How I Failed at Prayer. And How I Started Over.

June 12, 2009 | 26 comments

I stamped the words on 50 half-sheets of paper. “I’m praying for you.”

The notes were typewritten, photocopied and then stamped with a promise of prayer for 50 inmates of an Iowa prison. I sent the notes out the door with my husband, who is on the other side of the razor wire this weekend for a three-day retreat with prisoners. The prisoners receive letters from folks on the “outside” — a bit of reassurance in their hands that someone cares.

Over and over again, I pressed crimson ink onto white paper:

I’m praying for you.

I’m praying for you.

I’m praying for you.

“Pray without ceasing …” (1 Thessalonians 5:17)

Paul said we should pray continually, yet my efforts fall woefully short.

“I’m praying for you.” How many times have I spoken those words, written the words — over the phone, at the back of the sanctuary, in a get-well card, in a blogger’s comment box — and then forgotten entirely to do what I promised?

“I’m praying for you,” I say. And then I don’t do it.


I used to faithfully keep a prayer journal. It was my way of keeping it all straight. There’s just so much heartache — lost jobs, miscarriages, cancer, marriages on the rocks. Journaling was my way of making sure I did what I promised, my way of keeping it straight. I wrote it all down, praying as ink hit paper.

But over the last year, the span between dated entries has widened. I opened the journal just now to see when I recorded the last entry.

April 24.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I haven’t cut off communication with God for the past two months. He’s my Lifeline. But I have failed miserably at intercessory prayer. I have a stack of prayer requests that my brain can’t file or sort. Yet I’m trying to live up to dozens of five-word promises: “I will pray for you.”

And you.

And you.

And ….

It’s not working.

Now, I know that prayer isn’t answered based on how articulately worded my requests are. Prayers are answered because God is … well … God. I also know that the Holy Spirit can turn my helpless sighs and groans into prayers. (Check out Romans 8:26 for proof; it’s pretty cool stuff.)

But I can do better than offering a few half-hearted intercessions sprinkled here and there throughout the day. This girl at “Getting Down with Jesus” needs to “get down” on her knees before the Father.

So this is my do-over.
I’m coming clean with you,
and I’m coming clean with God.
He’s the God of second chances,
the God of 50th chances,
the God of 643rd chances.
And I’m in need of another chance.

I started over this week, recommitting to structured prayer time. And I just wanted to let you know.

It all started with a crimson-stained stamp in my hand.

Each time red ink hit paper, I prayed. And I meant it.

Fifty prisoners will get these letters this weekend. Each letter says I prayed for the man who received it. I can stand in the knowledge that I did what I said I would do.

But I have another matter to settle. And I’ll take this one to my crimson-stained God. It starts right here — right now — with handwritten words I’m recording by pen in my journal:

June 11, 2009 — “This is a do-over God. Help me. If I’m really believing in the power of prayer — I mean, if I’m really believing it — I need to get down on my knees. Drop me to my knees, Lord. This girl is Getting Down.”

by | June 12, 2009 | 26 comments


  1. Tea With Tiffany

    I fail too at praying for others at times. I also do best when I write it down in my journal. Or say it outloud. I am easily distracted otherwise.

    So glad we serve a God of endless do-overs.

    I find comfort knowing Jesus is interceding at the right hand of the Father when I'm not.

    I also find I am often selfish with prayer because I pray for myself more than anyone else. I try to convince myself it's because I see my prayer time as relationship between God and me. But I know better.

    We are all a work in progress. One God sees as covered in the righteousness of Christ. Simply amazing!

    Thanks for sharing honestly.

    Hugs and prayers tonight. I am praying for you. For real now.


  2. Lindy

    I struggle with that all the time! Thanks for the wonderful message!

  3. Jennifer

    Huge sigh. I feel this so deeply. How many times I've committed to a structured prayer time since I had children only to fail again. Thanks for being so open.

  4. Wendy

    Every single time I read your blog, I am inspired! What a beautiful gift to give those prisoners. I loved the cartoon as well–how true that can be sometimes. Finally, there was a time in my life when I knew God was understanding my groans (I was in too much pain to be able to express/pray in any other way.)

    Have a blessed weekend!
    ~ Wendy

  5. RCUBEs

    And I pray that the hands who will receive those stamped papers will open up their hearts to our Lord.

    Prisoners do need prayers because the spiritual battle there is constant. But as Christ's warriors, we know that we battle with the Lord's weapon. They may be incarcerated but they can attain that freedom Christ had given by dying on that cross. To Him be the glory! May the Lord protect your husband and the prison ministry visiting that prison.

    Not only you, but your post challenges me to really "get down on my knees" and always be prayerful. May the Lord reminds us that when we bend our knees and start praying, the enemies tremble!

  6. TUC

    Oops, wrong me, shhh… 🙂

    This post was just what I needed to read today.

  7. Steph

    Thank you so much for the beautiful words, Jennifer. I needed this.

  8. Deb

    I am guilty of this as well. Thank God for all the chances and do-overs He allows us. Thank you for your writing and blessing many many hearts.

  9. Sockrma18

    Wow. This post is exactly what I needed. I struggle with this a TON and I need to change my thinking about it. I find that I say I'm gonna do it (and I really do have the best of intentions!) but when my prayer time comes, I forgot who I said I'd pray for!

    The road to hell is paved with good intentions….

    So….thank you for this post today. Spoke right to my heart. I'm so thankful God is a God of many chances!!!

    Good luck and….I'LL BE PRAYING FOR YOU!!! :0)

    (I mean that….seriously.)

  10. PW

    I've been thinking about how to respond to your post all day. I read it first thing this morning, then I had to do some stuff. I got a lot of thoughts rolling around my head, but I think it'll be too long for a comment. giggle.

    I think if you don't mind, you've given me food for thought for an afternoon post on my blog. Check back later. 🙂

  11. ~Maria

    Well said. Thanks for the inspiration, as always! 🙂

  12. lynnrush

    Amen, sister. I keep a prayer journal as well. I write when / how the prayer was answered. It's awesome to go back and review it. 🙂

    Press on, sister!

  13. LisaShaw

    Jennifer this is so beautiful and transparent!

    I'd love to have one of those stampers. May I ask where you obtained that?

    I would share my testimony with you on "prayer" but it would take up too much here but let me say that I've been where you are and learned a lesson that touched and changed my heart and kept me…

    Blessings to you dear one and I know your heart makes God smile!

  14. Sarah Dawn

    Blessed again, challenged, inspired to live out loud for our Lord. Thank you for being real, for sharing your joys, your struggles and the God that carries you through them both.

    I always look forward to visiting.
    Sarah Da

    PS Rejoicing this week as I just got to scratch something off of my prayer journal. Manja, Gospel for Asia missionary was released after serving 7 years in a Nepali jail cell. 7 years of prayers from around the world answered with hugs from his wife (who carried on his work) and his two children who have no memories of him before now. Keep praying, it cut 13 years of of his sentence.

  15. Lyla Lindquist

    Jennifer, I've already told you how your post hit me; apparently I can't leave well enough alone. I've read it a few times again today and it finally pushed me to write the post that's been on my list for a while. Just a heads up that I'm linking back to you in a short post at (Easier to ask for forgiveness than permission, right?) Thanks again for putting words in an order that helps me see clearly.

  16. RCUBEs

    You are an amazing and inspirational child of God. May I share with you this blog award? So when you get a chance, please visit my site and feel free to grab it if you want to. God bless you sister.

  17. Carey

    Awesome Jen…

    Unfortunately I can relate to that little cartoon.

    Thanks for the inspiration! And thanks for praying for those guys this weekend. I'll pray too.

    Lord…change lives this weekend…

  18. Faith Imagined

    I needed to hear this!

  19. Chris Godfredsen

    Fact is, Jennifer, we all do this and we all need to hear this.

    You should have seen the eyes of these guys as Scott Meier read the notes he received. The prayers help change lives as only God can do.

    I sit here on Saturday morning, ready to head back in, waiting to see what God wants to do the rest of this morning!

  20. Chris Godfredsen

    Fact is, Jennifer, we all do this and we all need to hear this.

    You should have seen the eyes of these guys as Scott Meier read the notes he received. The prayers help change lives as only God can do.

    I sit here on Saturday morning, ready to head back in, waiting to see what God wants to do the rest of this morning!

  21. hope42day

    After saying I will pray for you, I have started to do the following…
    Stop…focus…pray right then and there for the person I promised prayer for.
    It not only helps them but it helps me to reconnect with my Father above. And lately, I find I am doing a lot of that! Which is definitely a grand thing!

  22. bluecottonmemory

    "I'll pray for you" has become the not really interested "How are you" line. I made a note book, finally, to list who and what I need to pray for! Your message really hit the "Go" button in my life. Thanks for sharing

  23. Andrea

    Amen on the do-overs… praising God for bringing this to heart for you and for me…finding you and this post today. Blessings

  24. Carol

    Thanks for the reminder that I need to do better with my prayers too. I am quick to say I am praying for someone or that I will and then I fail. God forgive my failures…..Thanks for letting me know it is ok, that even Jennifer fails sometimes, and that I can start right now doing better. Love….

  25. Shirl

    Oh! How timely this is! It is an area that I have been struggling with myself. I believe you're right…we don't have to go into long, wordy, perspiration producing prayers to lift someone up before God in prayer. And I think we feel like a failure if we don't do that, so we 'put it off' and before we know it, we've forgotten altogether. I used to do a journal as well, and I think I'm going to go back to that. I still think of one of the first prayers (if not THE first) in that journal. A friend's wife was diagnosed with lung cancer. I felt safe in believing she was not ready to meet God. I prayed for her healing but even more than that, I prayed that she would NOT meet God unprepared. That prayer was answered. A short time before her death, she had asked to see a preacher, so friends knew of a preacher near them and they called him. She accepted Christ! She died ready to meet him! You've encouraged me to start over myself. God is a God of do-overs! Aren't we so grateful for his mercy and compassion!

  26. Lysbeth

    I did a google search for “card ministry – praying for you” as I was searching for basic clipart while at work (at a church) for our card ministry. Google brought me to the cartoon in this post and God made me look past and read the post. It was much needed. It was just what I need to read, particularly the part of “He’s the God of second chances,the God of 50th chances,
    the God of 643rd chances. And I’m in need of another chance.” Thank you for that reminder. God has used you to bless me today and to remind me I can always start again with renewed vigor and renewed strength and committment.


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