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May 17, 2022

What to Pray When We Don’t Know What to Pray

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How do you start reading the Bible?

Too often words fail me when I spend time in prayer. Do you feel your praise falls flat, and your thanksgiving is routine? How do we pray when we don’t know what to pray?

God calls us to a difficult task, to commune with the Maker of the Universe in unceasing conversation. His Holy Spirit dwells in our spirit, whispering the mysteries of God into our souls. How inadequate our words seem in response! What do we do when we can’t find the words to express the cries of our hearts?

Pray His Words

Psalm 19 tells us God’s words “are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold, sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb.” When our words ring dull, we can find the chord again by praying His Word. A couple of especially useful parts of God’s Word are the Psalms and the prayers of saints.

The Psalms provide rich, poetic prayers of wonderful truth. Filled with emotion, these prayers lead us to discoveries about the unfathomable character of God. Too often, lost in our own prayers, we begin to worship God as we want Him to be. By praying through the Psalms, we hear God reveal to us His character, and we can worship Him in truth. I enjoy praying Psalm 23 when discouraged, Psalm 32 when I need to repent, Psalm 103 or Psalm 104 when I need a fresh view of God, and Psalm 139 when I feel alone.

I also recommend praying the prayers of the saints. One example is found in Colossians 1:9–10, when the apostle Paul prays for a church he had never met. He asks, “that [they] may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that [they] may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.” How different our faith communities might look if, along with our requests for physical health and financial provision, we echoed Paul’s prayer for the Colossians!

Find other wonderful prayers in Luke 1:46-55, 67-79; John 17:15-17; Philippians 1:9-11, Ephesians 3:14-21; Hebrews 13:21.

Sing Their Songs

Scripture encourages the devoted heart to praise God with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, making melody in our hearts toward God (Ephesians 5:19). Deepest praise seems to find its voice in song. And deep pain and sorrow unburdened before the Lord find their chorus in praise.

The ancient hymns provide us with rich prayers of praise and devotion. These songs bear witness to hearts fully devoted to the Lord and desperate for His love and loving care. By singing these hymns prayerfully or simply praying through the verses, we can share with seasoned saints praise for our all-sufficient, all-knowing, all-loving Savior and Lord.

For example, when I’m preparing to spend some extended time with the Lord, I like to pray the hymn, “Be Thou My Vision.” The song begins:

Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou are
Thou my best thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.”

I sing this chorus as a prayer to the Lord, asking Him to be my vision. “Be Still my Soul” helps me praise God for my eternal security. “O Love That Will Not Let Me Go” reminds me the Lord loves me with an everlasting love. Modern hymns like “In Christ Alone,” and “Ancient of Days” keep me mindful in turbulent times that Christ is on the Throne.

Consult a hymnal or pray along with your favorite vocalists as they sing words of praise.

Echo Other’s Prayers

Like the melodious prayers of the songwriters, the rich prayers of the faithful followers lift our hearts to praise and petition the Lord in new ways. Our own prayer requests often focus on physical needs like urgent health problems, relationship issues, and economic woes. These are all legitimate needs, but how differently other heroes of the faith prayed!

In the book, Valley of Vision, editor Arthur Bennett, collected Puritan prayers and devotions. When our words are not enough, we can enjoy praying the words of these saints. Their prayers express wholehearted commitment and grateful awe in the presence of the God they both feared and adored.

In their prayers these saints also give us rich doctrine. They seem to understand and appreciate deeply all three persons of the Trinity and the roles they play in our salvation. Scripture urges us to set our minds on eternity. One such example is the devotion titled, “Trinity” which praises the Father who sent His Son, the Son who walked among us for our salvation, and the Holy Spirit who implanted eternity in our hearts.

The Puritans fully understood they were not home yet, often punctuating their devotions with a yearning for a distant shore. One such prayer entitled simply, “Voyage,” illustrates this focus so well. It ends with these wistful lines, “Let my mast before me be the Savior’s cross and every oncoming wave the fountain in His side. Help me, protect me in the moving sea until I reach the shore of unceasing praise.”

Thanks Be to God!

I’m so grateful that when we don’t know what to pray, we can turn to some precious resources. The prayers of the saints in Scripture lead us to pray truth for our own walks with God as well for those in our care, and the Psalms in particular, teach us how to worship. The words of treasured hymns confirm our faith and lift our eyes to the Lord. And the prayers of believers like the Puritan men and women loosen our tongues, lift our hearts, and liven our souls.


Sandy Carter

Sandy and husband, Garry, returned to Illinois after living and working in California for two decades. Now retired, Sandy indulges her passion for words through freelance writing. She is also enthusiastic about helping women grow in their love for and obedience to God’s Word. Sandy serves as a LIFE group leader and coach at The Orchard EFC Barrington. She loves encouraging other women in their walks with the Lord, entertaining family and friends, and spending time with her four grown children, their spouses, and five grandchildren.
Sandy and husband, Garry, returned to Illinois after living and working in California for two decades. Now retired, Sandy indulges her passion for words through freelance writing. She is also enthusiastic about helping women grow in their love for and obedience to God’s Word. Sandy serves as a LIFE group leader and coach at The Orchard EFC Barrington. She loves encouraging other women in their walks with the Lord, entertaining family and friends, and spending time with her four grown children, their spouses, and five grandchildren.