Mar 04, 2023 2280 Ellen Hogarty, USA

When Prayer Doesn’t Work

Keep digging through this article to discover a new bypass for your prayer life

Some years ago, my sister’s house had a major plumbing problem. There was an undetected water leak somewhere on the property which caused her water bill to increase from $70 a month to $400 a month. They tried to discover the source of the leak, with her son doing a lot of digging and excavating, but to no avail.

After days of fruitless search, a friend came up with a solution. His idea: forget about trying to find the leak. Instead, go to the head of the water pipe, attach new piping, and bypass the area that they knew was problematic due to pooling water. Lay the new pipe along a new path and abandon the old pipeline altogether.

So that’s what they did. Following a day of hard work and lots of digging, they accomplished that plan and, Voila! The problem was fixed, and my sister’swater bill went back to normal.

As I reflected on this, my thoughts turned to unanswered prayers. Sometimes we are praying for people or for situations and those prayers don’t seem to make any difference. The pipeline to God’s ear seems “leaky.”Maybe we pray and pray and pray for someone to have a conversion, to come back to church. Or we pray for someone to find a job who has been unemployed for a while. Or we pray for healing for someone battling serious health issues. Whatever the situation is, we don’t see any progress and our prayers feel like they are wasted or useless.

I remember praying for a very difficult personnel conflict in the missionary organization I work with. This was a situation that was very stressful and draining on my emotional and physical energy. Nothing I tried on a natural level seemed to resolve it, and my prayers for a solution seemed to have no effect. In my prayer one day, I cried out yet again to God in desperation and heard a still, quiet voice in my heart, “Surrender it to Me. I will take care of it.”

I realized that I needed a shift in my approach, a “plumbing bypass” so to speak. My attitude up until this point was trying to solve the situation by my efforts: mediate, talk through, try various compromises, placate the parties involved. But since nothing had worked and things only got worse, I knew that I needed to let God take over. So I gave Him my assent. “Lord, I surrender it all to you. Do whatever You need to do, and I will cooperate.”

Within 48 hours of that prayer, the situation was completely resolved! With speed that took my breath away, one of the parties made a decision which totally changed everything, and the stress and conflict was eliminated just like that. I was in awe and could not believe what had just happened.

What did I learn? If I am praying in a certain way for something or someone and have been stuck and am seeing no breakthroughs, maybe I need to change the way I am praying. To stop and ask the Holy Spirit, “Is there another way I should be praying for this person? Is there something else I should be asking for, a specific grace they need right now?” Maybe we need to try a “plumbing bypass.”

Instead of trying to find the leak or the source of the resistance, we can pray that God bypass it. God is very creative (the source of creativity, the original Creator) and if we keep cooperating with Him, He will come up with other ways to resolve issues and bring grace that we haven’t even thought of. Let God be God and give Him room to move and act.

In my case, I needed to step out of the way, acknowledge in humility that what I had been doing wasn’t working, and surrender more deeply to the Lord so that He could act. But each situation is different, so ask God what He wants you to do and listen for His instructions. Follow those to the best of your ability and leave the results in His hands. And remember what Jesus said: “What is impossible with man is possible with God.” Luke 18:27


Ellen Hogarty

Ellen Hogarty is a spiritual director, writer and full-time missionary with the Lord’s Ranch Community in New Mexico. She blogs at cacklescorner.com.

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