Prayer and Unbelief

Prayer isn’t easy.  

I think some of us would be embarrassed to admit how seldom we actually stop and pray. Some of us are probably embarrassed to confess that we’re not sure we even know how to pray. The fact is, you’re not alone if you’re one of those people. Prayer is difficult.  

We have so many forces working against us. There’s not enough time, not enough energy. We don’t know the right words to say. We’re plagued by doubt, which, in a secular society, is just the water we swim in. And we’re plagued by the nagging suspicion that this prayer stuff might just be hocus pocus anyway.  In our modern way of thinking, it’s just not second nature to believe that reality is anything but what we can see and touch and measure and manipulate. The idea that we are subject to divine power is alien to our secular mindset and Christians are not immune to that.

But we wouldn’t want to admit that, right? What would our church friends think of us?  

It’s important to remember that faith and doubt are not opposites. In fact, sometimes the best place to start with faith is in doubt. There’s truly no better place to start than exactly where you are. Prayer is nothing if it’s not honesty. So maybe the best prayer is the one that begins with, “God, this is hard.” Or perhaps, “God, I want to pray, but I need your help. Help me pray.” Sometimes when we admit that belief is in contention, we can actually become more open and more receptive of God. If we leave our faith unchallenged, untested, and untethered, is it genuine faith at all?

In the gospel of Mark (chapter 9), there’s a story about a young boy who was having seizures of some kind. The boy’s father went to Jesus’ disciples for help, but they couldn’t fix the problem. So the father went straight to Jesus and explained. The seizures were becoming life threatening for the child and the father was scared. He came to Jesus and asked for help, “if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” Jesus said, “Everything is possible for one who believes.” And then the father responded with one of the most profound prayers in history....  

“I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” 

This somewhat paradoxical prayer is where a lot of us are right now. We believe, but we need help overcoming unbelief. We want to trust that God is here, that all the promises of scripture are true and that God loves us and hears us and wants to be in relationship with us. But we need God’s help.  Like the father in the story, we want to believe, we’re trying to believe but we need God to fill in where we’ve left off.

So start where you are. Start right where you are and just talk to God. If it’s hard to believe, then ask for help. If it’s hard to pray, then ask God to pray with you. Just be honest, because God already accepts you and loves you, even in your doubt.... even in your unbelief. Faith is not something you muster through your own strength, it’s something God gives us as a gift if we are honest enough to accept it just as we are.

Try simply praying this prayer....  

“God, I want pray, but I need your help. Show me how to be honest with you and with myself. Help me to love you and help me to believe that you are there and that you love me.”  

...Maybe try praying it again.... And remember that prayer was God’s idea in the first place. We didn’t come up with this! God invited us to pray before it ever a thought occurred to us. God wants to hear your prayers because God loves you. This is true, believe it or not.  

[This post was originally written for publication at]