When Our Prayers Feel Barren

I went to tuck my daughter in last night and as I laid beside her in her bed, what I thought would just be a kiss-goodnight turned into one of those precious exchanges—when my little girl would open and spill her heart to me. A lie had got in about if she was as special to us as her sister. Am I uniquely precious too her tears begged to know, though she didn’t have the words to ask the loaded question. I scooped her up, heart, arms and love encompassing. I was determined to make sure she knew just how utterly precious she is to her father and I.

I never get tired of these exchanges with my children.

One of my favorite things as a mom is when one of my children lifts their face to me and opens up their heart, sharing little glimpses with me of what they’re feeling or thinking. As they search for words about their day—things hard or things wonderful—time stands still. I look into their eyes with wonder of the utterly unique miracle that God created in them. Could there be anything more valuable to me than these times—when they open their heart to me? Or even when words are few and they simply crawl into my lap or lean their head on my shoulder—there is nowhere on earth I would rather be.

I don’t value these interactions because their words in that moment are so profound, or because the time was so epic; I value these exchanges—no matter how seemingly insignificant—because I love them.

How much more precious to God are our exchanges with Him—our lifted prayers and lifted eyes of faith. And yet, as we grow in knowing Jesus, we sometimes forget this truth.

Barren Prayers Matter

As we position ourselves to seek Him, coming before Him in devotion and prayer, one of the very hardest and most common things that we encounter are the times that feel so empty, without a sense of His presence or His response. 

When we come before Him, we hope for times of exhilaration. We hope for those times of tangible intimacy.

Instead, we find ourselves watching the clock for when the hour will be through.

Instead of tears of fellowship, we feel barrenness.

We sit in our rooms or in our place of prayer, and we wait. We read the Word, saying it back to Him in prayer. We pace. We sing. We watch. We lift our voice. We lift our hearts. And we feel nothing. We see nothing.

The cry arises from our hearts, “Where are You God?” Nothing moves. No one speaks. Only quiet. Only silence.

By all natural considerations, nothing is happening. We don’t hear Him. We don’t feel Him. We can’t tangibly behold anything that He is doing in our hearts. We spend long hours in an empty room with no response from heaven and no experience of God.

It is enough to greatly discourage and even keep us from this whole pursuit of Him—unless we understand what is transpiring in His heart in these times. We have to know what His heart is like and just what He feels in these seemingly barren days.

The testimony of these prayers from the Eternal Eyes is that they matter to Him. 

I have to say it again—they matter. Eternally.

I am so glad that they do.

Our barren “feeling” prayers are the pages that fill the book of our lives. They are the common parts of our story that make up our history in knowing Him—and He has designed them to be so.

Far from Fruitless

God has composed our journey to not only include times rich with experiences and emotion but also all the times with Him of emotionless quiet and commonness. They, too, are part of the journey of knowing Him.

These times feel barren to us, but they are not. They feel as though God is distant, but that is so untrue. They are far from fruitless to the One upon the Throne who receives them, and He does not forget one moment of their composition.

Soon, we shall reap a harvest, for if we sow to the Spirit, surely we will reap of the Spirit (Gal. 6:8). We shall experience the reward of those who come to Him believing that He is and that He rewards those who diligently seek Him (Heb. 11:6).

So how do we persevere in prayer when God feels distant?

We have to believe by faith that our prayers are truly valuable to Him, no matter how weak.  

Even Weak Prayer is Rich with Love

The Lord does not despise our weakness and His seeming silence is not indicative of His disappointment in us.

Just the opposite. As Creator and Savior, He loves and enjoys the process of our finding our strength in Him and learning to lean into Him. He loves when we continue to reach for Him and to find our confidence in His love, even in the times that feel fruitless.

It is in our weakness that His strength is made perfect (2 Cor. 12:9), and it is out of weakness that we are made strong (Heb. 11:34). 

He is not a High Priest who cannot sympathize with us in this weakness (Heb. 4:15); He knows it fully and embraces us in this place as He beckons us to continually lift our weak voice and our weak gaze in prayer and communion with Him.

How this changes everything.

Do I still desire the times rich with the experience of His presence? Of course I do.

But over the years, I have also come to cherish the not-so-spectacular times with Jesus. I recognize my moments of barren-feeling prayers not as empty or futile, but rather rich with love. Just like when I cup the faces of my children as they lift their eyes and pour out their hearts to me—the Lord is moved by our lifted hearts and lifted eyes to Him. Because He loves us so passionately, every prayer matters deeply to Him, forever. And when we know this: how he feels for us even when we feel and hear nothing, it keeps our hearts steady.

Have you experienced these times of barren prayer? What is it that most fuels your passion in persevering?