The Bible both shows and tells us what to believe, which raises our expectations for what we can experience. But what do we do when our experience doesn’t live up to our theology?

I have a confession: I struggle with ‘long-distance’ prayers.

I know and affirm we are called to pray, that God hears our prayers, and that “the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (James 5:16). I’ve even seen grand answers to prayer over the years. But here’s my problem:

A). I’ve seen far more miracles and vivid answers to prayer take place when I’m physically with someone, especially through the laying on of hands, and…

B). Most my intercessory prayers (for people who aren’t present) don’t seem to have any effect at all.

Yeah. I said it. 

Does my confession make you uncomfortable? Isn’t Brad supposed to have this together? Are we even allowed to admit things like that?

Whether you’re uncomfortable with it or not, Jesus once met a guy who pleaded, “Lord, I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” And at least on this issue, I am that guy. I’m also encouraged by the fact that Jesus didn’t rebuke him for it. In fact, he still received the miracle he longed for (Mark 9:17-29). 

I’m not going to pretend I believe something when a significant part of me doesn’t. I’m not going to sweep my struggles under the ‘rug of shame’ to hide them from God. My greatest joy (and the greatest path of growth I know) is to bring all of me to Jesus. He can rebuke me, correct me, renew and heal and restore me. This is what David modelled so beautifully throughout his Psalms. Jesus doesn’t want the fake me. He won’t even talk to that guy. He’s only, always interested in who I truly am. Oh, how I love him!

Back to intercessory prayer. I’m hoping how I’m processing this with God will help you process your own issues. Here is what I wrote in my prayer journal today (in bold, edited to be a little more readable):

My experience of intercessory prayer (especially for healing) is almost like, we pray because we’re supposed to; normally, this makes no difference of any kind in the actual circumstance we’re praying about (or even in the experience of those involved whom we’re praying for) other than them feeling some peace or thankfulness that there are people out there thinking of them and expressing care through prayer.

In other words, my soul needs serious work when it comes to prayer. It occurs to me that our tendency is to take our un-answered prayers and use them to neuter the many bold biblical promises you made regarding prayer and replace them with, “Prayer is about changing us, not the world,” when You said nothing of the sort. 

Prayer in the name of Jesus is meant to be a kingdom advancing, gates-of-hell demolishing, fruit-bearing, God-glorifying, outcome-altering PARTNERSHIP with the King and Father who can do immeasurably beyond all we ask or think. 

No, this does not put us in the driver’s seat or place God at our disposal. Yes, our desires and perspectives shift as we engage with You. But no, we ought never to change our theology to validate our lesser experience as though ‘real breakthrough’ is about us learning to settle for less and less from You over time. I will not conclude that prayer is less powerful than I thought, but rather that I’m missing things—things so vital either in my theology, my practice, or my faith—that embodying that revelation more fully would immediately lift my experience nearer the level set by your promises. 

The purpose of prayer is partnership with You, to bring a little more of heaven to earth. Do I need soul renewal to be a more effective partner? Unequivocably YES. But that’s the byproduct of prayer, not its main purpose. 

Admitting all this is crucial for my progress. I can’t wait to see what God breaks, heals, gives, takes, and does in order to help me become a more faithful kingdom steward.

Does this resonate with you? Do you struggle with prayer, or some other aspect of the Christian life and experience? Maybe it’s time get real with God, to voice in the light what you have never dared to whisper in the dark. Talk to him, and he will guide you!