Wasted Prayer: Know When God Wants You to Stop Praying and Start Doing

Wasted Prayer: Know When God Wants You to Stop Praying and Start Doing

by Greg Darley

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Faith without obedience is dead. Prayer without action is wasted.

What would your life look like if you stopped praying about God’s will and just did it instead? How would your church look if it spent as much time serving as it spent praying about serving?

The truth is, sometimes when you think you’re praying, you’re really just procrastinating. And when you think you’re asking that God’s will be done, you’re really telling him no. In times that call for action, prayer can be disobedience in disguise. Wasted Prayer uncovers the ways we use prayer to dodge responsibility for the work God has assigned us.

Complete with punch-in-the-gut biblical exposition that will help get you off your knees—and out of your chair—Wasted Prayer will provide you with the jolt you need to start living like a Christian, instead of just praying like one.

It’s time to stop praying and start doing.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781400206452
Publisher: Nelson, Thomas, Inc.
Publication date: 07/15/2014
Sold by: HarperCollins Publishing
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 208
Sales rank: 1,029,227
File size: 807 KB

About the Author

Mark Batterson serves as the lead pastor of National Community Church in Washington, D.C. Recognized as “one of America’s 25 most innovative churches,” NCC is one church with seven locations. Mark’s blog (www.markbatterson.com) and webcast (www.theaterchurch.com) also reach a virtual congregation around the world. Mark is the author of several bestselling books, including New York Times bestsellers The Circle Maker and In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day.  He and his wife, Lora, live on Capitol Hill with their three children. You can follow Mark on Twitter: @markbatterson




Read an Excerpt

Wasted Prayer

Know When God Wants You To Stop Praying and Start Doing

By Greg Darley

Thomas Nelson

Copyright © 2014 Greg Darley
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4002-0644-5



"IF YOU JUMP, I PROMISE I'LL CATCH YOU," MY BROTHER SAID to his son last summer at the pool. At age four, jumping off the three-foot diving board into the deep end was a big deal.

"Dad, I'm scared," Parker said.

His legs were trembling as he looked down into the deep water. He had never been allowed to swim over there by himself. The shake in his voice revealed that this was his first time jumping off the diving board.

"I'm right here, son," my brother reassured him. "It's okay. Just jump."

All the family was watching, but there was no jump.

"Do you want to jump?" my brother asked.

Parker nodded his head, but still he didn't jump.

"You know I will catch you, right?"

Again, Parker nodded.

However, a few seconds went by and he was still standing there, not moving, just buying time. He's not that different from you and me, really. This is a good picture of what most of our spiritual lives look like. When God tells us to jump, our reactions are the same as my nephew's. We tell God we want to jump. We even tell God we will jump. But we don't. We stand there, frozen in time. When someone asks us why we haven't jumped yet, we often respond with, "I'm praying about it."

And at that point, the case is closed, because no one is going to get on your back for praying. Of course you should pray. That's what God wants, right?

I don't think so. And that's the premise of this book.

The best thing you can do to start living the life God wants for you is to stop just praying. Is your level of joy nonexistent? Are you frustrated with the level of your faith? Stop praying. If your marriage is struggling or your relationship with your kids is poor, stop praying. Do you find anger, jealousy, or fear ruining every week? Then stop praying. If you are in a financial black hole—stop praying.

In fact, I think God wants you to stop praying about all these issues. God wants me to stop praying? Yes, you read that correctly. Clearly not what you would expect from a Christian book, I know; but hear me out.

There's a second part to this directive: start doing. That's when you start doing what God has called you to do. Sometimes prayer is not enough. God wants you to stop praying about whether you should obey what he's called you to do and just start obeying. He wants you to stop praying about your marriage and start living out your relationship the way he's commanded. He wants you to stop praying about your credit card debt and start handling your money the way he's instructed you to. He wants you to stop praying about your fear and start doing what he's called you to do.

God really wants you to stop praying and start doing. If Martin Luther King Jr. had only prayed about leading nonviolent protest, would the civil rights movement have succeeded? When would slaves have been set free if Abraham Lincoln had only prayed about delivering the Emancipation Proclamation? How many people would have missed hearing the gospel if Billy Graham had only prayed about starting a ministry? What if your parents had only prayed about having you? Prayer is important, but sometimes it stands in the way of what God wants you to do.

Before you write me off as a heretic and burn this book, let me clarify a few points. God doesn't want you to stop praying about everything. Just some things. Prayer is good, except when it stops you from doing what God has called you to do. Then prayer is bad. In fact, prayer can be detrimental. Don't believe me? Well, read on.


A common theme in the Old Testament is that the Israelites won when God went with the army and blessed them. If God was fighting for them, no one could resist their force. They would sweep the enemies unscathed. But the opposite was also true. When God wasn't with them, even the smallest competitor could stand against them. God promised Joshua that if the Israelites would obey his commands and serve him only, God would rout all their enemies.

After decades of marching through the desert, the Israelites finally crossed over the Jordan River on their way to the promised land. The only problem was, the promised land was filled with other people's cities, tribes, and armies. The fulfillment of the promised land would only be experienced through war.

The first city they approached was Jericho, and the men were itching for battle. They'd been waiting for this day a long time. Joshua gave them simple directions: "Once God brings the walls down, destroy every living thing. Do not keep any devoted items for yourselves, for these belong in the Lord's treasury" (Josh. 6:18–19, paraphrased).

Now, Jericho was a well-fortified city, but God was with the Israelites, so they completely conquered Jericho and all its people. So far, so good. Next was a smaller town named Ai. Joshua sent men to spy on the city and develop a battle plan. When they returned to Joshua, they said, "Not all the army will have to go up against Ai. Send two or three thousand men to take it and do not weary the whole army, for only a few people live there" (Josh. 7:3).

The spies sized up the inhabitants of Ai and compared them to the people of Jericho, whom they had just wiped out. There was no way Ai had a chance. This was like an NFL team playing a high school team. It was not possible they could lose. So Joshua decided to give most of the men the day off and sent a small force.

So about three thousand went up; but they were routed by the men of Ai, who killed about thirty-six of them. They chased the Israelites from the city gate as far as the stone quarries and struck them down on the slopes. At this the hearts of the people melted in fear and became like water. (Josh. 7:4–5)

What must Joshua have been feeling as he looked up and saw his men running toward the camp, being pursued and cut down by the inferior troops of Ai? This must have been incredibly frightening for him and all the Israelites. What was God doing? They had just destroyed the fortified city of Jericho, but now the little town of Ai repelled their forces, beating them with ease.

Suffering an embarrassing defeat would drive most people to prayer. Clearly, Joshua thought this was a time to pray too. "Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell facedown to the ground before the ark of the LORD, remaining there till evening. The elders of Israel did the same, and sprinkled dust on their heads" (Josh. 7:6).

Joshua went on to ask God why he even brought them over the Jordan if they were to be destroyed by small towns like Ai. Further, he asked God what would happen to God's name in the region once word spread that the Israelites had been beaten.

God's response was not quite what Joshua was expecting. Bluntly, God said, "Stand up! What are you doing down on your face?" (Josh. 7:10).

God wanted to know why Joshua was praying. Joshua assumed, as most of us do, that we should pray when things go wrong. In our times of need, prayer is the logical option. If the Israelites didn't win the battle, the obvious next step was prayer. Or so Joshua thought.

But God didn't want Joshua to pray. "Get off the ground. This is not the time to pray; this is the time to act!" That was essentially God's response.

What are you doing down on your face? Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenant, which I commanded them to keep. They have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen, they have lied, they have put them with their own possessions. That is why the Israelites cannot stand against their enemies; they turn their backs and run because they have been made liable to destruction. I will not be with you anymore unless you destroy whatever among you is devoted to destruction. (Josh. 7:10–12)

God told Joshua that Israel was losing because they were being disobedient, and the only way to fix the situation wasn't to pray—it was to act. God didn't want Joshua or any Israelite just praying; he wanted them acting. God reminded Joshua that no Israelite was supposed to take any devoted thing from Jericho, including gold, silver, or fine clothing. It was obvious that someone had been disobedient. Prayer could not help Joshua's situation. This was what I call a wasted prayer. When we pray about following a command God has given us, it is a wasted prayer. When we pray about following a command God has given us, it is a wasted prayer. Joshua was busy praying when God had given him a clear call. Joshua was praying a wasted prayer.

The next day, Joshua had each tribe stand before him to see who had taken the devoted things. Achan, from the tribe of Judah, came forward and admitted he had taken gold, silver, and a beautiful robe and hid them under his tent. Joshua had Achan's tent searched. They found the plunder just as Achan had admitted. The devoted things, along with Achan's family and everything he owned, were taken outside the camp to be stoned and burned. After this was finished, the Israelites were able to wipe out Ai and completely destroy the city.

I know the end of that story isn't the typical fairy-tale ending, but that's not the point. The point is that God values obedience over religious acts, including prayer. Further, if we do turn to prayer in situations like this, it is important to know that God wants us to get off the ground, stop praying, and start doing!

Here's another point: God doesn't want you to do just anything. He wants you to do what he's called you to do. Some of these callings will be the same for all followers of Christ, but others are specifically for you. If you aren't living the type of life you desire, it may be time for you to stop praying and start doing.

Who doesn't want to live a more exciting life? Who wouldn't want to be more obedient to what God has called him or her to? My goal is to convince you to stop praying, but not completely. I'm referring to the misuse of certain prayers at certain times. Sometimes we willingly misuse prayer, knowingly and on purpose. Other times we have no idea our prayers have become an obstacle for us to be obedient to God's call. The first section of this book focuses on specific misuses of prayer and how we can avoid them. Later, we will look at how we can counteract the misuses and start following through on what God has called us to do.



THE STORY OF ABRAHAM STARTS OUT AT AN ALARMINGLY FAST pace. It's like watching the first hour of a two-hour movie in fast-forward with little explanation at all. We're given a few verses about Abraham's family, whom he married, and where they lived. That's it. We know he was a herdsman and probably pretty wealthy. He had gained enough assets to be able to move when and where he wanted. We don't know what his personality was like. We don't know if he was a hard worker or what kind of sense of humor he had. We don't know his hair color or his favorite food. And we don't know what his prayer life was like.

This is how the author of Genesis introduces the story of Abraham: "The Lord had said to Abram [later named Abraham], 'Go from your country, your people and your father's household to the land I will show you'" (Gen. 12:1).

In the very first scene of the story, Abraham is told to pack up everything he owns and set out to a destination yet to be determined. He is to leave the familiarity of home. He is to leave the comfort of family. He is to leave the support of his father's household. He is to leave the financial support of his job. He is not told where to go, only that he is to go. This is no small request. Imagine what that conversation was like with his wife, Sarai:

"Sarai, honey, you need to pack my suitcase and load up the two-humped camel."

"What are you talking about, Abram?" she asks.

"God told me to move."


"I'm not certain," he tells her.

"What do you mean, you don't know?"

"Well, that's the truth. I don't really know. God just said to move.

"When is this move supposed to take place?" she asks.

"Right now."

"So, you're going to leave your home, your family, all your friends, the comfort of this land, and head off to a place yet to be determined, without a map, without knowing if it will be a good place to raise a family?"

"Uhhh ... I know it sounds crazy. But yes. That's exactly the plan."

If you have a moment like this, I would implore you to take more than three minutes to discuss this decision with your spouse. Since we don't know how that conversation went between Abram and Sarai, I'll just assume some artistic freedom that it went along those lines.

The good news for Abram was that God added a little incentive to the deal:

I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you. (Gen. 12:2–3)

At least he was able to share some good news with Sarai.

"But if we go," he tells her, "God said he'd make our family into a great nation."

"What do you mean 'nation'?" she asks.

"I assume he means a lot of people. How else would all the peoples of the earth be blessed through me?"

This seems to be the offer of a lifetime. We find out later how badly they wanted children. It finally sounds as if they'll get their wish. It's like the Palestine Powerball. Abram had just won the lottery. All he had to do to cash in the winning ticket was pack up and go.

If you were Abram, what would you do? This isn't really a fair question because you know the end of the story, but pretend you only had the limited information Abram had. What would be the very first thing you'd do? If you were sitting in a Sunday school class, you would feel very confident in saying, "Pray!" Of course you would. It's what we would all do.

But not Abram.

After God finished talking, the narrator tells us, "So Abram went, as the Lord had told him" (Gen. 12:4). That was it. He didn't call for a family prayer meeting. There was no fasting and meditating to decide what to do. There wasn't any hesitation. God spoke; Abram acted.

Now, you're probably saying, "But that's different. You don't know my situation. Besides, God told Abraham he was going to bless him and make him into a great nation. Who wouldn't obey after that promise?"

You're right. I don't know you or your situation. And yes, Abraham had some incentive. But is that incentive really any different today? I don't think it is.

Sure, on some technical grounds, the incentive of being made into a great nation is different than the promises God has given us. But not as different as we may assume. The real issue is whether or not we believe that what God has called us to do is ultimately in our best interests. Do we believe that following God is better than not following him? We all want to believe that's true. But in this instance, what we do trumps what we believe. Our beliefs will be confirmed by our actions. If we really believe that God has something better for us, we will pack up and move—just like Abraham—when God tells us to.


Wasted prayers have stopped many people from living the life God called them to live. Sometimes prayer leaves us with regret, because we look back and realize that we spent our time praying instead of acting. Instead of having memories of God acting on our behalf, of our faith being stretched, of ourselves doing things for God we didn't think were possible, we have feelings of regret because we sat scared on the sidelines. We have no stories to share about obvious movements when God acted in our lives. Instead of acting, we were praying.

The summer between my junior and senior years of high school, two of my best friends, Adam and Tyler, and I spent a few days hanging out at Tyler's lake house in the mountains of northern Georgia. We did all the typical lake activities like swimming, riding the Jet Ski, waterskiing, wakeboarding, and inner tubing. Inner tubing was the best. We'd pull two people on different tubes and have an all-out brawl to see who could stay on the longest. There were no rules. It was every man for himself. The trick was to kick the other person's tube in a downward motion as he was coming off the wake with some momentum. When in doubt, it was always fun to jump off your tube onto the other guy's and try to throw him off a la Jack Sparrow.


Excerpted from Wasted Prayer by Greg Darley. Copyright © 2014 Greg Darley. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Foreword Mark Battersom xi

Introduction xi

Part 1 Stop Praying

1 Jump! 1

2 Get Moving 9

3 Pray Continually? 21

4 Prayer as Procrastination 31

5 Prayer as Isolation 41

6 Prayer as Pride 55

7 You're Not the Only One 67

8 You Asked for It 77

9 Religious Cycle Lies 85

Part 2 Start Doing

10 Counteract Procrastination With a Yes 91

11 Counteract Isolation With Community 103

12 Counteract Pride With Selflessness 113

13 Listen for the Nudge 125

14 My "Stop-Praying, Start-Doing" Opportunity 135

15 One Last Shot 151

16 You'll Never Know Unless You Go 169

Notes 183

Acknowledgments 185

About the Author 187

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Wasted Prayer: Know When God Wants You to Stop Praying and Start Doing 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
LeeCU More than 1 year ago
In the middle of hundreds and maybe thousands of books that are available about prayer, this one has some fresh thoughts. It is neither a theological treatise, nor a call to a more disciplined prayer life, but instead explores the idea that sometimes prayer alone is not what God desires for us. As I read the book, I was convicted about both the content and the intent of some of my prayers. At the same time, I was encouraged to pray more boldly and look for times when God may have already given me the answers I am seeking. Very enjoyable and helpful book!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a much needed message for today's Christians!  Darley calls believers to stop praying. What? Well, not to totally stop praying, because that would be a terrible message for Christians. However, to STOP praying in areas where we need to START being obedient to what God has called us to do. Many Christians use prayer as a means of disobedience. In Darley's words, we use prayer reactively instead of proactively.  How do you know what God has called you do? Darley helps you find this out using scripture, personal experiences, the experiences of others, and by asking you hard questions that you need to face before moving on.  Darley calls us to break free of the "Religious Cycle" and to enter into the "Discipleship Cycle." He lays out how to counteract various traps of the Religious Cycle with characteristics found in the Discipleship Cycle. The best part about this is Darley is calling us into a closer, more meaningful relationship with Christ by becoming proactive. This isn't something we pray about; it's something that we do. God used this book to speak to me. I'm in a season in my life where I'm left wondering what do I do next. I'm confused. I'm frustrated. I'm scared that I might miss something. But after reading Darley's book, I'm pretty sure God has me here for a reason. I don't have all the answers right now and that's okay, because God has given me plenty of ways to be obedient. I love how Darley doesn't place an emphasis on the size of a calling. One of my favorite quotes from the book said, "Many times when God calls us to act, he's more concerned about obedience than he is with the size of the task." I have read a lot of Christian books over the years about prayer and calling. After I read them, I'm left wondering how in the world do I ever live up to that author's experience. (Not that we are called to replicate someone else's faith, but their stories are so amazing that it's easy to get caught up in the hype.) I didn't feel beat up after reading Darley's book. I finished the book feeling encouraged, refreshed, and wanting to start doing something for God. I felt like this is something that I can do. Darley did this by telling personal stories. Some of those stories the tasks were small and some were big. His stories revealed how God can move in an ordinary person's life in big ways, if they will be faithful and do something. From now on whenever I cross paths with a Christian who is confused about what to do next or who is frustrated with life, Wasted Prayer is the book I'm going to put in their hands.