When God Told Me Not To Pray

Redefining my understanding of prayer

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My whole life, everyone taught me that prayer was always the right response. Even Scripture says we are to “pray without ceasing,” and though this directive felt a bit daunting, I fully believed God designed us to be people of prayer. I believed we were to pray with faith and boldness, and to persist in our petitions until we got a breakthrough. Isn’t that what the parable about the unjust judge teaches, that we are to “always pray and never give up?” (Luke 18:1-8) However, there are two distinct times in my life when I am certain God told me not to pray. They both surprised me, and they both redefined my understanding of Him.

The first time was at my work. As a physician assistant, I often have opportunities to pray with my patients. It is a privilege and a joy every time I connect someone with the love of God through prayer. I believe my heart was right in doing this, and it often brought peace and encouragement to the patients.  However, one day I realized I was subconsciously rating the “spiritual effectiveness” of my day by my prayers, thinking God was especially pleased with me on the days when I prayed for more patients.

During this time in my life I was reading a lot of books about supernatural healings and miracles. They were wonderful books about the restoration of the gifts in the church today, with many testimonies of people transformed by God’s touch. The books challenged my faith, propelling me into a new intentionality with my prayers – not just for other’s comfort, but also for their healing.

One day I saw a patient who had previously struggled with addiction to pain medications, but he had real chronic pain every day. We discussed his treatment options together, but I honestly did not know what to do for him. I prayed to myself and felt like the Lord told me to ask the patient, that he would know what to do. We decided to pray together and he broke out in tongues (a gift he had previously shut down and avoided using for years). This encounter with the Holy Spirit led him to decide he didn’t need prescription pain medication anymore! It was an incredible time with the Lord, which led me to believe that praying in faith and moving in the Spirit's lead would look something like this when I am at work.

Then one day a young disabled patient came in. This patient was in an accident that led to a back surgery, but the surgery had worsened his condition. He now walked with a cane and wasn’t able to do much of anything. I offered to pray for his back and he accepted. Nothing happened. The next time this patient came to the office, he brought disability paperwork with him. It was lengthy and typically requires a longer appointment time (for which he was not scheduled). However, he did not have insurance and would have had to pay again if he came back another day to get the paperwork filled out. I wrestled with what to do. I thought about his previous visit and how I had prayed for him. I wondered if I should pray for him again – maybe I just needed to persist in faith for his healing?

I paused for a moment to ask the Lord what I should do. I immediately heard in my spirit, “Carey, he doesn’t need you to pray for him; he needs you to fill out his disability paperwork.” In that split second I understood. I realized that everything I did was sacred; it had nothing to do with whether I prayed or not. My role at work was to meet the practical needs of my patients by providing the best medical care I could. Though filling out paperwork may not be as “exciting” as my experience with the other patient, doing the mundane tasks of my job with love and excellence was also a way of yielding to the Holy Spirit. Needless to say, I went back in the room and filled out his paperwork.

I realize now that in my zealous pursuit of the Lord, there were times I would try to grasp something that was good and true, but then distort it into an extreme, and misapply that truth.  It is wonderful when God shows up supernaturally in our lives, but it is just as significant when He shows up in natural and practical ways. We should not to measure our spiritual “success” by our grand encounters with Him, or our “noteworthy” exploits. In fact, let’s not measure them at all. Instead, let’s train ourselves to do everything as unto the Lord and not man . . . and remember that the only thing that really counts is faith expressing itself through love (Galatians 5:6).  As Mother Theresa said,

We can do no great things, only small things with great love.

There was another time in my life when I was seeking God in prayer and He blindsided me with His response. A family member was in an abusive relationship that resulted in him being isolated. His suffering was immense and I was heartbroken over it all. I believe in the power of prayer so I thought surely if I persisted with prayer on his behalf, that God would rescue him. I spent a great amount of time crying out to God for his freedom and restoration. One day, while petitioning God with angst and tears, He spoke calmly to my spirit and said, “Carey, stop praying.” His words caught me completely off guard, but I listened to hear what He had to say to my heart. In the following moments, I realized that these times of prayer did not leave me with peace, but rather in a greater state of anxiety over this family member. Instead of letting go of the burden during those times of prayer, I was trying to bulldoze my way into receiving the answer I wanted. I had made prayer a work, putting more faith in my act of praying than in the God who answers our prayers.

I stopped praying for this family member that day (at least in that manner) and I surrendered the outcome of his life to God. This is when God’s peace came . . . and I learned that one moment of surrender and trust in God is more powerful than years of anxiety-laden prayers. Bill Johnson once wrote, “Faith doesn’t deny a problem exists, it just denies it a place of influence.” I had allowed this situation too much power in my life, and it was time to let it go.

I have grown to understand that praying is not always verbal – it is more about remaining in communion with God, and listening as much as we are speaking. It is about moving in the ebb and flow of His lead. When I finally understood this – the scripture “pray without ceasing” wasn’t daunting anymore. Instead, it was a beautiful invitation to stay in contact with my heavenly Father. And regarding the parable of the unjust judge, I realized God was not being compared to this unjust judge; He was contrasted to him! The parable ends enforcing that God will give justice speedily to his elect that cry out to Him. We don’t have to pester God with our prayers before He will intervene; our loving heavenly Father delights in answering our prayers . . . sometimes that process just looks different from what we imagine.

Exodus14 14I once heard Graham Cooke say, “We should pray like a bride not a widow.” I’m still growing into my true identity as His bride, but I know this is the place from which I want to live my life. My prayers aren’t directed at a distant God; I’m actually calling out to the lover of my soul, who knows me intimately and always has my best interest at heart. Because I know my heavenly Father is good, I can pray from a place of trusting surrender instead of angst. Since peace is the place from which revelation flows, I needed this paradigm shift before I could hear and pray the Father’s heart. As the missionary Hudson Taylor once said, “Friendship with God comes not from striving after faith but from resting in the faithful one.” Most of us just need a bit more rest.

Carey McNamara

I am a wife to Bob, a mom to Connor, and a physician assistant who is passionate about beating heart disease. As a devoted lover of Jesus, I am on an unending quest for more truth, love, and wholeness through Him. I have come to a place in my life where I realize God is not afraid of my questions, and I have learned the joy of pursuing Him until I discover His heart. As a result, I created a blog to encourage others in their own journey towards Life, Liberty, and Love in Christ. I am passionate about doing life authentically in community, and am thrilled to share a bit of that with you here.

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