When You Don’t Believe Your Own Prayers

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Recently, a brother in Christ whispered to me what he believed to be a scandalous confession: “Sometimes, I don’t believe my own prayers.” While this brother spoke in hushed tones, imagining that his was a unique problem among Christians, I suspect that many believers doubt their prayers from time-to-time. After all, it is one thing to accept with your mind that God can heal cancer, cause the prodigal to return, redeem the hardest of sinners, and the like; it is another thing to believe in your heart that God will do such things in your own life in response to your prayers.

What are we to think about this phenomenon? Does weak faith mean that God will not hear our prayers, or perhaps that He will not grant a miracle for which we have been petitioning Him? Worse yet, is a failure to believe our own prayers a sign that we have unconfessed sin in our lives? Certainly, sin can affect our prayers, and if so, the solution is always repentance. Yet, assuming there is no hidden sin in our lives, I want to give three exhortations related to prayer and faith in order to encourage Christians who struggle to believe their own prayers.

Faith is not a force we wield to coerce Jesus to answer our prayers.

1. Jesus Is Praying for Your Faith

Our pride produces a reticence to admit our own weaknesses and ask for help—in all areas of life. For example, often when Christians gather together in church or in a small group setting, everyone wears an invisible mask and, when asked how they are doing, all claim to be “doing fine.” Indeed, experience teaches that few believers are willing to admit, publicly or privately, that they have spiritual doubts, that their prayers seem powerless, and that their faith waivers—at least at times.

Jesus, however, knows the true state of our faith. Scripture teaches that Christ knows the heart of man (cf. John 2:24) and that He continually “makes intercession for us” (Rom. 8:34). In Hebrews, after explaining Jesus’ ability to identify with mankind, the author of the book teaches that Christ is our High Priest and that “He lives to make intercession for us” (Heb. 7:25). Moreover, just before His crucifixion, Jesus specifically told Peter that He had prayed for Peter’s faith, that it would not fail (cf. Luke 22:32). Surely Christ prays the same for us.

On another occasion, when Jesus’ apostles were challenged by some of His teachings, they petitioned Christ, “Increase our faith” (Luke 17:5). This prayer, while simple and short, is a model for the church. Note Jesus’ response to His disciples’ prayer was to teach that “faith as a mustard seed” (Luke 17:6) is sufficient. Elsewhere Jesus exhorted His followers to have a child-like faith (cf. Matt. 18:3). While commentators debate the specifics of mustard seed faith and child-like faith, all agree that Jesus was appealing to the presence of faith, not to the perfection of faith.

2. Jesus Is Developing Your Faith

Some believers fear that God does not answer their prayers because of their weak faith. Yet, in Scripture we read that Jesus often answered prayers and performed miracles not because of faith, but in order to develop faith. This is so in one of the most dramatic of Jesus’ miracles: the raising of Lazarus. In this well-known event, Christ reveals one reason for this entire episode was so that His disciples (cf. John 11:15), Martha (cf. John 11:26), and the gathered crowds might have faith in Him (cf. John 11:42). Said differently, Jesus did not raise Lazarus from the dead because of the great faith and prayers of those present; rather, Christ raised Lazarus in order to develop faith in those who witnessed His miracle.

Another example of answered prayer that clearly was not contingent upon great faith is the narrative about Jesus’ healing of the epileptic boy in Galilee. In this account, which is recorded in each of the Synoptic Gospels, the disciples had been unable to heal an epileptic son who was brought to them by his father while Christ was on the Mount of Transfiguration. When Jesus finally appeared, the father of the boy explained his son’s condition and said to Christ, “If you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us” (Mark 9:22).

Certainly, this man is not an exemplar of faith, as his qualifying “if” appears to question Jesus’ ability to heal. Indeed, after Christ mildly rebuked him, this desperate father exclaimed, “Lord, I believe; help, my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). Moreover, Matthew records the disciples’ lack of faith on this occasion (cf. Matt. 17:20) and Luke observes the lack of faith among the gathered crowd (cf. Luke 9:43). Yet, despite the weak faith of everyone present in this narrative, Jesus healed the boy of his epilepsy simply because of His goodness and compassion.

3. Jesus Is Awaiting Your Faith

One final exhortation related to believing your own prayers is to have faith in God, not in your prayers. Faith is not a force we wield to coerce Jesus to answer our prayers. Rather, faith is simply trusting in God’s revealed grace. While we do not know when or how God will answer our prayers, we do know the character of God, for it is plainly revealed in Scripture. A great biblical example of trusting in God rather that in one’s own prayers is the account of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

When Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were faced with the choice between worshiping a golden idol or being cast into Nebuchadnezzar’s fiery furnace, their response to the king was, “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from your hand, O king. But if [He does] not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up” (Dan. 3:17–18). These men did not know if God would deliver them from the fiery furnace; however, they did know the character of God. Indeed, these three friends understood that there is a difference between not knowing what God will do, and not believing that God will do anything.

In summary, we can conclude that while God invites us to cast all of our anxieties upon Him (cf. 1 Pet. 5:7), experience teaches us that we will all occasionally struggle to believe our own prayers. Yet, when doubts arise in your mind and heart, be comforted in knowing that Jesus is continually praying for you, He is working in your life to deepen and to develop your faith, and Christ stands ready to accept your faith, however weak it may be.

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David W. Jones

Dr. Jones is a Professor of Christian Ethics and serves as the Associate Dean of Theological Studies and Director of the Th.M. Program at Southeastern Seminary. He is the author of many books, including Every Good Thing, An Introduction to Biblical Ethics and is the co-author of Health, Wealth, and Happiness. He comments on the Bible over at

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