When You Can’t Pray Anymore

By Jill Briscoe   •   July 12, 2012

Let’s take a look at 1 Kings 19:1-9, where Elijah felt much the same way.

We pick up the story of Elijah just after God had vindicated him by fire on Mt. Carmel in front of the prophets of Baal. But now Jezebel has vowed to kill Elijah, and the contrast is incredible. The Bible says, “Elijah was afraid and fled for his life” and ran away to collapse under a broom tree (1 Kings 19:3).

I could imagine Elijah as exhausted, lonely or angry, but not afraid! Yet, I have to admit that this particular verse encourages me to keep hoping, because I, too, am so often afraid.

Have you ever had a “broom tree experience?” What took you there? Can you identify with any of the factors that took Elijah down? Have you ever run away because you were afraid?

It has been my experience that when you run into fear, you can run out of faith in a hurry. Fear paralyzes you. In a moment we can go from faith to fear and end up under a broom tree waiting to die. But such failure is never final for the people of God. It might look and feel that way, but it can lead to a whole new dimension of ministry and experience in prayer.

What Fear Does to Faith

Doubt is faith in distress, and it is very hard to pray when you are doubting God. The Bible says, “Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him” (Hebrews 11:6). Elijah couldn’t see God anymore, but worse, he could see Jezebel very clearly. And she looked so much bigger than God.

There are two ways of looking at a problem. You can look at your problem through God, or you can look at God through your problem. If God is in front of the problem, it appears insignificant. But if God is behind the problem, then the problem dominates everything.

What God’s Presence Does for Us

Do you find it hard to tell God how you feel? Have you ever told God that you’ve had enough?

The first thing to do when you arrive under the broom tree is quit everything. Give yourself permission to collapse. Elijah simply said, “God, I’ve had it!”

Think of a parent dealing with a child who is extremely upset. If only we can get the child talking, we can do something to resolve the issue. God feels like that about His children. It is not that He needs information, just dialogue. It is for our sake, not His, that we should try to tell Him how we feel.

The Lord Jesus never tired of inviting, encouraging, exhorting, even commanding people—especially His disciples—to pray. He said that they “should always pray and not give up” (Luke 18:1, NIV). When you are under the broom tree, that is very hard to do, but at these times, we are not praying intercessory prayers. These are prayers of desperation. Keep talking to the Lord, even if you are mad at Him or doubting His very existence.

Where was God in Elijah’s situation? Read 1 Kings 19:5-7.

God was there in the person of the angel of the Lord. God is always present and waiting to help His exhausted servants. Jesus promised that a sparrow would not fall to the ground without the Father knowing it (Matthew 10:29). God is never surprised by our visits to the broom tree. Knowing all things, He waits to strengthen us by the appropriate means, just as He waited for Elijah and had a meal prepared for him. In your broom tree situation, have you sensed an “angel of the Lord’s presence?” Look up Genesis 16:7 and Exodus 3:1-16 for other examples of when the Lord appeared. What were the occasions? To whom did He appear? What did He do? What resulted?

Every time we pray, the angel of His presence is as much with us as He was with Elijah through His Holy Spirit. In fact, He dwells within us!

What the Broom Tree Gives to Us

Broom tree experiences introduce us to a new way of praying. It’s not verbal praying but rather total abandonment of ourselves in despair at God’s feet. It is a silent scream for help. Sometimes we cannot even shout at God. We are spent.

When you run out of prayers, God still hears you. Even though no words are formed, God looks at you and reads the language of your longing. At that moment, you are the prayer. So be content just to be a desperate prayer under your particular broom tree and wait and see what happens.

You may wonder how long you’ll be there. You’ll remain there as long as it takes for you to be strengthened. Try not to take on anything extra until things begin to be resolved. Once Elijah was off and running again, God went ahead of him, preparing his future.

If you’re not at the broom tree right now, you will be someday and there is probably someone else there right now. Pray right now for people under the broom tree and make a list of practical ways you could help them. Take action on this list soon. Then, pray and ask God about your own pressures, loneliness and exhaustion. Is there a broom tree ahead of you? Spend some time in prayer.

The journey can be too great for all of us, for all sorts of reasons. Maybe you have been left to care for a sick person for far too long, with no relief. Or you have been in school and also working to support a family and have burned out. Maybe you have been in a wilderness spiritually, with little or no fellowship over the long haul. There are all sorts of reasons that we run out of prayers. Yet, when that happens, God has only just begun!

As Elijah was to find out, God gives more grace, more help, more joy, more hope and more strength to all of us in our weakness than He ever does when we are strong. We just need to bank on it. It was the Lord Jesus, the captain of the Lord of hosts, who came to Elijah’s aid, and the same captain of our salvation will fight for us against all our enemies, even the enemies called desperation and depression.

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  1. Karen Delmonico says:

    Thznk you..I am under the broom tree…out of prayer and longing for my God..I just can’t get there..I guess I will sit under this tree until zhe comes.

  2. Don says:

    I have never been able to really pray. I really want to, but am so disappointed about this that I am in despair. Every time I pray I feel very down and bored out of my mind with no hope that he hears. Like it is such a useless time. I don’t understand it. I think it might be because of my earthly father, but what is a person to do? Thanks for your teaching, but it is not helping. I really want to pray. Really…………..

  3. Terry says:

    Use to have a fulfilling prayer life.Don't know what quite happened.One day I just found it very hard to pray.I was thinking that God must be angry because I don't spend that intimate time with him anymore.This article has helped me.

  4. Mercer says:

    I am under the broom tree right now! But Glory to God! I am being washed and cleansed! I have learned to just be still @ All God wants is for us to be AVAILABLE! For HIM! You don't have to do a whole lot of stuff! We all got church down. Available!

  5. Maria says:

    Spent, have been for 14 months now, since the birth of my son. I don't think god hears me and has given up on me because i could never be the type of christian i see in ministries, when i used to serve. Still trying…

  6. The Messianic Jew. says:

    I am Messianic Jew and I know by my own testimony that G-d is calling many people to see the light, look for a Messianic congregation near your location and take a look at the half that you were missing to live a life pleasing our Lord every day.

  7. betina says:

    i have been going through this time of dispair, hopelesness and no focus at all in my life. nothing seemed so important and nothing seem to get my focus. like i was lost and id not have a clue on which road to take. in our weaknes ur power is made 1

  8. Dianne says:

    God must have brought me to this page, because it is where I am also – under the broom tree. I felt like God had given up on me, but I know now that He must feel like I have given up on Him. I will just have to patiently wait and trust Him.

  9. Curtis says:

    Behold, the Lord 's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear. Is.59:1-2

  10. anonymous says:

    i kinda feel like i can't pray like i used to. 🙁