Do you ever think, “That is a pointless prayer. Nothing’s going to change in that situation, so why bother praying about it”? I can certainly relate to that feeling of praying for something or someone and afterwards feeling like it’s not going to make any difference. But recently, I read an article by Marcus Warner of Deeper Life Ministries entitled, “No Pointless Prayers,” and I eagerly read it because the title resonated with me. Is it true there are no pointless prayers?
In his article, No Pointless Prayers, Marcus talks about a time recently when he thought of some friends—a couple—who were not yet believers and had not yet shown much inclination to learn about Christianity, and as he was reminded of them, he said a quick prayer that they would come to saving faith. Immediately afterwards an inner voice said to him, That was a pointless prayer. He recognized that this thought had come from the enemy, and later journaled about that moment, writing from God’s perspective. He wrote:
I heard your prayers. They were not pointless. The incense comes before the throne of grace—a sweet smelling, wonderful aroma of love and worship in a world that is broken and malfunctioning. There are no pointless prayers.
Marcus goes on to say, “This feels true to me. Granted, some praying is more effective than others, but it is better to pray badly than not to pray at all. It is better to bring our requests before the throne and let the Spirit do what He does to bring them before the Father as part of the rare, exquisite aroma that comes from the incense of our prayers.”
In this article, Marcus points out the story of Zechariah and his wife, Elizabeth. They were childless and Elizabeth was long past child-bearing age. Zechariah, who was a priest, had many times prayed for a son. No doubt it felt like a pointless prayer at this point in their lives. But as he was praying before the altar of incense, he encountered an angel who told him his prayers had been answered. And indeed, in a short time, Elizabeth gave birth to John the Baptist.
Marcus writes, “Zechariah had offered many ‘pointless’ prayers for his wife, Elizabeth. Realistically, she was never going to have a child—not now, not at her age. But it turns out, there are no throwaway prayers. God had heard them, and God was about to act.”
“How about you? Have you given up praying for someone or something because the prayers have begun to feel pointless? You never know,” as Marcus says, “An angel may already be on the way.”
This short article touched my soul as I realized how often I pray what feel like pointless prayers, but I believe, as the article said, that it is better to pray badly than not to pray at all. I want to point out what the Bible says about praying different kinds of prayers, and I hope it will encourage you to remember that there are no pointless prayers. Furthermore, you can pray about anything at any time; God welcomes your prayers. And, while it’s better to pray badly than not to pray at all, it’s better to pray effectively than to pray badly. Let’s see what kinds of prayers we are instructed to pray.
Ephesians 6:18 says, “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.” Here are the key points about prayer that we learn from this verse:
- Pray in the Spirit
What does it mean to pray in the Spirit? Note that the word translated “in” can mean “in,” “with,” or “by means of.” It simply points out that we need the Holy Spirit to help us with our prayers. Romans 8:26 says, “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.” Praying in the Spirit does not refer to the words we are saying. Rather, it refers to how we are praying. Praying in the Spirit is praying according to the Spirit’s leading. It is praying for things the Spirit leads us to pray for and it is trusting the Spirit to pray for us.
- On all occasions
This simply means it is appropriate to pray about every occasion in our lives. From the smallest incidents to the traumatic occurrences, pray on all occasions. My friend, Fran, first taught me this truth by the way she prays. From asking God to help her find a good parking spot, to praying for the company her husband worked for, to praying for the salvation of her father before he died—she prays on all occasions.
I remember one specific time when she lost the diamond in her wedding ring. It was loose and just fell out. She was aware it was loose, but had neglected to go to a jeweler to have it tightened. It was on her list of things to do—you know how that is—but she just hadn’t gotten around to doing it. So, in a sense you could say it was her fault that she had lost her diamond. But that didn’t mean she couldn’t pray about it, which she did. She also began a desperate search for her diamond.
A couple of days later, she decided to search her car. Now, how likely would it be that a small diamond could be found in a car—even if indeed that was where it was? But she prayed that God would help her find that diamond, promising not to be so careless again, and you guessed it—tucked in one of the car seats, there it was! Fran prays on all occasions about everything, even when it seems pointless.
- With all kinds of prayers and requests
In writing to Timothy, Paul gives a further explanation of the different kinds of prayers. He says in I Timothy 2:1, “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people…”
(I Timothy 2:1). The Bible talks about the prayer of faith in James 5, praying for the sick, for example. It also gives examples of corporate prayer, where the disciples “all joined together constantly in prayer,” in Acts 1:14.
God invites us to petition him—to make our requests known to him. Jesus said you have not because you ask not. Intercession is praying for others, and this is certainly one of the most important kinds of prayer we should pray. How much of your prayer time is spent on behalf of others? I think about it this way: pray for all the others in your life for whom you should pray, and if you don’t have time to pray for yourself, just lift it up to God—who knows all your needs—and ask him to meet all your needs as he has promised to do.
Spending time thanking God for all his goodness and blessings should be a key part of our prayers. Paul admonished the Philippian believers to make their requests known to God with thanksgiving. I find it is more helpful to spend more time thanking God for all he’s done for me than it is to just present a laundry list of all I want him to do. Our requests should be coupled with thanksgiving.
Then there is this succinct instruction about prayer we find in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18: “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Prayer is simply conversation with God, and that should be an on-going conversation—where at any time in any part of the day, we are so connected with God that we keep the conversation going.
I was thinking of the ways we stay connected now with the people in our lives. Because of all the technological advances and gadgets that we have, we truly can keep a conversation going just about all the time, can’t we? We text many times throughout the day; we phone and email; there’s Facebook and Twitter and so many other ways to stay connected with each other. Don’t you think we should stay connected with God throughout our entire day at least as much as we do with our loved ones and friends?
I have a long-time friend who is a successful lawyer, and I know she incorporates prayer all through her day. I asked her how she keeps this continual conversation going with God in the midst of a busy day, and how that affects her life. Here is how she replied:
I have many goals every day as I work—like providing valuable legal advice, articulately presenting a client’s position, clearly and accurately drafting necessary documents—but there is no more important goal that I have in my work with clients and with coworkers than to show the love of Jesus to them in every interaction. I try to pray before every call, every meeting, and even as I am walking through the halls of my office, that I will show Jesus’ love. I text my prayer partners before important calls and meetings to pray that I will show Jesus’ love to everyone. It changes everything about how I see people and how I treat them. It helps me focus on the most important thing—the love of Jesus. And no matter what the outcome is of the call/meeting/interaction, whether I performed well or whether I delivered the value that I wanted to deliver to our client, if I was able to share just a tiny bit of the love that Jesus has given me, then I consider it a success and not a failure because love never fails.
Showing the love of Jesus has become a family affair for my husband who works with nonprofit organizations and for my daughter who works with a grocery store. We pray every day for and with each other that in all of our work and in all of our lives, we will show the love of Jesus to everyone we meet. These prayers continue to change everything about how we work and live, and bring us many moments of peace and joy.
I am one of her prayer partners and I love the way she brings a conversation with God into everything she does. She prays on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and, as we read in James 5, “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” When you have been born from above and the righteousness of Jesus has been given to you, then you can claim this promise: your prayers are powerful and effective because you have the righteousness of Christ.
As I noted, it is better to pray a bad prayer than not to pray at all because there are no pointless prayers. But praying in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers—praying as Jesus taught us to pray in what we call the Lord’s Prayer—this is even more powerful praying.
I hope you will seriously take a look at your own prayer life, as I am doing as well, and you’ll make a commitment to pray more and more about everything, and to pray more effectively with all kinds of prayers.