The "All or Nothing" Impediment to Prayer
I’ve made a discovery in the past three months that is revolutionizing my prayer life. I owe it to Francis MacNutt’s book, The Power to Heal. The discovery is that an “all or nothing” mentality in prayer impedes perseverance. For example, if I pray, “God, please convert and save my neighbor,” and he is not converted for a year or two, it’s hard to keep on praying this same prayer day after day. So I tend to peter out. But if I realize that there are innumerable steps God might use each day to influence my neighbor, then I can take one day at a time and ask God to do something that day that will bring him a step closer. The alternative of “all” is not “nothing.” It’s “something.”
This has enabled the expectancy of my faith to increase. Instead of feeling like my prayers are being greeted by a stony "No" from God each day my neighbor is not converted, I now have courage to believe God is doing something in my neighbor’s life and that in God’s time persevering prayer will be the victor.
I think the “all or nothing” mentality is one of the chief reasons our prayers stagnate and become wooden and repetitive. We tend to ask God for the whole ball of wax in every area. We say, “Lord, please save Bill.” “Lord, heal Mary.” “Lord, do your will in Jim’s life.” “Lord, provide Jane’s needs.” Each of these is an “all or nothing” kind of prayer. It’s not bad to pray this way (see the Lord’s Prayer). It’s just bad when you only pray this way.
Take healing, for example. I believe God heals people through medicine and sometimes in more unusual, supernatural ways. I believe we could see more of this if we prayed with more expectancy, and if we did not impede our faith with an “all or nothing” mentality. One time Jesus took a blind man out of town, touched his eyes and asked, “Do you see anything?” Imagine that! He said, “anything,” not “everything”? And in fact, the man could not see everything. He said, “I see men, for I see them like trees walking about.” So Jesus touched him again. And Mark 8:25 says, “He was restored and began to see everything clearly.” What if Jesus had had the “all or nothing” mentality? He might have left the man half-healed and said, “Woe to you of little faith!”
Therefore, in praying for healing (as well as spiritual salvation) should we not be encouraged to break the “all or nothing” habit and pray that today something powerful be done by God in the body of our loved one? And tomorrow something more? And the next day something more? If Jesus touched a man twice, should we not expect to touch the sick often before they are healed?
I am finding it helpful to see my prayers as God’s appointed injections of his healing power. And like many antibiotics, the dosage (of prayer) must be continued over time. Each prayer makes its contribution. An antibiotic pill is not an “all or nothing” treatment. You keep on taking them ‘till the bottle is empty. And each prayer carries a measure of divine power—sometimes more, sometimes less, but always effecting “something” good if prayed in faith.
So don’t let an “all or nothing” mentality impede your perseverance. Pray for total healing and total salvation. But don’t prejudge God’s timing. Until the total work is done keep praying that God do “something” today to help, and believe that he will. Always pray and don’t lose heart.
Persevering in prayer for you,
© Desiring God Foundation. Distribution Guidelines
Share the Joy! You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in physical form, in its entirety or in unaltered excerpts, as long as you do not charge a fee. For posting online, please use only unaltered excerpts (not the content in its entirety) and provide a hyperlink to this page. For videos, please embed from the original source. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Desiring God.
Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By John Piper. © Desiring God Foundation. Website: desiringGod.org