Devotional Thoughts: When You Aren’t Sure What to Pray
Written by Jenn Arman | January 3, 2013
Have this ever happened to you? You’re in prayer, praying for a sick friend, the president, your church or anything really, and you feel like there’s something missing from your prayers. You’re praying as well as you can, but it still seems like your prayer is missing the mark; maybe you keep using the wrong word but you can’t think of the right one–I do that all the time. It can be frustrating when it feels like we aren’t praying as well as we’d like.
Maybe you’ve never done this, but sometimes I even apologize to God if I feel like my prayers are a hard-to-understand mess.
In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God (Romans 8:26-27).
The flip side of feeling like you aren’t praying clearly is feeling like your prayers simply don’t capture the depth of emotion you feel about the subject of your prayer. If you’re praying for a loved one who is gravely sick or injured, it might feel like words can’t express the deep emotions you feel in your heart. Other times we’re so filled with joy and happiness that the words “thank you” and “happy” are just shadows of how we actually feel.
That’s where God’s Spirit comes in. Romans 8:26-27 assures us that it isn’t our fault if our prayers don’t seem as deep as we’d like because “we don’t know how to pray as we should,” though we should always continue to pray as well as we can. That’s a fact: We simply don’t know how to pray perfectly. Thankfully, God isn’t after the perfect prayer–He’s after a heart that desires to pray and know Him.
The truth is we only have a finite amount of words with which to describe things. Merriam Webster and the Oxford University Press both estimate that the English language contains approximately 500,000 words. Researchers estimate that the average high school graduate has a vocabulary of about 60,000 words. If you think about it, even if each person had a 500,000 word vocabulary, would it really do justice to our prayers? Is that even enough words to describe our glorious Savior?
God’s vocabulary isn’t finite. He probably has words for things we’ve never even seen. Our God is the one who knows all the stars by name; I can’t even remember the name of the star closest to Earth! Because of His infinite vocabulary, we can have peace about our prayers knowing that even when our words seem inadequate, God’s Spirit is interceding for us. He is taking our words, thoughts and emotions (even the ones we don’t have words for) and He is communicating them clearly and expressing emotions that are too deep for our words to handle.
Don’t worry if your prayers don’t sound “just right” to your ears or the ears of others because to God’s ears, they sound just like they do in your heart–beautiful.
He counts the number of the stars; He gives name to all of them. Great is our Lord and abundant in strength; His understanding is infinite (Psalm 147:4-5).