what God is thinking.
Here’s the bad news: We don’t know what God is thinking—not fully at least. Which, when we find ourselves in a situation like you do where you’re hoping to hear from God, but haven’t, we get frustrated. Because with just a little more information or a tiny glimpse of the larger narrative, we could do what we need to do and make the right decision.
However, God is often silent because we really don’t know what we don’t know. We don’t know the full narrative that we’re in, we don’t know the ramifications of what we’re asking, and we don’t know the countless other factors that are intersecting and being disseminated inside the mind of our Creator. This can be hard to accept, especially when we’re asking for things that are “good” and the silence is painful.
And while some may argue that if one were to truly trust the sovereignty of God, we would also be content, even in unanswered prayer – and I get that. But also, tell that to the couple who are on their knees pleading to God for a child and nothing is happening. Sometimes, even knowing that God is good is not enough to keep us from frustration when He is also silent.
Yet there is good news.
And the good news is that while we may be tempted to stop praying for something because there’s just no clarity and we’re out of time and/or patience—God has spoken. And those words are available to us within the pages of Scripture.
This is key to remember, as sometimes we sit in an intersection and drive ourselves crazy asking God if we should turn left or turn right. Yet we forget the fact that maybe, just maybe, God doesn’t care and the direction doesn’t matter. Maybe what that matters in that moment is not what internship you’ll accept or what person you’ll date—maybe what matters is that you’re doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly (Micah 6:8 paraphrase).
Or maybe, the broken relationship that is tearing you apart and the lack of clarity on how to resolve it is better answered not by God saying, “Hey you, do this and say this and everything will be better.” Maybe, the answer is: “… ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:28-31).
You see what’s happening there? God doesn’t always want to give us a direct, prescriptive, answer. Sometimes it seems that He wants to give us hearts and minds that more mirror His. To that end, it doesn’t require Him giving us every single bit of direction, but rather teaching us how to think, or more accurately, how to love.
Which leads us back to the initial question: Do I keep praying or should I quit—because I’m not getting clarity. To which I would contend that you (and I) should be doing the following:
1. Trusting that silence from God doesn’t mean absence. You’ll have to remind yourself of this daily … hourly. Silence means “not yet,” which in itself is a kind of answer.
2. Spend time in the Bible and gleaning the wisdom that is available and applicable to all of us. I dare say that there are very few prayers that can’t be answered or at least reframed within the pages of Scripture.
3. Never quit on prayer. Even when, and especially when, it seems pointless—we must continue to bring our petitions before the Father and be present with Him. Because in this life, there will be confusion, and “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face.” But just because it’s not 100 percent clear, doesn’t mean we give up.
I encourage you to keep praying, reading, and listening to those in your community. The time will come when clarity is yours. And until that time, I hope you’ll keep on pressing on and trusting that the most important thing you can do is allowing your heart and mind to be transformed into the image of Christ. All the other questions and answers will fall into place as we pursue that together.
In it with you,
Have a question? Good! Send an email to [email protected]. All identifying information will be kept anonymous.
Eddie Kaufholz is a writer, speaker and podcaster and serves as a director of church mobilization for International Justice Mission. He also hosts and produces "The New Activist" podcast. You can find on Twitter @EdwardorEddie.