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"Prayer: the last refuge of a scoundrel."
—Lisa Simpson, The Simpsons, "Bart Gets An F"

Nothing seems to be going right. The character is continuously failing to make any progress, despite constantly trying. But eventually, they reach a point where they've exhausted all avenues for success and there are no other options.

Now is a good time to pray.

This trope is an observation about the use of prayer in fiction. Praying is seen as a sign that the character is giving up and acknowledging that they have no control, and so for a character to pray as a first response is almost always a sign of weakness. As such, works will typically portray prayer as a last resort or an act of desperation after the character has tried and failed to resolve the conflict on their own.

Sub-Trope of Godzilla Threshold. If a character prays as a first response rather than a last resort, it signifies that the character is weak or has no initiative.

Not always a case of Truth in Television, as people who pray regularly usually do so as a first response, and then try to resolve the issue if that doesn't work - and this is seen as normal among such people. However, it is a case of truth in television if the person doesn't regularly pray, and feels they have exhausted all other options. And then, of course, there are the people whose first response is to pray... for the strength to solve their problem themselves.

Examples of Prayer Is a Last Resort include:

Comic Books

Film

 Crom, I have never prayed to you before. I have no tongue for it. No one, not even you, will remember if we were good men or bad. Why we fought, or why we died. All that matters is that two stood against many. That's what's important! Valor pleases you, Crom... so grant me one request. Grant me revenge! And if you do not listen, then to HELL with you!

  • Arnie also prayed toward the end of End of Days.
  • Patton. During the Battle of the Bulge the situation is desperate. The Germans are winning and Allied air support is grounded because of the bad weather. Patton calls in an Army chaplain and orders him to write a prayer to ask for good weather so Allied planes can smash the German forces.
  • O Brother, Where Art Thou? Everett near the end, about to be killed by the Warden, asks God to save him. After being saved, he goes right back to being an atheist, denying that God had any hand in it.

Jokes

  • IIRC there is a joke about an atheist praying to god when about to be devoured by a bear, asking to make the bear a Christian. The bear says "thank you for this meal I am about to receive."
    • There's also a rather Anvilicious joke about a man praying to be be rescued, and another boat comes along, a helicopter comes along, and so on, and he turns all these down waiting for God to come save him.

Literature

  • In Deception Point when the cast are about to freeze to death (having been trapped on an ice sheet by a group of Delta force soldiers) the female lead comments it probably looks like she's doing this in her internal monologue, but she's actually attempting to tap out an SOS message in the hope a secret array of microphones might pick it up. It doesn't, but luckly a submarine was passing nearby).
  • Lampshaded by H. Beam Piper in A Slave Is A Slave. After a Straw Man Liberal has misquoted the Foundation line about "the last refuge of the incompetent", the viewpoint character muses that it is true in that "only an incompetent waited until the last resort to use force, and by then it was usually too late to use anything, even prayer."

Live Action TV

  • In Father Ted, the title character is only ever seen praying when he wants something, usually to avoid getting into trouble. It rarely works.
  • In The X-Files season 7 pilot, all Scully can do for a dying Mulder is to pray. It helps.
  • Referenced by Dean Winchester in season 5 of Supernatural. As the Apocalypse begins, the heroes conclude that the only party powerful enough to stop both the forces of Hell and Heaven from destroying Earth is the long-absent God, so they go looking for him.

 Sam: Go looking for God? Last I heard you wanted to kick God's ass [for allowing the Apocalypse to happen].

Dean: Prayer; call it the last call of a desperate man.

    • Mocked by the Yellow-Eyed Demon as he's about to slaughter a room full of nuns in 4.22 Lucifer Rising.

Music

 Oh God, if you're out there won't you hear me?

I know we've never talked before--

Oh God, the man I love is leaving,

Won't you take him when he comes to your door?

  • Subverted in Steve Earle's "Tom Ames' Prayer", about a bankrobber who finds himself "trapped in an alley in Abilene with all but four shells spent" and turns to God for the first time in his life... only to wind up bragging at length about that time he saved himself from hanging and concluding:

 "Yeah, but who the hell am I talkin' to, there ain't no one here but me."

And then he cocked both his pistols and he spit in the dirt and he walked out in the street.

Tabletop Games

  • In The Dresden Files RPG, one of the faith-based supernatural powers allows you to do this. When your party's in dire straits, if you have the power, you can pray to basically have the god of your choice smite your enemies and save your ass.
  • A genuine option in the Pathfinder pen & paper RPG, high level clerics have tiny chance (a matter of 3% or so) to turn the tide massively in their favour when all seems lost by praying to their god(s).
  • In the board game Tales of the Arabian Nights some seemingly unwinnable situations can be salvaged or even turned to your advantage by selecting the reaction "Pray." It rarely hurts you and sometimes can pull out near-miraculous results like the evil Bedouin horde being chased off by a swarm of angry bees before they can attack you.

Video Games

  • Earthbound has this in its final battle. The final boss is defeated by praying to everyone the protagonists have met on their journey, and the player.
  • Nethack has this for all characters. If you haven't bothered your god too much lately, and you're in big trouble of some sort, there's a pretty good chance they will help you out.

Western Animation

  • This also happened at least once on The Simpsons, in "Bart Gets an F" and "Bart Sells His Soul".
  • In one episode of The Boondocks animated series, Huey exhibits this trope. After all his plans to save an innocent black man from execution have apparently failed, at the last minute, he breaks down and prays; saying that he's never prayed before, and isn't sure who he's praying to, but that he knows the world isn't supposed to be like this. Moments later, as they're about to flip the switch for the electric chair, lightning strikes Reverend Ruckus (just as he dares God to strike him with lightning if any of his racist preaching doesn't come from God himself), then the governor calls off the execution as one of Huey's plans (Threatening to expose the governor's gay affair, not knowing about one but figuring there was about a 5% chance that one existed) comes to fruition.
  • In an episode of Family Guy, Brian, a notoriously outspoken atheist prays to god when he thinks the world is ending.
  • Quite a few Looney Tunes characters pray in hopeless situations, such as falling from great heights or restrained and awaiting execution.
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