Have I prayed enough? – a question often asked by victims of domestic abuse

Devout Christians who are being abused by their spouse often wonder, “Have I prayed enough for my abuser to change? Have I prayed hard enough, long enough, or with enough faith?” This kind of thinking is exemplified  by what one survivor wrote to me (used with her permission):

I think I am still just waiting on God, to see if He is going to change my husband. I don’t want to cut God short, but I have also been praying for years for him to be saved and changed. Maybe I am just not praying enough or hard enough, or maybe I don’t pray as faithfully as I should, because deep inside I don’t want to be in this position anymore. Maybe I just cannot imagine him being any different than he is now. How do you know when to stop and give up?

This is the reply I wrote to her: 

I’ll answer your question with another question: What would it take for you to know for sure that you’d prayed hard enough and long enough? That’s a question for you to answer.

Now, a second question. Could your feeling that you don’t want to be in this sham of a marriage any more, be influencing or contaminating your prayers so they don’t take effect with God?

I will answer this question myself:

Your prayers do not have to be “perfect” for God to respond affirmatively and give you what you’ve been asking for in those prayers. God is sovereign. He can and does answer prayers as He sees fit, and He works all things together for good for those who love Him (Romans 8:28).

So whatever quality, perseverance, intensity, sincerity you might or might not have had in your prayers for you husband over those years, right up to and including the present, God is not “waiting” on you to perfect your prayers. He is doing what He always does: acting sovereignly. No one can twist the arm of God. Even skimpy, half-unfaithful, off-handed prayers can be granted; and even passionate, persevering prayers can be denied. He knows best. He knows what best to do.

Do you have to be able to imagine that your spouse could truly change, in order to facilitate his change? No. What you can or cannot imagine is not important. It’s your husband’s choice what he does, and it’s always been his choice. Let yourself off the hook. You are not responsible for changing him.

You said

I don’t want to cut God short.

You wouldn’t be cutting God short by stating that you want the marriage to end.

In my book Not Under Bondage I argue that the only thing which precludes a woman from re-marrying her former husband is if she has married another man in the period after having been divorced from her first husband (Deuteronomy 24:4). If a victim divorces her abusive husband, he is still free to change and reform should he choose to. Divorcing him would not prevent him doing that. You would not be “cutting God short” by divorcing your husband. God can still influence your husband, whether or not you are legally married to him. In fact, when a victim of abuse divorces her husband, that can sometimes be the motivator for him to really consider changing his attitudes, for the first time in his life. Not that it’s a magic bullet, but it can certainly provoke an abuser to take stock of himself. IF he wishes to. And it appears that most don’t wish to. Some toy with the idea for a while, and maybe move a few deck chairs around on the Titanic, but rarely do they fully repent.

[February 16, 2023: Editors’ notes:

—For some comments made prior to February 16, 2023 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be an exact match.
—For some comments made prior to February 16, 2023 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be found in the post.
If you would like to compare the text in the comments made prior to February 16, 2023 that quoted from the post to the post as it is now (February 16, 2023), click here [Internet Archive link] for the most recent Internet Archive copy of the post.]


Further reading

Lord, Do Not Forgive Them, For They Know Exactly What They Are Doing

To pray for our abusers…. or not? (we don’t need to pray for the sin that leads to death)

24 thoughts on “Have I prayed enough? – a question often asked by victims of domestic abuse”

  1. Barbara, this question is rooted in several misperceptions….I know because I had to work through them myself….

    First, it assumes that as a Christian, every circumstance and endeavor will work out well, if I just try hard enough, believe deeply enough, and pray long enough. It’s a works-based perception concealed as faith. We say we’re trusting God, but we’re actually convinced that it is up to us to make sure God does what we ask.

    Second, it assumes that my plans equate to God’s plans. Yes, we can trust God to work out His plan in our lives. However, to assume that faith, sincerity and fervency are the sole requirements for a prayer being answered in the way we expect is to assume that we know as much about “the plan” as God does.

    Third, it assumes that divorce cannot be a part of God’s plan for our lives. This one has deep roots in Christian culture. It assumes that divorce is inherently sinful and therefore cannot be godly. Yet, it is a false assumption without biblical basis.

    Fourth, it neglects God’s respect for human free will. If a spouse chooses an ungodly course of action, God will honor their choice. Yes, He will work through our prayers to call them and woo them, but ultimately, God respects our choices. He will not violate someone else’s free will in response to my petition.

    There’s more….but my comment is already getting lengthy….

    Blessings to you!

  2. Thank you for addressing this. I struggled with this same question for a long time. I used books like “The Power of the Praying Wife”, fully believing these prayers and praying with someone else would have an impact on my abusive husband. It just occurred to me that maybe those prayers were answered by God giving me the strength and courage to divorce him. Understanding that God doesn’t “twist arms” and allows us our free will helped me alot.

    1. Kay, I am convinced that was the case for me. My prayers for healing and restoration were not unanswered. Rather, they were answered in a way I did not expect.

      Here is an excerpt from my book, “So You are a Believer Who has been through Divorce”, where I discuss this topic:

      The Israelites cried out for help and God heard them. But what did the Israelites have in mind when they cried for help? Was it the same thing God had in mind as He answered? Remember, Israel was in blood covenant with Pharaoh, and had been for almost 430 years. For over 400 years they had lived in Egypt, relied on Pharaoh’s provision, and sunk deep roots in the region of Egypt called Goshen.

      It is doubtful that very many of this generation of Israelites had a dream or vision of leaving Egypt in a mass exodus and marching across the desert to conquer the Canaanites and occupy the Land of Canaan.

      It is much more likely that their vision was to be left in peace by the new Pharaoh, to be allowed to plant their crops, tend their livestock, marry, raise kids, build homes and grow old in peace, right there in Egypt, just as the last ten generations of Israelites had done.

      The Israelites cried out for help, hoping God would give the new Pharaoh a tender heart toward them, and grant them peaceful lives in Egypt. God answered, based on God’s vision as promised to Abraham more than 500 years earlier, by causing the new Pharaoh’s heart to be hardened toward the Israelites, to make their lives more bitter with harder labor. God’s plan was not for Israel to have a peaceful life in Egypt, but for God to redeem and deliver them from the bondage of Egypt, and to lead them out to conquer and occupy the land of Canaan!

      God bless!

    2. Kay – I think that many times our prayers are actually more like superstitious magic charms which are designed to get us whatever plan or outcome WE envision. But praying in Jesus’ name and according to God’s will means that we are praying for GOD’s will to be done, not our own. And the fact is that we don’t know His will most of the time. So the outcome will indeed be for our good and His glory, but it seems to me that those outcomes, as Joe points out, will normally be radically different than we had in mind.

  3. Thanks everyone for your great comments here. I am always encouraged when comments and discussion ensue from one of my posts. And I really like that example of the Israelites’ prayers in Egypt.

  4. I remember feeling exactly the same way as the writer in the blog. Looking back, the assumption that I, through my faith, indeed possess the power to change someone through prayer is, in reality somewhat arrogant.

    God has given us a free will, and even though the Holy Spirit may well be knocking on our spouse’s heart’s door, there is nothing beyond our spouse’s willingness to listen to that voice that will change him. Perhaps our spouse is simply saying, “no” to that still, small voice. Sadly, just as God divorced Israel when she refused His loving petitions to return to Him, so there comes a time when we must consciously choose to turn our abuser over to his own reprobate mind and hardened heart and allow the consequences of his poor choices to fall where they should.

    My abusive husband believed (and still does) that he could treat me any way he wanted as the “Christian” head of the home, and I had no recourse. God does not condone such treachery. Unfortunately, sometimes by failing to call sin a sin and say “no more”, we are telling our abuser that his behavior is acceptable and normal.

    I think there is more value in praying for godly wisdom (for ourselves) than praying that God will change our abuser. Only when I finally asked God what I should do did I hear Him tell me to leave. Maybe I was praying for the wrong thing. Maybe I was the one who wasn’t listening.

    1. ….the assumption that I, through my faith, indeed possess the power to change someone through prayer is, in reality somewhat arrogant.

      I recall reaching that same point, Cindy, of realizing that God holds human free will so sacred that not even He will force someone to change if they don’t want to. Who did I think I was, trying to accomplish what God does not do Himself?

  5. Thank you for this post and these comments on prayer. I have always struggled with the “how to pray”. I may be praying for something that is not God’s will even though, and especially when, I am praying for something that seems to be good, and positive and something God would want. But I also know that I am human and everything about me (my knowledge, perceptions, awareness) is limited, and that free will is involved. So, what may seem good to me may not be “for my good and God’s Glory”.

    I remember reading Matthew 26:39 when Jesus says:

    “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” [ESV]

    To me I see Jesus pray for something He wants, but recognizing that it may not be God’s will. So, most times I tell God what it is that I see / understand and what makes sense to me, but acknowledging that it is His will that I want to see done. And praying that He will enable me to understand His will and walk in it.

    And then I read James 5:16b-18. The previous verses are addressing the issues of confessing sin and praying for healing. Then this verse:

    ….The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. [NASB1995]

    The KJV states:

    ….The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.

    At first I thought this verse maybe was in context to healing, etc., based on the previous verses, but the following verses give an example of an effectual fervent prayer made by Elijah regarding another issue (lack of rain).

    How does one combine praying for God’s will and praying effectually and fervently? It seems that being effectual and fervent in our prayers has a purpose and an effect. Does being “effectual” and “fervent” translate into what was stated in the post of praying “hard enough, long enough, or with enough faith”?

    I’m sorry if I’m not articulating myself clearly. Sometimes it is hard for me to put the questions in my head into words and then onto paper. Maybe what I am asking is: What purpose, if any, does praying effectually and fervently have in God’s will being accomplished? How does one know if he / she is praying effectually and fervently? Since God is sovereign, are prayers then more for my sake than for God’s sake?

    1. UPDATE Sept 2021: I have come to believe that Jeff Crippen does not practise what he preaches. He vilely persecuted an abuse victim and spiritually abused many other people in the Tillamook congregation. Go here to read the evidence. Jeff has not gone to the people that he spiritually and emotionally abused. He has not apologised to them, let alone asked for their forgiveness.


      Dear Anonymous, I’ve hand-balled your question over to Jeff. He’s often better at answering these things than I am. But thanks for the question, it is a great one. And I think you articulated yourself very well.

    2. Anonymous,

      To me, it seems clear, in Scripture, that God’s will on this earth is brought about, largely, through the prayers of His people. I see this as the system God set up when He gave Adam and Eve authority over the earth.

      So, effective fervent prayer takes place when our sincere prayers are aligned with God’s will.

      Or, as you put it,

      ….most times I tell God what it is that I see / understand and what makes sense to me, but acknowledging that it is His will that I want to see done. And praying that He will enable me to understand His will and walk in it.

      I think that is it, exactly. The more I sincerely pray about a given topic, praying that God’s will be done and asking for discernment, wisdom and strength to follow the leading of The Holy Spirit, over time, my spirit comes into agreement with His Spirit.

      In essence, it is inviting God into the situation both to work His will and to show me what He would have me to do.

  6. Not trying to start a theological debate here, but so how does Reformed faith play into this? We believe that God chooses [us] for Salvation, that we cannot choose Him, because of our fallen sinful depraved selves; but that God softens us and causes us to be drawn to Him and our hearts are changed to “accept” His work on the Cross by Him. He changes our will. I guess that is where I get a little confused about “free will”.

    I understand that God does not force any of us, but I do believe that He causes us, by softening our hearts, to desire Him and to accept Christ. I do not believe that it is a work of ourselves. So how does this play into our prayers for our abuser? I am thinking that if it is God’s choice, then we really do not know when or if, He will soften someone’s heart.

    Presbyterians believe that as long as someone makes a profession, then you have to believe that profession, because we cannot know anyone’s heart. When I argue that the Bible says we will know them by their fruits (and abuse is certainly not a fruit of the Spirit), they say “that is true, but because we all remain sinners and do sin during the course of our lives, you cannot know who is truly Christ’s and who is not.” This is dreadful when it comes to abusive spouses, because as long as the abuser professes belief in Christ, they will not allow you to use the 1 Corinthians 7 Scriptures about the “unbeliever” leaving! I just found this out two days ago.

    [Paragraph breaks added to enhance readability. Editors.]

    1. LOL! Well, since Reformed Theology is definitely Jeff’s area of expertise….I’ll sit quietly and listen to Jeff’s response….

      Good questions, though!

    2. UPDATE Sept 2021: I have come to believe that Jeff Crippen does not practise what he preaches. He vilely persecuted an abuse victim and spiritually abused many other people in the Tillamook congregation. Go here to read the evidence. Jeff has not gone to the people that he spiritually and emotionally abused. He has not apologised to them, let alone asked for their forgiveness.


      Yeah, GREAT questions! And like Joe I’m leaving the big answer to Jeff. But I will say that my personal experience of Presbyterians here in Oz is that they DO look for fruit, and don’t just accept a person’s profession of faith in the way you described. It sounds to me like the church that calls itself “Presbyterian” yet takes the view you described is really a cult, not a church at all. The doctrine you described would allow the pews to be stacked with wolves in sheep’s clothing, and the poor sheep who happened to be there, would be open prey. Yikes. I think Jeff will probably be explaining what Reformed Theology really is, as distinct from counterfeits of Reformed Theology.

      Sigh, so many way the enemy brings heresy into the church. But that doesn’t mean we should abandon the study of doctrine. Quite the opposite: we need to know true doctrine really well, so we are not taken in by the counterfeits.

      Mind you, though, the Presbyterian churches I’ve known don’t always make good judgements in practice, when looking at a person’s fruit. But at least they hold to the doctrine that you OUGHT to evaluate a person’s profession by their fruit, and you should ex-communicate those whose Christian profession is counteracted by heinous sin.

    3. ….they say that is true, but because we all remain sinners and do sin during the course of our lives….

      Maybe that is part of that church’s problem….they believe that “we all remain sinners” and thus they treat all sinners — both the Christian who sins and the unrepentant (abuser) sinner — the same. But Pastor Crippen reminded us in his previous post entitled, Not all sinners are the same (advice for pastors Part 6) that —

      the Bible never calls Christians “sinners”

  7. Really?!? Well that is amazing to me! What would make the difference between the churches? I was told that “even if they repeatedly committed the same sin, that the Lord said, “70 times 7″”, so guess what THAT means for the victim!

    I have to say, however, that finding out these things has definitely made me ponder some hard things. So I asked “what would happen if my husband held women against their will while at church, or yelled and screamed at them, or mentally tortured them”. I was told that was “an interesting question, but that even if he did it repeatedly, as long as he repented each time, he would be forgiven” (70 times 7) “and taken at his word.” I said, “well, it would be interesting to find that out, wouldn’t it”; but I would be willing to bet that they would stop leaving him alone with their wives and that they would not trust him after the very first time he did any of those things to someone else’s wife! I was told that it is different though, because he would not be in covenant with the other woman, like he would be with me, because he is my husband.

    So I asked, “Is that the reason men are allowed to abuse their wives, because they were in covenant?” I said that I “didn’t think they would put a child in the same room and leave them alone, with the person who molested the child”, and it was said to me, “You mean a person who had been tried and convicted of that, right?” I said, “no, actually I was speaking of one who had been found out by his writings in his journals”. So, it seems to me that unless the offender has been tried and convicted, that the child accusing has no grounds not to be left alone with the offender. I am weeping at the profound stupidity and insanity of this type of thinking, and I think the stake has been placed and the fire is kindled and the innocent victims about to be burned.

    Does anybody know if this thinking is inspired by Nouthetic counseling or where this thinking comes from?

    [Paragraph breaks added to enhance readability. Editors.]

    1. Ooh, Anonymous, I’m raging at the bit, wanting to go out and make war against those wicked leaders who told you all that! It is rank evil, dastardly wickedness, and you have seen though it. Yes, setting the stake and putting the match to the pyre is the right kind of thing to think in one’s imagination, otherwise one’s brain would pop with this stuff. And we all know that popped brains don’t look pretty, do they? Let alone who might be called upon to clean up the mess!

      When you take that crazy kind of thinking to its logical conclusion, you show it up for the stupid nonsense it is. As you say, they are teaching that a man has full rights to abuse his wife continually, because (can you hear the syrupy violins?) “they are in covenant together” — and by their definition, it’s a covenant that includes full latitude to abuse. They’ve taken the true and beautiful meaning of the marriage covenant and turned it into a torture prison. And they expect the wife to turn herself into a pretzel to keep enduring that abuse. They would not allow their own child into the grip of a suspected pedophile, but they are quite happy to let you and your kids be abused.

      Is it time to get out of Babylon? It sounds to me like it is a church which would attract abusers and molesters like a honeypot attracts bees.

    2. I forgot to answer your question —

      What would make the difference between the churches?

      Most of these differences arise because the cultish church emphasizes certain Scriptures very heavily (like the “seventy times seven” Scripture) and barely pays attention to other Scriptures which (should) apply tempering force to the Scripture they emphasize.

      True Scriptural interpretation involves weighing up all the various texts which pertain to a topic (like the topic of “what to do when someone mistreats us”) and when you are weighing them up you have to be asking yourself, “How can all these various verses and passages be interpreted in a way that does not do injustice to any one of these passages? How can we hold all these instructions and precepts in tension, without invalidating or ignoring any of them, while upholding the virtue and good which they must collectively, embody?”

      The church you’ve described is (for their own convenience and hidden agenda) latching on to certain texts, at the expense of other texts. We must all be Bereans, as I’m sure you know. And it’s hard to be a clear-minded Berean when one has been unwittingly brainwashed into slanting all one’s interpretations in a certain direction. Or, to change the metaphor, when one has been looking through a coloured filter, so that all things seem tinged with that colour and one isn’t seeing the other hues clearly.

      If you haven’t yet read my book [Affiliate link], I would suggest you get it and read chapter two which sets out all the various Bible passages that give Biblical action steps that we can take when we have been mistreated by others. It might help you see things without that biased slant that you seem to have been exposed to.

  8. Thank you for this answer. They do lean heavily upon certain Scriptures, denying that all of Scripture can be applied to our marital relationship, but instead only allowing certain verses to be applied to our marriages. For example, you cannot use the verses about David and Saul to deal with your marriage, nor can you use Abigail, because that was an historical account, nor can you use 1 Corinthians 7 even if he abuses but yet confesses Christ because that confession makes him a believer, you cannot use Nehemiah, because it is not talking specifically about marriage there, etc., etc. (By the way, Nehemiah is a great example of how to deal with abusive people!) I just can’t get it to all add up, using all the Scriptures as a whole. I guess I don’t understand hermeneutics. (I don’t think I can even spell it!) This is where I get confused and wonder if they all know something I do not and that I am just disappointing God by my lousy interpretation and / or use of His Word.

    I think, if I am not wrong, that God-centered Covenants should glorify God and represent Who He is in that Covenant. To say that men can abuse their wives (which they deny they do), is to say that God can abuse His people, which we know is never true and He never does. The church denies that they “endorse” or “approve” of abuse in any form, and yet they do not “practice” what they teach and preach. In words they are right, but in practice, they are failing miserably. And, what did our Lord say? He said, “you worship me with your lips, but your hearts are far from me” [Paraphrase of Matthew 15:8]. In other words, you do not practice what you say and preach! I think we really live out and practice what we believe, even if our “practice” betrays the words we speak. Hope I said that right.

    1. Preach it, sister! You’ve got it totally right!

      And regarding their dis-allowance of applying certain Scriptures to marriage, you KNOW they are wrong, because their blinkered hermeneutic ends up condoning and even endorsing abuse (though of course they deny that). You DO understand hermeneutics — you know the loving and righteous character of God, you know when interpretational tracks lead to nonsense and evil-doing, you know that all those passages you talked about (David & Saul, Abigail, Nehemiah, 1 Corinthians 7) have applications for marriage and marital abuse, because you have the Spirit of Christ and He teaches you all things. When hermeneutics leads to La-La land, or a prison camp, or superficial clap-trap, you know it’s wrong. The Spirit of Christ tells you that, not to mention a good dose of spiritualized common sense!

    2. Satan uses covenant to enslave and abuse. God uses covenant to enrich and bless.

      When Pharaoh used his covenant with Israel to enslave and abuse, God redeemed Israel from their covenant with Pharaoh.

      When Satan used his covenant with mankind to enslave and abuse, God redeemed mankind from their covenant with sin and death.

      For His children who are in covenants of abusive bondage, God offers redemption. He is still in the business of redeeming His children from abusive covenants.

      Our Redeemer Lives!

  9. Reblogged this on Moved By Faith [This link is broken and we were unable to find a copy in the Internet Archive. Editors.] and commented:
    Questions all women ask in dealing with the realization that you are being abused. Kara NEVER entered her marriage to leave….she was in it for the long haul, no doubt leaving was the hardest thing she has ever done.

  10. Sometimes, my simplest prayer is “Help!”

    I have spent my entire personal and professional life in abusive relationships. Very rarely has prayer been answered the way I hoped / expected. In hindsight, I can see God’s hand, but the road between then and now was unknown. (I am not very good at living with unknowns….)

    I can understand God is sovereign, can desperately want my will in alignment with His, but the walk is still a struggle. Maybe that is part of being human….or, specifically, the result of living in abusive environments.

    The abuse started with sexual violation in infancy and continued until almost one year ago, though the types of abuse / abusers / arenas differed. While many relate to the phrase “walking on eggshells”, the phrase I relate to is “something bad will happen”. (The terminology of someone of much younger age.)

    To walk my life in God’s will is my hope, my dream, my deepest heart-felt desire. Without Him, I am nothing.

    I have always wanted to know “Why?”, accepting His answer, though some answers require longer time to process.

    I do not blame God for what has happened in my life, He makes use of my weaknesses to show His strength. My heart knows this, my head knows this, but the unknown sometimes leaves me feeling “something bad will happen”.

    I cannot imagine what it was like for Christ when He said:

    ….yet not my will, but yours be done. (Luke 22:42)

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