Fun, lots of laughter, prayer … and some tough lessons. That was my weekend. You see, I spoke at a ladies retreat, and we talked about what real love looks like, which can often get pretty tough. In fact, one of the questions that came up was basically this: what if you pray, and it seems like it isn’t working?
Not an easy question on prayer.
That’s not an easy question, and truthfully, a lot could be going on.
For example, maybe the person doing the praying isn’t really asking God to do anything. Maybe they are just complaining or telling God what is going on. Or maybe the motives behind the prayer are all wrong. James, the half-brother of Jesus and leader of the Jerusalem church talked about both of these situations in James 4.
Or maybe God sees something in the other person that is more important to fix than whatever the behavior or attitude is that you are asking God to change. Perhaps you are blind to where God is working because you are so hyper-focused on the area that’s irritating or frustrating you. In this case, it would probably help if you ask God to show you where He is working in the other person.
Or maybe you are a bigger piece of the problem than you are ready to admit. In these cases, God could be working to change something in you first that will later domino over to fixing the problem you are currently having with the other person. In this case, the better prayer could be for God to search—and then change—you.
But what if this isn’t it? What if you have taken the time to search yourself, and you’re convinced it’s the other person, or at least mostly the other person? What if you truly see an area where the other person needs God?
Esther’s example of prayer
In the Old Testament book of Esther, an evil man was able to manipulate the king into writing a law that put the lives of every Jew in danger. As soon as Queen Esther heard the news, she knew she had to act to save her people, but in order to have any hope of enacting change, she had to put herself in danger. And so she made one simple request.
She sent word to her cousin Mordecai in Esther 4:16.
Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my attendants will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king.
Now, a full fast as many of our Old Testament heroes did, is a big deal and should not be taken on lightly. But we can’t get away from the fact that when God’s people came together to fast and pray for things that touched God’s heart—He always acted on their behalf. In Esther’s case, the Jews were saved.
Actions to add to your prayer
Fasting is a great thing to combine with prayer, particularly when you are facing a difficult person or long-term problem. And you don’t have to take it the extreme “Daniel” fast, unless you first prepare your heart, body, and household for it.
For example, you could fast from coffee or candy. Perhaps you could turn off all distractions while you drive and enjoy silence during your morning commute to work. If you spend a lot of time on social media, a fast from Facebook could be in order. Or perhaps you should choose to turn off the television at night. Whatever non-essential activity you tend to do a lot is a good candidate to consider fasting from.
But don’t stop there! Often, we must accept part of the responsibility for relationship troubles. Whether you actively or passively contribute to the problem, a few simple activities combined with prayer may be exactly what God is waiting for to move dramatically in your situation.
Honestly think about the person you are struggling with or against. Maybe you could learn their love language and begin to speak it in small ways. If they are Acts of Service, than you could pick up one of their chores or bring them a cup of coffee to their desk. If they tend toward Words of Affirmation, then look for things they do well or right and praise them for it.
Be on the look out for opportunities to say thank you, and then be specific in your appreciation. Journal about how this difficult person has been a blessing—either to you or to another person. Seek out Bible verses of thanksgiving and pray them over or about the other person.
And genuinely ask God to show you where He is working in them and in your relationship. It may seem silly, but small attitude shifts on your part often make a huge difference.