How to Know When to Stop Praying and Start Obeying
I once heard a story while attending a Bible study – a lady had recently moved into a new apartment, and her downstairs neighbor played Christian rock music loudly, during the day, creating a disturbance. She worked nights, so the day was her opportunity to sleep and recharge. She prayed to the Lord to remove the music, then waited. When nothing changed she became frustrated and wondered why the Lord did not hear her cries.
This story is a good reminder that praying provides an opportunity for our faith to grow by exhibiting some action. We know we’re commanded to pray all the time, nonstop, without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17). However, praying is not mindless words directed toward God without some action on our part.
Prayer Should Move Us toward Obedient Action
If you view God as a genie or some magical power who only exists to make your wishes a reality, you’ll have a hard time knowing when to act. You may even think you deserve what you’ve prayed for, so now it’s up to God to work since there’s nothing you can do.
This limited view of God limits you: you’ve stopped listening for Him in your time in the Word and in prayer. However, if you view God as sovereign yet available, you begin to understand that He’s working all the time. In prayer, your perspective shifts to recognize how He’s working and what, if anything, you’ll need to do. In prayer you become more obedient and gain clarity.
In the illustration above, if the lady had exhibited faith and knocked on her neighbor’s door, she might have been able to sleep while also getting to know her neighbor. Perhaps her faith was weak because of her limited understanding of God. God wants us to trust that he will move and act for us, but often we fail to see how God moves and acts through us.
If you’re seeking to understand when to pray and when to move in faith, the story of Hannah illustrates some key points about praying and obedience.
How Hannah’s Story Teaches Us about Prayer and Obedience
Imagine if Hannah, who prayed many years for a child, had prayed but done nothing? Hannah was distraught, and 1 Samuel notes the following about her prayer: “Once after a sacrificial meal at Shiloh, Hannah got up and went to pray. Eli the priest was sitting at his customary place beside the entrance of the Tabernacle. Hannah was in deep anguish, crying bitterly as she prayed to the Lord. And she made this vow: “O Lord of Heaven’s Armies, if you will look upon my sorrow and answer my prayer and give me a son, then I will give him back to you. He will be yours for his entire lifetime, and as a sign that he has been dedicated to the Lord, his hair will never be cut (1 Samuel 1:9-11 NLT).”
Through Hannah’s prayer we see:
Hannah’s timing – Of the two wives of Eli, Hannah was unable to have children. She desired to have children, and the inability to do so made her desperate. Desperation can bring us to our knees, as it did to Hannah and force us to finally communicate with God in a way we never had before. In deep anguish, Hannah cried to God.
Desperation forces us to look up. In desperation, we realize we can’t solve all our problems. We don’t have all the answers. It is in despair that we often realize we are out of options. These aren’t the only prayers God hears, but it’s often desperate prayers that are our most sincere prayers.
Hannah’s vow - Hannah knew God, not on a superficial level, but as a comforter, an encourager, a provider, a listener, a promise keeper. She knew God’s character. She knew she could pour out her heart to him without being ashamed. She knew that God was love. She knew of his sovereignty. She knew he could fulfill her desire if it were His will. Her vow shows the strength of her faith with the willingness to be further obedient. This was unknown territory on her part, yet there was a willingness to prove she had faith in God.
Hannah’s faith – Hannah acted on her prayer, and this time the Lord remembered her plea (1 Samuel 1:19). In due time, Hannah gave birth to a son, Samuel. There will always come a time when we have to exercise what we believe and act in faith. For without faith it is impossible to please him (Hebrews 11:6). Faith is not easy, because the unknown is always there, tempting us to disbelief.
In Hannah’s case, God heard her pleas, and finally she conceived a child.
Ultimately, knowing when to act as you pray is a complicated thought that is best reframed based on your relationship with God. The deeper you go in your relationship, the greater the opportunity to know how to move — intimacy conditions you to hear His voice and to respond.
There is no formula to this except it depends on your willingness to know, listen, and obey.
- Sometimes you get a godly nudge as Hannah did from Eli.
- Sometimes the counsel in his Word provides clear guidance for your situation.
- Sometimes the Holy Spirit speaks very clearly to you.
- Sometimes you’re like Paul, who prayed three times for a thorn in the flesh to be removed, then stopped, recognizing that God’s grace was sufficient for Him (2 Corinthians 12:8-10).
There’s a pleasure in prayer as you gain additional insight by spending time with the God of the universe. Praying isn’t just about getting our needs met but knowing His will for our lives. The only way to know His will is to spend significant time with Him, because the priority of prayer is about Him, not us. Therefore read his Word and learn from the examples given to us. Pray relentlessly, listen and act. Praying won’t change God’s will for you, but it will surely change you. Once you hear his voice, whether it’s through Scripture, the Holy Spirit, others He sends your way, your only choice is to respond with obedience. You’ll be happy and blessed because you obeyed.
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Nylse is a Christian wife and a mother of four who loves life and inspiring others. She likes to have fun but is very clear on who she is and Whose she is. A prolific thinker, she blogs to encourage others from a Christian perspective at www.lifenotesencouragement.com. She can be found online on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.