April 6, 2023

Prayer Amid Doubt

Debbie Howell

Some say that pain can be a motivator. Pain can also cause us to question God. Whether it’s the pain we are struggling with or the suffering we witness in the world around us, all of it can cause us to begin questioning God’s love or even His existence.

I’ve been dealing with a lot of loss in my life during the past few years. Most recently I’ve had to face the loss of my mother. They say that with Alzheimer’s disease, you lose a person twice. I’ve now experienced that reality.

How do we pray when we are grieving? Is it OK to have times when we doubt? 

I believe that sometimes we put pressure on ourselves—or even worse, on others—with what we believe about prayer. For example, the belief that we must have perfect faith when we pray; that it’s a sin to voice our doubts.

But it’s OK to doubt. It’s OK to question, for in that space there exists a real and legitimate place to encounter God. If anyone has ever tried to shame you because you wrestled with your beliefs, I’m truly sorry. But one thing I’m sure of is that God will never shame you for it.

God doesn’t want us to go to church just because that’s what we were taught to do. In that place of worship, He wants us to question and seek and discover Him for ourselves. And we do that through prayer—not just in church but in every part of our lives.

I’ve been a Christian my whole life and I’m now working as a pastor, but I still wrestle with God. When I feel loss and grief, I don’t go to God with the words I think He wants to hear. I speak the truth of how heart-wrenching the pain is, and I use the pain to seek Him at a deeper level as I listen for His voice with greater intensity. 

A Prayer Journey

I’d like to use the rest of this article to take you on a prayer journey. I’m inviting you into my prayer “closet” to show you how my prayer life grows as I wrestle with the pain and questions that life brings.

The first thing I do is search for the light of truth in my darkness. God’s Word has become the place I meet with Him in prayer. We all know that the harder life becomes, the more we struggle with what to pray about. I believe that’s one of the reasons God gave us His Word. It teaches us how to pray. 

Here’s a scripture/prayer that I’ve held on to for the past three years. It’s given me hope and kept me from getting stuck in a place of doubt and despair.

“Do not gloat at my fate, my enemy; although I am down now, I will rise up. Although I am in darkness now, the Eternal One will be my light” (Micah 7:8, Voice).1

As I find powerful scriptures like this one, I hold on to them throughout the day. Whether I write it in a journal or put it on my phone, I take moments throughout my day to read it out loud and make it my prayer.

The other thing I do that brings me to a deeper place of prayer is listen to praise music while I’m praying God’s Word.

I want to encourage you to practice this right now. Type out or write down the scripture above and read it as you listen to your favorite worship music.

Worship and prayer invites God into our lives. He has always been faithful to lead me forward during the darkest of times, even as I’m waiting for Him to answer the cry of my heart. And as I look back on the past three years of my life, I remember moments of pain I’ve never experienced before; but more than that, I see the unbelievable ways that God has opened doors for me personally and spiritually.

My struggle led me to a greater revelation of Him. And your struggles can do that too.

We need Christians who will struggle, dig deeper, and listen for the almighty voice of God! We can learn from the giants of faith, such as Martin Luther. His doubts and questions were a huge part of that desperately needed Great Awakening. 

Some of my deepest prayers occur when I meditate on God’s Word over and over. I love to put my name in the scriptures and imagine God speaking His Word to me, personally. Here is one that I wrote in my journal and have gone back to again and again.

“Debbie, I will guide you forward and repay you with comfort, giving your place of mourning the language of praise” (see Isa. 57:18, TPT).2

Take a few minutes to pray this scripture as you put your name in it. While you read it, listen to some praise music.

Prayer is meant to be a beautiful journey of revelation and healing. Praying God’s Word helps us to speak with Him from a higher place of wisdom, love, and grace. Worship centers our lives on Him as we struggle with doubt or fear. 

I think that another part of prayer that can be difficult is our being made to feel as if we have to be in a certain place spiritually before we can honestly pray to God. If you remember only one thing from this article, let it be this—if shame is keeping you from praying, know that your shame is not from God. God will convict us and lead us to grace and repentance, while shame keeps us stuck. 

God calls us to pray because He loves us and He wants to set us free from the things that bring us shame. We can pray to God any time, from any place, so don’t let other people or your thoughts make you think that you aren’t good enough to pray.

To think that someone is not good enough to pray is like holding a lifebuoy on a boat while watching someone who is drowning. Could they ever be drowning “too much” to need the lifebuoy thrown to them? Should we expect them to improve their swimming skills before they are good enough to be rescued?

The most powerful words we can pray are God’s words. And when we choose to pray from the place of doubt and loss, we will receive a greater revelation of God.

My testimony is that in the middle of doubt and pain, we can encounter the truth of God’s glory. His Word is full of incredible promises that become a reality to those who aren’t afraid to wrestle and dig deeper. Make this scripture your own prayer. “There’s a private place reserved for the lovers of Yahweh, where they sit near him and receive the revelation-secrets of his promises” (Ps. 25:14, TPT). I pray that you will be led to a higher place of worship and an ever-deepening revelation of God as we come before God in this beautiful place called prayer.

1 Scripture quotations credited to Voice are taken from The Voice Bible. Copyright © 2012 Thomas Nelson, Inc. The Voice translation © 2012 Ecclesia Bible Society. All rights reserved.

2 Scripture quotations marked TPT are from The Passion Translation. Copyright © 2017, 2018, 2020 by Passion Fire & Ministries, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ThePassionTranslation.com.