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When You Don't Know How to Pray

Vanessa Luu

Contributing Writer
Updated Mar 10, 2023
When You Don't Know How to Pray

The Holy Spirit intercedes for us when we don't know how to pray. So let the Holy Spirit take over when you don't know how to pray. You don't have to have the right words; you only need an authentic relationship with the Holy Spirit. 

Maybe, like me, you don't know how to pray sometimes. The storms that thrash and bash us can feel like too much.

Let's face it. It's a scary time to be alive. I was lamenting to my husband about how this country is not crumbling; it's already destroyed, but we're all pretending it's still okay, and it isn't. I don't like pretending, so it feels extra icky to me.

When I lament, God is faithful to remind me, "His favor is for a lifetime; Weeping may last for the night, But a shout of joy comes in the morning." Psalms 30:5b, NASB.

We have created a society where the truth is considered toxic, and we'll do anything to irradicate it from our lives, but the truth is the only thing that can save us.

The lies we've built our lives on are rotting beneath our feet, and we still won't humble ourselves and surrender all to Jesus. It may be because we've lied about Jesus too. He's been redefined and changed so many times it's no wonder people don't know Him. The solution is simple. Seek the Jesus of the Bible. But God forbid! We don't have time to waste spending time in the Bible!

Jesus said, "It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners" (Mark 2:17, NASB). Except for a very few, the world is sick! We desperately need Jesus. 

Jesus is the simplest, most effective solution we could ever choose, yet we use all of our energy avoiding His ways. We attempt to make everyone bow down to our ways, emotions, desires, and justice, and it's only left us depraved.

For Such a Time As This

The minds of the masses have turned to mush! Watching, listening, and reading their illogical words causes my jaw to drop in sheer horror and confusion. We are so far gone I could cry for the rest of my life, but each day I wake up and realize God still wants me here for such a time as this. And so I pray, and I seek Him.

I often don't know how or what to pray other than saying, "May your will be done, Lord." This prayer is the condensed version of the Lord's Prayer. 

"Pray, then, in this way: 'Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. 'Your kingdom come. Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. 'Give us this day our daily bread. 'And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 'And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. [For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.'] For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions." Matthew 6:9-14, NASB.

Our entire world is in pain due to sin. You may not be able to relate to my specific pain, but I know you have pain. And Jesus has peace and beauty in exchange for that pain. Often, I find it difficult to pray. Sometimes I don't have the words. You may experience this from time to time. So let me share some encouragement with you.

"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, NASB.

Isn't that wonderful!? The Holy Spirit intercedes for us when we don't know how to pray. So let the Holy Spirit take over when you don't know how to pray. You don't have to have the right words; you only need an authentic relationship with the Holy Spirit. 

How do you know if you have an authentic relationship with God? Great question!

1. Believe

Do you believe God's ways are higher than yours—that His thoughts are higher than yours (Isaiah 55:8-9)? Do you believe God is all-knowing, all-powerful, all-present, perfect, just, loving, and gracious? Do you believe that because of His great love for us, He sent Jesus to be our perfect sacrifice to restore our relationship with Him, the Father? If not, this is where your heart needs to start.

If you aren't sure about some of God's characteristics, start with this prayer: Dear Lord, I want to know you better. There are uncertainties I need you to clarify. I need to become more familiar with your Word to know that you are trustworthy. I'm ready. Please, God, reveal your true self as I seek you in your Word. In Jesus' name, amen.

A big part of my testimony was the answer to a prayer very similar to this one. God isn't as tricky as we sometimes make Him out to be. He's not hiding from us and waiting for us to find the magic button to press before He answers our prayer. He's just waiting for our hearts to long for Him.

2. Seek

Make time every day to seek the God of the Bible. For many years, I relied on the teachings of pastors, and then the day came when those weren't enough. I found too many inconsistencies and decided to seek God on my own. To my delight and horror, I found that I had learned many things incorrectly about who God was and what He wanted. Can you relate?

Have you noticed inconsistencies in your idea of God's character over your years as a Christian? Even within the church, there seem to be many differing opinions.

Do you often feel confused about who God is and what He likes and hates? I've often heard debates about what God is okay with, and sometimes, I used to participate in these. Now I know that God has clearly stated in the Bible what pleases Him and what doesn't. We don't have to solve a mystery; God has given us the answers in His Word.

If you need some motivation for discipline in the Word, ask for it! You can pray this prayer: Lord, I know I need to study your Word, but I feel so busy and consumed with other things. Please help me to make time regardless of how I feel. You have more to reveal about who you are and who I am in Christ. In Jesus' name, amen.

You'll need to pray this prayer a lot, especially if you don't already make time for God daily. This discipline might take time to fortify, but God will help you if you desire to know Him.

3. Stop and Be Still

When you don't know how to pray during seasons or intense situations, just stop. Give yourself a "time out" to breathe and tune into God's voice. Be still with God. Sit or lay down and let your body relax. Surrender your body and mind to the Holy Spirit and stay there until you feel His peace again. 

If you find stopping to be a challenge (like most of us do), try this prayer: Lord, it feels impossible to stop what I'm doing right now, but I know that I need you, and I trust that all that you have for me to do will be complete in your perfect timing. Thank you, Lord, for wanting to spend time with me. Please help me surrender my timeline to you so I can sit in your presence. In Jesus' name, I pray, amen.

4. Ask a Friend

When you're struggling to find the words, ask some friends to pray for you. There is strength in numbers, and you get the bonus of building fellowship with other believers.

So many times, I've asked for prayer from friends all over the globe, and I start seeing God answer my prayer sooner than later. I don't know if group prayer expedites things, but I do know there is power in united prayer.

I'm reminded of the friends who desperately wanted to help their paralyzed friend be healed. They were willing to carry him to the roof and lower him to where Jesus was preaching. Their faith and unity brought healing to their friend! (You can find this story in Luke 5:17-39 or Mark 2:4-13).

In 2008, my church prayed fervently for the triplets of our friends who were born severely premature at 22 weeks! We passed around a sign-up sheet and put our names down for a specific hour each day. Around the clock, for weeks on end, someone was taking their turn in prayer for a serious miracle.

The doctors didn't give the parents much hope. Each baby had brain and heart surgery. The father was told to pull the plug on his only son. The doctors said that if he survived, he'd never walk and would be severely handicapped. 

I remember clearly receiving a text with this information when I was in my classroom. I felt compelled to urge the father (my friend) not to pull the plug. If God wants to take him, He will, but don't give up! He assured me he wouldn't.

I'm happy to tell you that these triplets grew up beautifully. They are 15 years old, very bright, very musically talented, and they have zero disabilities. Zero!! This experience is how I know having friends pray in agreement with you is powerful!

5. Praise Him

When you don't know how to pray, start praising God. David and the other Psalmists knew all about praising God through all things. Praising God amid troubles is powerful! You may not feel like praising God, but it will be hard to stop once you realize how much you have to be grateful for!

It may be difficult at times to begin praising God. Maybe you feel numb or empty. Maybe your head is spinning, and you can't think straight. (I've been there a time or two). Open up the Book of Psalms and start reading it aloud or writing it down by hand. Or you can combine the two! 

Recently I picked up this practice again. As I write this today, I'm on Psalm 10. I've asked my daughters to do it with me, too, because I want them to experience the blessings that come when we praise God.

You'll notice that your heart turns to praise as you recite or write the Psalms. Soon you're singing your own words of praise to the Lord! Give it a try. And if you feel like you don't have enough time in your day to write out Psalms, you can say this prayer: Dear Lord, help me cultivate a healthy praise life with you. You are good. The psalmists speak of your goodness throughout the ages, and I want to be a part of that. I love you, Lord. You are worthy of my praise. Thank you for helping me with this, as you help me with everything else! I ask this all in the name of Jesus, amen.

There is no situation in which not knowing how to pray is a problem. We know our salvation isn't ours to boast about, as Paul reminds us in Ephesians 2:8-9: "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast" (NASB).

Boast Only in God

Our ability to pray is not ours to boast about, either. God has given us everything we need to live an abundant life in Him. We need only go to Him.

When you don't know how to pray, believe in who God is. Seek Him with your whole heart. Stop and be still with Him, trusting He's got your time in His hands too. Never feel ashamed to ask a friend to pray with you. Praise God in every circumstance. 

"Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, NASB

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