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. Martha love says:

    This helps thanks

  2. Karen Abbott says:

    Thank you for your article which speaks to my situation. May God continue to bless your work in His name. Karen

  3. Ornament says:

    2 kids, verbal abuse, unloving ungodly spouse, too proud to say please, sorry or thank you, separated marriage and in despair on a counseling journey – sad but I know my redeemer lives – cant pray as much as I need to….hanging on – article speaks to me – do remember me and others like me in prayers

  4. Joy gacheri muthaura says:

    Am helped to understand the blooms tree,pray with me i want to have a fellowship with God.

  5. Cheryl Evans says:

    This is so me. I’m on the right path. I’ve been talking to God from my heart. I’m encouraged. They that wait upon the Lord….Lord I’m wait. Manifest yourself to me under my broom tree.

  6. Manny says:

    Wow, this post ministered to me a lot. I have been in a spiritual drought for months, not being able to pray or read the bible but i am still holding on to Christ. Thank you for the post. God bless you and your ministry.

    1. Ruth says:

      This is my situation right now I have hit a wall and haven’t been able to pray I am tired but I won’t give up GOD has always been there for me and I know he will help me through this too

  7. mika says:

    Unfortunately I have many Broom tree moments living in continuous guilt and depression. Im a convicted felon and this was 18 years ago. It has affected my life so much education my self-esteem my desire to do anything for fear of being told no Again!! Thanks for this article. Praying for the abilty to pray through and let this go completely.

  8. Patricia Swann says:

    Thank you Sir for enlighten me on this situation. I’ve just gone through a divorce after 22 years and knew I should have not sign those papers but I did so I’m dealing with guilt and trying to get a job at my age. I know age is just a number with God. I keep reminding myself of Sarah.

  9. Sharon Reeves says:

    Also let me add that you are so special to me, Billy Graham! I came to know Christ through one of your television
    crusades when I was 14 years old ……that was almost 40 years ago! I

  10. Sharon Reeves says:

    Oh yes! I have been under that broom tree for almost 7 long years! I have reached out to other Christians and feel totally abandoned by God sometimes yet I continue to pray and put one foot in front of the other day. I will wait on God’s promises and his timing and , hopefully, I will come out from under that tree a better, stronger, more faithful person. Thank you for your article because I needed the encouragement.