Why “Prayer Works” Doesn’t Work

Have you ever been suffering through the valley of the shadow of death and someone advises you to pray about it because “prayer works?” I remember being told this before I had my faith. And I remember being discouraged when I prayed to no avail. Did God not hear me? Or did He simply not care about my prayer? Knowing what I know now, neither of those answers are the truth.

Prayer Saved Hezekiah

In Isaiah 38 we learn about Hezekiah, the twelfth king of Judah. God had sent the prophet Isaiah to forewarn Hezekiah that his death was imminent, and preparations needed to be made. Hezekiah, however, decided instead to bow and pray.

Credit: Pinterest

In reaction to Hezekiah’s prayer, God sent Isaiah back with a new message, “I have seen thy tears: behold, I will add unto thy days fifteen years.” (v. 5) The story closes out with Hezekiah saying, “The Lord was ready to save me” (v. 20).

From Hezekiah’s story we have proof that by faith, prayer works to change circumstances. That God hears our prayers and cares deeply about them. But there is more to this story than even that. Let’s take a look at another example, one where prayer didn’t “work.”

Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane

Prior to the crucifixion at Calvary, Jesus entered the Garden of Gethsemane fully aware of the torture He was about to endure on the cross. So He prayed, “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt.” (Matthew 26:39) This prayer He repeated a total of three times before returning to His disciples saying, “the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.” (Matthew 26:45)

Credit: Pinterest

What we see here is Jesus praying in the garden for the cup to be passed from Him. He’s asking God, “If there is any other way, please pass the responsibility from me.” And God (I’d like to imagine weeping) replied, “There is not, my Son.”

In this story, we see that despite Jesus Christ asking not to, He still had to die on the cross. Only He (a perfect man) could undo the fall done by Adam (a sinful man). It HAD to happen, and it HAD to be Jesus. That was the will of God.

Predestination

So, why did prayer work for sinner Hezekiah and not the righteous Messiah? Because of predestination. Hezekiah living another fifteen years allowed the works of the Lord to continue being done, and he still died at the end of them. The plan, much like God’s original plan for mankind, was merely delayed not destroyed. God’s will was still done.

On the other hand, if Jesus had not died at Calvary, God’s plan to redeem Man through the sacrificial blood of the Lamb would have been destroyed, not delayed. ONLY Jesus could accomplish this. There was no one else. There never would be. And there was no better time than the present.

This is why when we pray, we pray, “Your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven” and then “Give us this day our daily bread.” Because we are to seek God’s will before our needs.

Faith Makes a Difference

In Matthew 21:22 Jesus says, “And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.”

When you pray, pray for what you need believing you’ve already received it. And remember that God’s timing is flawless. Just because it doesn’t happen that day, that week or when you’re expecting, doesn’t mean He isn’t moving. Faith is believing without seeing.

In Philippians 4:6-7 we are told, “in everything by prayer and supplication with thanskgiving let your requests be made known unto God.” And Jesus said in Matthew 7:7, “Ask, and you shall receive.” Memorize and absorb these verses. Matthew 6:8 tells us “Your Father knoweth what thing ye have need of before ye ask Him.” God knows what we need, and when we ask for it, He provides as He did for Hezekiah.

If He instead answers your prayer like He answered Jesus’, “the peace of God, which passeth all understanding shall keep your hearts and mind through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7). We will find joy in the outcome regardless because it fulfills God’s will, and God promises to provide us peace through said outcome.


Prayer works…by faith and in accordance with God’s will. Predestination is the reason some prayers seemingly go unanswered: because what you’re asking will be against God’s will, it will destroy His plan. When you pray seeking the kingdom of God and His righteousness, every prayer will be answered.

Take these wallpapers with you for encouragement:

What prayers has God answered for you recently?

2 thoughts on “Why “Prayer Works” Doesn’t Work

  1. Danny,

    I put this right up there with ‘Everything happens for a reason.’

    Both are technically true, because both work on the same simple principle: cause and effect. Good and bad things happen. The Bible teaches us that God will use bad according to his purpose, but that does not mean God intentionally causes all bad things to happen. If that was the cause, God is to be blamed for sin and not man. Likewise, you should always (or at the least almost) have your prayer answered, it just may not be the answer you want.

    Prayer is not an avenue to get what you want. IF that’s the case it makes God on par with Amazon where you’re one click away from having the next big thing. If we look at prayer in this way we will always be disappointed. However, we can understand prayer’s purpose in how Jesus teaches us to pray. In the Lord’s prayer he outlines what we should seek:
    A relationship with God (By directly praying to God)
    To glorify God (Hollowed be your name)
    God’s will (Your kingdom come, Your will be done)
    Daily/basic needs (Give us this day our daily bread)
    Forgiveness/Repentance (Forgiveness of our trespasses)
    Growth in faith (Has we forgive others, lead us not into temptation)

    In this way, Hezekiah and Jesus are answered in the affirmative: God’s will is done (Jesus) God is glorified (Hezekiah). An argument could be made they both suffered as a result and an argument could be made they were both exalted as a result, but that’s neither here nor there.

    So what happens when you pray for something that’s not listed here? Well, that is very strongly where predestination comes in. Paul emphasizes the words of Malachi 1:2 in Romans 9:13 by saying, “Jacob I loved and Esau I hated.” It’s clear that these words are not to be taken literally. We must look at them in what Paul say about love at the end of Romans 8:38-39 and in John 3:16. The God of love does not hate his creation. He willingly gave creation his greatest gift, a gift they did not deserve, so they can be with them one day. The point of these words is to illustrate God chooses who he chooses. Paul drives this home in Romans 9:14-16:

    What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.

    But its far to say even this doesn’t necessarily happen willy-nilly. Paul indicates this goes back to the Lord’s prayer. We see this in verse 17 where Paul tells us that Pharaoh, a terrible man, was exalted for God’s glory.

    For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.”

    Aside: Pharaoh suffers through his own exaltation.

    Three final points, the first that Paul brings up. Is this fair?

    Absolutely. The potter has absolute control and right over the clay (Romans 9:19-29). Therefore it is his right to choose or not choose.

    Then why pray at all? Won’t God just choose to do what we need?
    Cause and Effect. Consider this hypothetical proposed by John Piper:
    https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/prayer-and-predestination

    Finally, and I’m speculation here but I think prayer is limited by free agency. Consider the following: Last night I watched the last six minutes of the Rams verses the Raiders (got home late). When I first started watching the score was 3-16. Anyone watching the game would have said the Raiders win, no question. However, suppose in that moment Baker Mayfield ask God for help winning the game. With the final score 17/16, some might seriously wonder if that’s what happened. If that was true that would mean God caused the Raiders defensive players to Taunt and commit pass interference, two things that are controlled by free agency. I can’ t say for sure the Rams wouldn’t have won without those two things, but both gave them huge advantages in moving forward. Furthermore, what if in the locker room before the game both teams choose to pray to God to win the game? Does this mean God hates the Raiders? As a chief’s fan, I wouldn’t be sad about this, but again I think that takes away free agency. In this case I think it might be fair to say just because your prayer came true, does not necessarily mean it came from God.

    In the Lord’s prayer there are items that involve free agency: The act of forgiving others, the act of avoiding temptation, and getting our daily need. We can ask God for help for the first two, but it still falls on us to make the choice to do or not do it. Furthermore, I seriously doubt our daily needs are just going to show up if we ask God. They will be there, its just more often than not, we need to be proactive in getting them.

    Prayer is good. It certainly isn’t wrong to ask God for help or things, but your blog is correct. We shouldn’t be surprised when prayer doesn’t work. Instead I believe we should focus on the other things prayer allows us to do, most importantly have a relationship with God.

    JP

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, JP for sharing your thoughts! As I stated, God’s will is always what we seek in prayer, and that if what we are praying for risks destroying His will, the prayer will not be answered the way we desire. My focus was to teach that “prayer works” is a fallible philosophy considering the purpose of prayer, and by using these two examples, readers would see how God works through prayer to fulfill His plan. You have some really valid points!

      Like

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