When You Just Don’t Know What to Pray || Part 1

Some weeks are just hard. Like, “heart racing when your phone rings because of all the bad news” hard. Like, “I don’t even want to open that text or email because I just don’t even want to know” hard.

Many times, the week after I preach turns out that way. Sometimes I am certain it is the enemy attempting to discourage me after I’ve proclaimed God’s truth, but sometimes I think it’s more that I am spiritually and emotionally spent and therefore can’t handle the speed bumps of life the way I might normally.

Last week was one of those weeks. Several times every day I received bad news. Not bad news of the “shoot, we’re out of stamps,” variety, but bad news that shook me to my core and left me speechless. The fires in Gatlinburg, where my family vacationed every spring when I was a child, burned the condos where we would stay. I felt like my childhood memories were going up in flames. My dear, sweet aunt is in the late stages of dementia and as of last week, has been placed into hospice care. I can’t go see her, because she lives in Ohio, and even if I could, it might do her more harm than good. One of my oldest friends – recently diagnosed with breast cancer – received a somewhat ominous report from her initial appointment with the surgeon. The non-profit I volunteer with was robbed, leaving their warehouse empty at just the time of year when their services are most needed. A friend of the family tragically and unexpectedly lost his daughter, and just one week after celebrating Thanksgiving with her found himself making burial arrangements.

It wasn’t a good week, y’all. I was rocked to my core. I was shaken and unsteady and, most nights, a weepy mess by the time my exhausted body and worn-out heart fell into bed.

As I tried to sleep, the same thoughts continued circling in my head that had been circling all day: “I want to pray for them…I need to pray…but I don’t even have words.” I was literally speechless.

It happens to me all the time. I sit down to pray for a friend…family member…myself, and I have no idea what to say. The different situations scroll through my mind like a slide presentation from elementary school. My heart is burdened. Sometimes I know what I would like to see happen through my prayers, but sometimes I just have no words.

To be honest, this happens the most when I am praying for myself. When I am anxious or busy or angry or sad, like I was recently, I know those are the times I should go to God in prayer. However, it is at precisely those same times when I can’t think straight and don’t have either the words or the time for a long eloquent prayer.

I know Scripture promises me that God’s Holy Spirit will intervene and pray according to God’s will when I don’t have the words to pray. That’s comforting, but the fact remains that I want and need to say something. My heart needs to say something.

Something I started recently has already changed so much for the way I approach prayer. I hope maybe it will help you, too. The approach is based on a combination of stories in Scripture. The first is one of my favorites:

On that day, when evening had come, He said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.”

And leaving the crowd behind, they took Him with them in the boat, just as He was. Other boats were with him. A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But He was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke Him up and said to Him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”

He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm.

He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?” (Mark 4:35-41 NRSV)

There are so many things about this story that I love, but recently I’ve been focused in on three words: “Peace! Be still!”

When I don’t have the words to pray for myself, I simply say, “Jesus, speak peace into my storm.” The storm could be outside or inside of myself, but when I plead with Christ to intervene and simply speak peace, I believe that He does just that. What’s more, I believe that words from His mouth are sufficient. I believe that when Jesus speaks peace, there is peace.

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The situation may appear the same, but even then, I have peace in my heart. Even then, I myself am not tossed by the waves. Even then, I can rest in the fact that if Christ is not rattled by the storm, neither, then, should I be.

And friend, Jesus is not rattled by your storm. He is neither surprised nor unprepared for the wind and waves that may be battering your life from all sides.

“I’ve told you all this so that trusting me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace. In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I’ve conquered the world.” (John 16:33 MSG)

He is the Prince of Peace whose birth we celebrate this month. He is the baby – God made flesh – who stepped into our world to experience our storms and to prove that peace follows Him like a shadow. Jesus promises that in Him, we can rest in deep, unshakable, assured peace. He has already conquered every storm, and in Him, we are more than conquerors.

Maybe you’re in a storm today. Maybe your heart is unsettled and you feel like your life is being swamped. Maybe there are things happening over which you have no control, or maybe the storm lies only within your own heart. Either way, Jesus is there. He is not surprised or rattled or shaken by your storm, and He is more than capable of both riding through it with you and speaking His mighty words of peace into it.

Maybe it is someone you know who is battling a storm. Jesus has peace for them, too. He has conquered their storm and offers them the same peace in the middle of it.

I’ll share the other aspects of my new prayer habit soon, but for now I would encourage you to try just this one.

Jesus, speak peace into my storm.

Jesus, speak peace into the storm of the dear friend reading these words. I pray that Your presence and Your promise of peace would calm the waves and stop the winds, both around her and in her heart. Amen.

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