Most of the time prayer is a good thing. The Bible teaches us to pray for our enemies, to pray for rulers, to pray for friends and family in need, to pray for ministers and their ministries, etc. But there are times when prayer is just a waste of time, breath, and energy–times when God is not interested in hearing our prayers. He gives us several examples in the Bible of when he would rather we do something else besides pray and here are a few of them:
When the cause of a problem is obvious and its solution is within your power to fix it, don’t pray, just fix it.
This is the message that is conveyed when Israel lost the battle of Ai. God gave Joshua specific instructions for Israel to obey when fighting their enemies and one of those instructions in Joshua 6:18 was that no one should take for themselves any personal belongings from their enemies in Jericho. The possessions of the people in Jericho were cursed and marked for destruction by God, with the exception of a few things that were acceptable for the treasury.
But Achan stole some possessions for himself at the battle of Jericho and the Israelites lost the following battle at Ai because of it. When they lost, Joshua fell on his face and cried out to the Lord. The Lord’s response was “Get up! Why are you lying here crying out to me? Israel sinned and disobeyed so they need to sanctify themselves,” [Joshua 7:10-15]. Joshua knew why they lost because God told them ahead of time that the only way their enemies could defeat them was if they sinned against God. So instead of wasting time praying, it was up to them to fix the problem because it was within their power and was their responsibility to fix it.
So if a person has high blood pressure because of their diet, they just need to change their diet, exercise, and take medication. Anyone who gets an STD because of fornication should just stop fornicating and go see a doctor.
If a sinful person has been prayed for and confronted repeatedly about their sin, yet they persist in their sin, it may be time to stop praying for them.
Jeremiah was one of the last prophets in Judah that told them of their impending doom because of their sin. He followed a long string of prophets who told the people to repent, but they refused. Finally time was up and God’s judgment was about to come, so he told Jeremiah three times, “…pray not thou for this people, neither lift up cry nor prayer for them, neither make intercession to me: for I will not hear thee,” [Jeremiah 7:16; 11:14; 14:11]. When God lets you know that it’s over, he’s had it, and he’s through with a person or persons, it’s time to get off your knees and forget about mentioning that person or group of people in your prayers and accept God’s judgment to address their evil.
If you see a brother or sister lacking basic needs (food, clothing, shelter) and you have the resources to help them, prayer isn’t necessary, just help them.
As a matter of fact, James called it useless and like having faith without works when we just pray a blessing over brothers and sisters in need but don’t actually take action to help them–“If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone,” [James 2:15-17].
Basically, it all boils down to us being honest with ourselves and asking ourselves if it’s really worth it to pray about something or someone because there are occasions where it just doesn’t pay to pray.
Harry A. Gaylord