rebelling against low expectations

Why I’m Afraid to Pray Big Prayers

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Lately, God’s been messing with my prayers.

Not with what I pray, or when, or where, or for how long. But with how.

As I’ve been reading the book of Acts, two things have stood out to me: the faith and the prayers of the early church.

I read phrases like “constant prayer” and “continued steadfastly in prayer” and I wonder if they could be applied to me. I come across stories like that of Peter and John healing the lame man who begged in front of the temple. Or of Peter in prison and one young girl named Rhoda who believed in miracles—even when no one else took her seriously.

As I read, the question comes to mind. Do I have faith like Rhoda? Do I pray like the early church prayed?

Do I believe in the power of God enough to boldly ask him for a miracle . . . and to believe the miracle when it’s standing right in front of me?

And then, naturally, the next question: when was the last time I did ask God for a miracle? A real miracle. An I-don’t-see-how-this-could-happen-but-I-believe-anyway kind of miracle. When was the last time I prayed boldly, fearlessly, undoubting?

Me And My Safe Prayers

I often pray safe prayers. I like my safe prayers. They allow me to hold on to control with one hand while I attempt to surrender control with the other. After all, what might happen if I threw all control to the wind and laid everything bare before God? What might happen if I poured out my heart and surrendered all to him?

I don’t know.

And that’s what scares me.

So instead I settle for lesser prayers, lesser things. A lesser faith. Because I fear the unknown and fear not being in control (though, spoiler alert: I’m actually not), I dilute my prayers and compromise my surrender, setting unspoken conditions in place.

Okay, God, you can have this, but you’d better make sure it works out okay.

Okay, God, I’ll believe what you say . . . so long as it makes sense in the here and now.

Okay, God. You work miracles? Well, we need one. But just in case you don’t come through, I’ve got a backup plan.

Do these sound like the prayers of the early church?

Social Media Prayers vs. Bible Prayers

We often throw around phrases like “I’ll be praying for you!” or “God’s got this!” or type out a quick “Praying!” on a friend’s social media post.

Do we really? Do we really believe God’s got this—or is it just a catch-phrase that sounds good in the moment? Do we really pray for everyone we say we will, fervently crying out on their behalf?

But the most important question is: do we really believe in the power of prayer?

If we did, I think we’d be praying a lot more—and a lot bolder.

Throughout the Bible, we see faithful prayer warriors and the powerful ways God answered.

We see Joshua, praying that God would cause the sun to stand still so Israel could be victorious in battle. The sun stood still. (Joshua 10:12-14)

We see Daniel, faithfully praying three times a day, even though it was illegal to do so, and being thrown to the lions as a result. God shut the lion’s mouths. (Daniel 6:10-23)

We see Hezekiah, resisting the king of Assyria’s threats and praying for deliverance. God destroyed the entire camp of the Assyrian army. (2 Chronicles 32:20-23)

We see the early church praying for the sick, just as Jesus did, and God working through their faith and healing them.

We see a girl named Rhoda, along with many others, “offering constant prayer” on behalf of Peter. God set him free from prison chains. (Acts 12:1-19)

Every time the people prayed boldly, God answered boldly. In each of these circumstances, I would have been more likely to give it up as an impossible situation. They were impossible by human standards. But that’s what makes prayer and the power of our God so astounding—the fact that he does the impossible!

You’re Not That Powerful (But God Is)

Another reason I fear praying bold prayers is because I’m afraid God won’t answer. Maybe he only answers those prayers for “certain” people, I think. Maybe he doesn’t actually hear me or want to answer me. Maybe he’ll do the complete opposite.

It’s true that sometimes God doesn’t answer our prayers the way we want. We can’t force the hand of God to move according to our will. He is ultimately in control. But the point of our prayers is not to simply achieve a desired outcome. It’s to draw nearer to the heart of God. To seek his will and remain in it.

The point of our prayers is not to simply achieve a desired outcome. It’s to draw nearer to the heart of God. Click To Tweet

That’s why the boldest prayer we could ever pray is not, “Lord, make the sun stand still!” But rather, “Lord, let your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.”

That’s not a weak prayer. It’s a prayer of surrender and trust. Surrender and trust should infuse every petition we bring before God. When we pray for our sick family or friends: Heal them, Lord, and let your will be done. When we pray for guidance and direction: Show me, Lord, and let your will be done. When we pray for bold miracles: Move and act, Lord, and let your will be done.

The outcome of our prayers is not up to us. We don’t hold that much power. Our prayers, combined with confident faith and the power of the name of Jesus, can move mountains. But we’re not the ones moving the mountains. God is. So if God doesn’t answer our prayers the way we want, that’s not our fault if we prayed in faith and trust. It’s not because we didn’t pray correctly or because we’re the wrong person. The bolder we pray, the more we transfer the burden of control from our shoulders to God’s.

Every prayer prayed in accordance with God’s will is going to be answered. It’s not something we tack on for extra insurance, but a heart-attitude God grows in us as we come before him again and again and lay our will before him in surrender again and again.

It’s A Matter of Faith

I once thought if I prayed boldly, I could somehow take credit for the results. I now realize the opposite is true: the bolder we pray, the more reliant we are upon God and the more we realize we’re not in control—and never could be.

I’m still learning this lifestyle of intermingled surrender and brave prayers. I’m still learning the depth and power of our God. Truthfully, I don’t fully understand the system of prayer and how and why God responds to the petitions of his people. All I know is that he does. He loves our bold petitions because they honor him and prove our faith in his ability.

The bolder we pray, the more reliant we are upon God and the more we realize we’re not in control—and never could be. Click To Tweet

It comes down to a matter of faith. Do we believe God is who he says he is . . . even if we’re not seeing it at the moment? Enough to lay everything on the line, throwing ourselves entirely on his mercy and ability to protect us and work on our behalf?

I challenge you, don’t be afraid to pray boldly and surrender boldly. Be like Rhoda: bold, confident, and believing in the power of our God.

Let’s learn to pray. Really pray. Not a quick comment on a social media post. Not a half-hearted, doubting request. But faith-filled, whole-hearted, expectant prayer.

We serve a big God. Let’s not be afraid to pray big prayers.


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3 comments

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  • I’ve grown afraid to pray, recently, as my prayers seem to have turned “sour”. I want to pray for someone else’s well-being and for a great outcome to whatever situation someone else is facing. However, recent events that I’ve prayed for (healing, etc…) have all ended in tragedy. I feel like, perhaps, I’m cursed. While I would immediately pray for someone asking for prayers on social media, I have stopped doing so as I’m afraid of bringing bad tidings upon those I pray for. Instead, my fear has relegated and prayers to the back burner in favor of “well-wishes” and words of encouragement. I don’t know how to break free from this. I’ve reflected back on my life to see if there is a reason for this “cursed” feeling. It may be silly and unfounded but I do feel completely unworthy of the rewards of prayer. So much so that I weep at the thought of God’s love being applied to me. When I was young and foolish, I once “took a bet” over a game of pool “for my soul”. I lost. I played again in a “teams game” for my soul and we won. However, I’m still afraid I made a mortal mistake. I reflect on it a lot… Particularly as of late with my prayers, not only (seemingly) not being answered, but the prayers (seemingly) going tragically “wrong”. I’ve been left to my own devices since a very young age and have never found it easy to give control over to anyone else because of that. As such, I don’t know how to give myself wholly to God. Sorry for the long comment. I just don’t know who to turn to.

    • Hey, Jay. Thank you so much for your comment. I appreciate you reading the article and commenting! I hear you on this fear–I’ve honestly sometimes felt the same thing when God doesn’t answer my prayers as I hoped He would. But I think your biggest problem, Jay, is not in your prayers, but in the fact that you need to understand the gospel in a deeper way. Your soul is not up for grabs in a pool game or any other game. Playing like that is dangerous and honestly demonic (sorry to be so harsh! But I want to tell you the truth.) Salvation is a free gift from God ONLY because of Jesus’s death on the cross. You don’t contribute anything to it — not works, not luck, not anything — all you can do is humbly receive it by faith. Because, Jay, God DOES love you. He loves you so much He sent Jesus to die so that you might be able to have eternal life with Him. I want to encourage you to dig deep into Scripture and look at what God says about His love for you and about the gospel. I’d encourage you to start with Romans 5-8 and Ephesians 3:14-21, and in the book of John. I also encourage you to examine your life and see if you’re giving evil any access into your life. Thoughts that you’re cursed, playing games for your soul, etc, these things make me strongly think that Satan is attempting to “steal, kill, and destroy” in your life (see John 10:10) We have a very, very real enemy who is very good at deceiving us. So please be very careful about what you are listening to, watching, reading, following and playing. If it’s evil or dark, it’s keeping you from God. (see 1 Peter 5:8)

      Praying for you, Jay! Thanks again for your comment and God bless! Let me know if you have any questions.

    • I hear you, Jay. This is me. Especially today, when I am too afraid to pray for the health of someone without whose presence in this world my life is devoid od oxygen, of light, of every meaning. (I am sorry, dear God, but I need worldly, human love, too. I am a human – a lonely, bereft human; and I need the sweetness of earthly love in my earthly heart.)

      There was another day when I felt to afraid, too frozen to pray; I was a child then. It all ended well then.
      But in the past 20 years or so, all that changed. I HAVE asked for the truly “impossible”. I gave myself fully in that prayer. But – as people say, most heartlessly and unhelpfully, “God said NO”.

      I am full of good intentions and very pro-active for others. Trying to be “in control”, yes – but in the sense of “God helps those who help themselves”. I know this is not strictly scriptural, but… how else can we live? As cowed little children who won’t lift a finger, letting God do everything, even tying their shoelaces? (If it sounds sarcastic, believe me, it is NOT meant to be.)

      But I feel as if a curse had fallen upon me, especially in the last year. I feel I may even have brought it upon myself, even though I always, every day, try to scour my soul clean as much as I can; and I am well aware that any gifts I may have – and here are many – come from God alone, not through any merit of mine. Still, i feel as if a crack opened and the Darkness found a way in. Or maybe I am just interpreting it all wrongly.
      I don’t know.
      I only know that I am in the throes of despair, too afraid to pray, lest God “says NO” once again – or even bring further misfortune upon my loved one.

      In my experience, I also fear that other people’s – deeply religious people’s – intense prayers for ME may have brought me nothing but deep sorrow and uwelcome changes.
      I think I may have lost my faith entirely – at least my faith in prayer. God really is unknowable.

      May God have mercy on me. I have tried to be an instrument of joy and beauty and happiness in this world, but, deep down, I may have been much too conceited.

      All the best to you, to everyone, always.
      And may these words, this truly sincere wish, find grace in God’s eyes. May it not bring earthly sorrow and suffering to anyone.

By Sara Barratt
rebelling against low expectations

The Rebelution is a teenage rebellion against low expectations—a worldwide campaign to reject apathy, embrace responsibility, and do hard things. Learn More →