Have you ever given God the silent treatment?

I have.

It hasn’t been intentional. But prayer just felt forced and unnatural. I felt distant and didn’t know what to say. So I said nothing.

Yet by not going to him in prayer, I was essentially ignoring him.

There are a lot of reasons you might feel distant from God, and then not pray to him as a result, including:

  • Feeling disappointed or angry
  • Avoiding your feelings
  • Being out of the habit of prayer
  • Feel ashamed or guilty
  • Not know what to say or how to focus

The good news is that when you feel this way, it doesn’t mean that he actually is distant:

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
– Ephesians 2:13

You are brought near to God because of Jesus. That promise doesn’t change based on the whims of your feelings.

Having said that, the Bible says in many places God wants us to know him. We have an opportunity to continually grow in our love and knowledge of him.

Jesus himself taught and demonstrated what an intimate prayer life looked like during his ministry and how to love God with all of your heart, mind, soul and strength.

So how can we know God in prayer, especially at those times we feel distant?

If you’re feeling stuck, there are several steps you can take to feel closer to God and have a deep and dynamic prayer life.

How to Pray When You Feel Distant from God

1. Set Up Time to Talk

When I’m feeling distant from my husband, it’s a sign that we haven’t made time to connect. To remedy this, we set aside time in our schedule so that we can talk.

For some reason, it can be difficult to have this mentality with God.

But that’s exactly what works. Part of the reason you might be feeling distant is that you haven’t made time for God.

So make time for him.

There are two approaches you can take:

  • Set up a getaway for yourself where you can think and pray for a few hours. Get a babysitter. Turn off your phone notifications. Be somewhere without distraction. Jesus did this, notably when he was fasting in the desert and praying in the Garden of Gethsemane.
  • Revisit your daily schedule and figure out when you can pray. Maybe it’s in the school pickup line or in the shower, but wherever it is, make it a part of your routine.

I recommend having a prayer journal handy for these times. (If you’re not sure what to write, the Teach Me to Pray Journal can get you started.)

2. Confess What’s On Your Heart

Once you’ve set aside the time, the next question is what to actually talk about. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried to pray and drew a blank.

Confession is always a good place to start. It’s humbling. It’s honest. It can also help reveal what’s really going on in your heart and mind, and may even reveal the truth about why you’re feeling distant in the first place.

Here’s an example from my own journal:

Today was hard, God. A lot of days are hard. And then I feel guilty for thinking they’re hard.

What am I doing? I feel anxious, uncertain, flustered, overwhelmed, impatient, desperate, angry, fearful and exhausted.

Will I ever be strong again?

Confession is powerful because it takes the burden off you and hands it over to Jesus. He wants us to rest in his strength and not our own (Matthew 11:28–30).

Don’t worry about what it should look like or getting it “right.” Just blurt it out. And if you’re not sure what you’re feeling in the first place, then confess that you don’t know.

3. Pray the Truths of Scripture

Once I start confession, it usually becomes apparent to me that something is off in my thinking. One powerful way to remedy this is by filling my heart and mind with meaningful scripture, to replace my wayward thoughts.

If you know your Bible well, keep some of your favorite scriptures on hand (or memorize them). If you aren’t sure which ones might be helpful, try printable scriputre lists that address a variety of different emotions.

When you pray, repeat or write out the scripture. You can meditate on it silently if you want to and let the truth sink in. Writing your own response can be helpful too.

Here’s how I responded to Psalm 63 in the same journal entry:

You are so good, God. As the psalmist says, I just thirst for you. My actions aren’t always prioritized correctly (and more often than not I’m just tired and unfocused)—but I know that you are what I need most.

4. Give Thanks

1 Thessalonians 5:16–18 instructs us to pray continually and give thanks in all circumstances. It doesn’t say, “Be thankful and pray only when you feel like it.”

Even secular psychologists know that expressing gratitude has the power to change the way you think.

I try to practice gratitude as a daily spiritual discipline. I have a separate list where I write out everything I’m thankful for. Some of it seems silly, but it reminds me that everything I have is a gift from God.

You can also thank God and praise him for who he is, not just the “things” he gives you, as I did in my journal:

You are good, God. You love me, you help me, and that’s all I need to know. Thank you.

5. Present Your Requests

One reason a lot of people feel stuck when they pray is that they approach God as if he were a genie or a wishing star.

God certainly does want us to present our requests to him and we shouldn’t hesitate to do so. But if all you pray about is your wish list, you’re going to set yourself up for disappointment.

And disappointment can lead to feeling distant.

So how can we present our prayer requests to God in a way that draws us closer to him, even when we don’t get what we want?

Take a look at Philippians 4:4–6:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Requests are just one part of the conversation you can have with God, mixed in with rejoicing and thanksgiving, as well as confession and guarding your heart and mind with biblical truth.

Here’s how I presented my requests to God in my journal:

Lord, you know me better than I know myself. I try to cling to you in my desperate moments, even though I feel like I can’t see straight.

Help me embrace this concept of weakness that I fight against so often. I want to rely on your grace, not my straw man strength.

Help me to be the mother I need to be, to inspire my children to love you, to love them the way you love me, to train them to know what righteousness is.

You know my heart, God. Thank you for listening.

6. Rinse and Repeat

I’ve had many prayers in my life that helped me draw nearer in my relationship with God instantly.

Others, not so much.

But that’s how relationships are. Sometimes there’s a spark of unity. Sometimes you have to be patient as you work things out.

We humans are obviously the ones who need to sort things out; not God. He’s patient with us, however, and he wants us to work out our struggles with him.

Don’t get discouraged if you try to pray and still feel distant from God. Give it time and persistence. Keep up with the daily discipline of prayer and set aside longer times when you can. Pull in other people to pray with you and for you. And watch as God works in your heart.