Fighting Prayer Life Paralysis

| May 8, 2017

Have you ever felt like everybody else is “getting prayer” except for you? I know I’ve struggled with that feeling so many times. I want to grow in my prayer life, but how do you even describe what that means?

Maturity in prayer is hard or maybe even impossible to quantify. Does it have to do with how many hours you spend praying a week? Is it a question of “quantity versus quality”? Do I have to have some sort of emotional reaction that leaves me overwhelmed and in tears or do I need more than a magic percent of my petitions granted if I want to call my quiet times “effective”?

I think most of us agree that prayer is an area we would like to grow in. I know it is for me. My problem is even if I set aside time to pray, I end up distracted and discouraged. I feel like I’m wasting God’s time as well as my own. There’s a nagging voice in the back of my head that says I should be doing this better by now.

We all struggle when it comes to prayer. Romans 8:26 echoes this frustration: “We do not know what to pray for as we ought” (ESV), but the rest of that verse offers such tremendous and glorious hope: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.”

Unfortunately, even with the help of the Holy Spirit, it’s hard to persevere in our prayer lives when we keep facing daily challenges, frustrations, and distractions. For me, I find it helps if I can identity the root of the problem. My issue isn’t a lack of time. Yes, I’m a busy mother, but I (usually) manage to do the laundry, wash the dishes, and check Facebook far more often than I should. Neither is it a problem of not wanting to pray. I desperately want to grow into the kind of prayer warrior and intercessor I believe God wants all His children to be.

The Prayer Life Problem

So where does the problem lie? For me, I sometimes get so overwhelmed with how many things I should be praying for that I hardly pray at all.

It’s the sheer number of options that gets me. I’ve never once ordered a coffee at Starbucks. Know why? I get to the front of the counter and see way too many choices and hardly know what any of them are. So I order a muffin or a hot chocolate. I sometimes feel like that in my prayer life, too. I have sick friends, hurting friends, unsaved friends… how in the world am I supposed to organize my thoughts and cover all of them? That doesn’t even begin to mention all the missionaries and all the countries and all the lost people groups in the world that I wish I could pray for more effectively.

When we get overwhelmed by all the prayer needs out there, let’s remember that praying thoroughly for a small handful of people and issues is far better than giving up before we even try. I like to remember Jesus’s words in Luke 16:10, “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much” (NIV). If we’re faithful praying for a few people or issues that God brings to mind, I believe He’ll increase our prayer burdens as well as our capacity to cover these issues in intercession like we should.

3 ways to fight prayer life paralysisJust like the little toddler who’s just learning how to walk, we shouldn’t give up because we can’t run a marathon. Instead, we should keep getting up and persevering in prayer even if our progress can only be measured in centimeters.

3 Tips for Getting Your Prayer Life “Unstuck”

If you are like me and sometimes struggle with this concept of “prayer life paralysis,” here’s a few quick suggestions.

1.) Don’t be afraid to start small.

“Who dares despise the day of small things?” (Zechariah 4:10, NIV) Maybe you’re not the prayer warrior you hope to be, that that’s no excuse to give up trying. If you know thirty unsaved friends and feel overwhelmed praying for them all, ask God to help you narrow down your prayer list to one or two and make a commitment to pray for them each day. As you grow in your focus, it will be easier for you to add to your prayer list later on.

2.) Set specific goals.

Instead of just saying, “I want to be a better pray-er,” come up with one actionable goal you can set for yourself. But be realistic. I’m going to spend five minutes praying for my family each evening before bed is a more reasonable goal than I’m going to spend every minute of my hour-long commute talking to God.

3.) Ask God what He wants you to focus on.

Maybe you’re busy sweating because you’re not praying for your next-door neighbor, but really God’s calling you to pray for the family your church just sent out as missionaries. It’s true that all people need our prayers, but if you ask God to help you focus in on what He wants you to be praying for, that might narrow down your focus so you don’t feel so overwhelmed by all the prayer needs out there.

How’s Your Prayer Life?

What about you? Do you suffer at times for “prayer paralysis”? What advice would you give to a Christian who feels overwhelmed by how many things there are to pray about?

Share your thoughts and advice in the comments below, and then, if you’re interested in more prayer tips, especially actionable tasks that can fit into your busy lifestyle, check out the Prevailing Prayer University. It’s a free program with daily emails and short videos offering prayer tips to help you fight distractions and stay focused in your prayers. Find out more information or sign up for the Prevailing Prayer University at

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  • Reply Marcee May 8, 2017 at 8:42 am

    Very good tips Alana! To that, I would add to say a short, heart-felt prayer whenever God puts someone on your mind or someone asks for prayer. If you wait, until your designated “prayer time,” you may forget.
    Marcee recently posted…What to do when it gets hard to believe God’s Word

    • Reply Alana Terry May 9, 2017 at 6:03 pm

      Agree completely Marcee! Sometimes we feel like we have to be really long-winded and eloquent and that can hold us back!

  • Reply Andrea May 8, 2017 at 9:11 am

    Starting small is right – even just five minutes at a time to start – and growing in from that

    • Reply Alana Terry May 9, 2017 at 6:04 pm

      Yes, I sometimes even pray with a timer for that reason.

  • Reply Nickia May 8, 2017 at 10:26 am

    Very nice post with great attainable goals in increasing one’s prayer life. Sometimes we over complicate life and we think that we we are only effective we spend a huge amount of time with Jesus in prayer… but sometimes, sometimes we need to simply and just truly share our heart with Him.

  • Reply Aleida Lane May 8, 2017 at 2:18 pm

    These are great tips. Just starting is key.

  • Reply Susan Evans May 8, 2017 at 3:49 pm

    Asking the Lord what He wants us to focus on is vital. I ask the Lord to bring a person to mind, and then I ask how God wants me to pray for them.
    Susan Evans recently posted…Government Activity Books for High School

    • Reply Alana Terry May 9, 2017 at 6:05 pm

      Yes, it sometimes takes just that tiny little bit of listening to get your attention focused the way it should be.

  • Reply Tiffany May 8, 2017 at 8:44 pm

    I really appreciate your insight. Not only your tips which are extremely useful… but also your transparency. Thank you. <3

    • Reply Alana Terry May 9, 2017 at 6:05 pm

      So kind and encourage of you, Tiffany!

  • Reply Jennifer DeFrates/Heaven Not Harvard May 9, 2017 at 11:07 am

    I agree that the sheer amount of things for which I feel like I should be praying can sometimes interfere with what I actually pray for. I like the idea of just starting small and focused. One strategy I have is to stop and immediately say a brief prayer when things come to mind rather than hours of prayers. It helps with feeling like I’m praying for those who need it right away.
    Jennifer DeFrates/Heaven Not Harvard recently posted…Intentional Multitasking for Busy Moms

  • Reply Jaime Hampton May 9, 2017 at 11:09 am

    I struggle with prayer paralysis on a regular basis, particularly when I feel like I need to stop what I’m doing for an extended period of time to pray; I just keep putting it off. I actually got a sneak preview of the Prevailing Prayer University, and loved the lesson that led us through sixty second prayers-it was eye-opening how much you can actually get prayed for in just one minute. For me, starting small has been a really effective way to combat prayer paralysis. Just taking that first step forward is the hardest part!
    Jaime Hampton recently posted…Giving Thanks for the Thorn

    • Reply Alana Terry May 11, 2017 at 9:34 pm

      Yes, I like the minute timer too 🙂

  • Reply Kristi May 9, 2017 at 8:42 pm

    This is great! I was just thinking about this today. My prayer life goes through peaks and valleys and to feel the closeness that prayer brings is amazing!

    • Reply Alana Terry May 11, 2017 at 9:33 pm

      I go through peaks and valleys for sure. I think it’s just part of the seasons of our faith journey.

  • Reply Karen Del Tatto May 10, 2017 at 8:01 pm

    Alana, I’ve been really struggling with this lately. I seem to flip-flop from seasons of prayer, but neglecting time in the Word; to being in the Word daily, but not making time for prayer.

    I can be pretty hard on myself and I like the fact that you brought up the quality vs. quantity insight. I can get hung up on quantity rather than realize that when I do pray they are quality prayers. I can also get hung up on saying a prayer hear and there throughout the day, but why is that any less a prayer. It’s not.

    I’ve had different seasons that involved different ways that I prayed. I have divided the week days by categories, ie. family; church; missions; my walk of obedience, etc. That seemed to help me focus more and to be intentional.

    I have also created Scripture prayers for each member of my family, and would lift those promises back to God every day.

    More recently, I am praying while I’m in the Word.

    Thank you so much for sharing your insights so thoughtfully on something we all struggle with.
    Karen Del Tatto recently posted…Open My Eyes That I May See

    • Reply Alana Terry May 11, 2017 at 9:33 pm

      I love the way you have things separated out by day. That sounds like a great way to stay focused.

  • Reply Deanna May 11, 2017 at 9:31 pm

    I really need to work on the “asking what God wants me to focus on” part. I struggle with unanswered prayers, some I have been praying for decades and I know it’s God’s timing but it doesn’t seem to lighten my discouragement. Some days I feel like he isn’t building my faith but crushing my hope. I keep trying though.

    • Reply Alana Terry May 11, 2017 at 9:32 pm

      That’s a discouragement I deal with a lot too. Thanks for your honesty.

  • Reply Leslie May 19, 2017 at 1:40 pm

    Alana, I loved this article. Your three tips are very encouraging and do-able. I’ve suffered lots of “prayer paralysis” and that is a great term for it! I’ll be sharing this article from my FB writer’s page next week and from twitter today! I’ll be checking out your prayer university, too!
    Leslie recently posted…How to Claim 7 Verses That Will Equip You for Life!

    • Reply Alana Terry May 19, 2017 at 11:34 pm

      That’s so kind of you to say Leslie! Thank you so much!

  • Reply Julie May 21, 2017 at 9:19 pm

    Great post and I’m going to try your tips!
    Visiting from Arabah Joy and #Grace&Trutg
    Julie recently posted…5 of the Most Important Lessons I Learned Last Year

  • Reply Heather Hart May 25, 2017 at 10:32 am

    These are great tips, Alana. Seriously. It’s easy to want to dive in and go big, but I’ve often found that leaves me worn out and leery of trying again. Starting small is definitely the way to go, but setting goals to grow is something I hadn’t really thought about.
    Heather Hart recently posted…Whitewashed Christianity

  • Reply Rachel October 28, 2018 at 4:56 am

    Oh, I often get prayer paralysis! I know that it is the enemy who is overwhelming me when I feel I don’t know where to begin. Everything you said in this post I can relate to! I declare the Lord’s truth and often think back to Romans 8:26 “…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.” This verse eases every anxiety I have about prayer because I know the feelings of overwhelm are not from Him and not to be focused on. That verse centers me and clears my mind! Thank you for sharing!
    Rachel recently posted…5 reasons you need to start your Christian blog RIGHT NOW

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