The Bible says Christians should “pray without ceasing,” so personally, I strive to pray not just daily, but in all things. Admittedly, some days I’m more successful than others. I generally tell myself that if I have time for leisure activities such as watching TV, reading a book, or tackling an art project for fun, then I certainly do have time to pray.
It was long ago when I decided to make prayer a priority in my life – long before I ever got serious about faith, or attended church with any regularity. I’ve learned to pray when I’m walking alone or lying in bed, while driving my car (you don’t always have to close your eyes to pray), while reading the news, and other various times when the need arises (meaning I feel led to pray about something in particular). Prayer is a conversation that I initiate between God and myself, and since He is always with me, prayer can happen at any time and any place. Once I accepted that, I set out to make prayer a habit, but in practice it turned out that taking time to pray, and believing in the power of prayer, has become more of a lifestyle choice than a habit.
When I Don’t Know What to Say
Having a robust prayer life is supposedly a staple of Christianity, yet there are still times in life when it seems inconvenient to pray. There is no end to the list of other things to do – obstacles to making time for daily prayer – busy, tired, avoidance. Even after I overcome the time issues, there are times when I want to pray, I need to pray, but I just don’t know what to say. Honestly, I’ve been there more than a time or two.
A line from a favorite song, “Just Say Jesus,” by 7eveth Time Down, says, “When you don’t know what to say, just say Jesus. There is power in the name, the name of Jesus.” When I get stuck like this – either because the situation on my mind is overwhelming me, or my thinking about the issue of the moment is conflicted and confused, I think about this lyric, and my prayer sometimes comes out as, “Jesus please…” over and over. Jesus please what? I don’t know – help me; help the person; help the situation; take this burden from me; take this pain from me; help me understand; help me forgive; help me trust, etc. The truth is this: I don’t always know what to say. It’s times like these that I am grateful for the Holy Spirit!
Romans 8:26 -27 says: …the Holy Spirit comes to help us, weak as we are. For we do not know how we ought to pray; the Spirit himself pleads with God for us in groans that words cannot express. And God, who sees into our hearts, knows what the thought of the Spirit is; because the Spirit pleads with God on behalf of his people and in accordance with his will. (GNT)
So God sees what’s on our hearts, and the Spirit pleads on our behalf while we “hope for what we do not see” and wait for it with patience. Got it! I fully believe God understands how we are affected by trauma and wants to help us through it, if we will only invite him in. And as for me, when that happens, I want God to hurry up and make everything better! Like now! Like…what’s taking so long?
Then I go back and read that again and see the last part about waiting for it with patience. That reminds me that I am not always the most patient person, and patience is a “fruit of the spirit,” and that God’s time is not our time. Oh, and God’s will may be different from our own. So yeah – that can be quite a humbling moment for me. How does one respond to that? Well, thankfully, there is a lyric from another favorite song that goes like this:
When You don’t move the mountains I’m needing You to move,
When You don’t part the waters I wish I could walk through
When You don’t give the answers as I cry out to You
I will trust, I will trust, I will trust in You!
~ lyrics from “Trust In You” by Lauren Daigle
For the life of me, I don’t know how people worked out their faith issues before the advent of Christian pop music! I’m just grateful to have these resources and reminders to help give me a more realistic perspective about how to cope in various difficult situations. I love how God comes into my life in many different ways – music being just one. Another way I occasionally experience the Lord in prayer is through the faith and example of others.
Wherever Two or Three Are Gathered…
Matthew 18:20 says, “For where two or three come together in my name, I am there with them.” Because of this, it’s important for Christian believers to have fellowship, companionship, and interaction with other believers on occasion. Sure, it can be scary to tell others about our struggles and open ourselves up to reproval, judgement, and scorn. Fear of such responses suppresses our need to ask for help in difficult situations, and it contributes to the illusion that everyone else’s life is so amazingly awesome while our own seems to be a mess. In times like this, it’s important to remember Jesus’ words in John 8:7 – “Let he that is without sin among you first cast a stone…”
Whenever I have allowed myself to speak openly and honestly about my sins and troubles with other Christians, I have generally found them to express sympathy, empathy, and often relativity to my own situation. That’s not to say that they have condoned sinful behavior – certainly not. But neither did they shrink away in horror, turn their backs on me, gossip about me, or condemn me to hell (that I know of) because of sin or strife in my life. After all, those are not the behaviors of mature believers. Instead, the women I have talked with (mostly women, but a few men too) have expressed sorrow over the situation or talked about their own struggles (or those of someone close to them) with some of the very same sins or struggles (which feels like free therapy in a lot of ways – to be able to hear I am not so alone).
On occasion, a woman I’m talking with will ask if she can pray with me. I almost always say yes to this! Then she will grab my hand and take the lead! And except one time when the woman praying for me was gripping my hand so hard that the pain distracted me from her words, it’s generally an awesome experience to be prayed over in this way. First, it’s a fulfillment of the scripture in James 5:16, (GNT) “So then, confess your sins to one another, so that you will be healed. The prayer of a good person has a powerful effect.” And it’s true! To hear someone else express my needs and fears, to articulate my concerns in a way I couldn’t think of myself, to ask for my healing and comfort – it immediately fills an emotional need in me. Right in that moment, I know the person who stopped to take time out of her day believes I’m important enough, and my cares and concerns are important enough, to be brought before God, to be put under His authority, and to receive His attention. It’s a healing experience just to feel that sort of love and validation first hand!
Sometimes, I Just Couldn’t Even!
I’m not going to lie (because it’s a sin!); there have been occasions in my life when I have drawn away from God because of a perceived injustice in unanswered prayer – like I was going to manipulate God into doing what I wanted by withholding love and affection until I got my way. Yeah – basically, I was being a colossal child who needed to grow up! That tactic never worked on my mom, and it won’t ever work with my heavenly Father either. Such a silly attitude likely served only as an obstacle standing in the way of my prayers even being heard, much less fulfilled. One time I remember in particular, when I was feeling this way, I confessed it to my husband (that I had not prayed for about two weeks), and he wrapped me in his arms and prayed for me mightily. The result was that I ended up yielding, crying, and repenting of my sinful attitude. It was a good outcome for me!
Another challenge for me has been wrongdoing in my heart. Reading 1 John 3: 21-22, it says God cannot answer our prayers if we are disobedient to what he may have asked of us, and according to James 4: 2-3, our prayers will not be answered if we have wrong motives and seek our pleasure before God’ will. So that means how I pray (my attitude about it) is at least as important as what I pray and why I pray.
I think of it like this: prayer exists to help us develop a relationship with the Lord and communicate with Him. None of us like it when “friends” avoid us, fail to reply to texts and calls, and then contact us because they suddenly need something. Well neither does the Lord. There is no greater friend to have in life than Jesus! But if we treat him with callous indifference, and approach him like users and takers, then how can we be at all surprised that our prayers go unanswered? When I have an unanswered prayer, I have to make myself stop and think about what I’m praying for from God’s perspective. Am I being greedy or selfish in my request? Is my prayer request going to further God’s kingdom or agenda, or only my own? Have I been faithful and diligent in keeping up my end of the relationship before I turned around and started making a list of “requests” or “demands”?
If the answer to those questions is unflattering, it serves to increase my understanding of the situation and of God. I rejoice that He doesn’t allow me to assume a selfish and spoiled attitude by satisfying my every petulant whim. It is a reminder that God does not exist to make my life comfortable! Rather, I exist to worship and praise Him! In many ways, I am like a child taught to honor and respect his parents. That child also learns to respect and care for others. My unanswered prayers remind me that what I want is not of supreme importance in the scheme of things. It is God’s will that reigns, and at all times I should pray for His will (and not my own) to be done. If His will requires me to think of others while sacrificing my own personal gratification, then may it be done! Praying for God’s will to be done while trusting that His plans are greater than my own has become the foundation of my daily prayer life. May it be the same for you, dear reader. 💕