When We’re Unsure: Finding Words for Prayer

Words and narratives have always played a crucial role in how I interpret and understand the world. From my childhood journal filled with scribbles to my angst-filled high school notebooks, reading and writing have been my way of making sense of things. So, it’s only natural that prayer, being composed of words, should feel like a natural spiritual practice. However, there have been times when the words weren’t flowing effortlessly.

There are moments when I find myself at a loss, not knowing how to pray, especially when my soul feels overwhelmed or distant from the Divine. Additionally, when praying for someone I don’t know well, I often struggle with knowing where to begin. How can I pray for them when I don’t know their deepest desires and needs?

Prayer is an intimate act, and in situations where we feel distant from God or when we’re praying with someone with whom we lack a close connection, it can be challenging to find the right starting point. Thankfully, there are tools available to assist us. Here are three approaches that can help us in those moments when we don’t know what to say.

Pray in the Company of a Mentor

In the book of Philippians, Paul encourages the church to “join together” and follow his example, urging them to “keep your eyes on those who live as we do” (Philippians 3:17). This reminds us that living a life of faith is a communal effort! It emphasizes the importance of having people in our lives who can support and guide us, as well as individuals we can look up to and learn from. Likewise, we should strive to become the kind of people who can be followed.

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One person whom I greatly admire and consider my mentor is my aunt. She has a profound prayer life, and I feel honored to have her guidance. Not only do I ask her to pray for specific matters, but I also learn from her approach to prayer. What is she praying about? How does she intercede for those under her care? While many of us understand the significance of prayer, there are times when we find ourselves unsure of how to pray. One invaluable piece of advice she gave me was to begin with the Psalms.

Pray Using the Psalms

David, an incredibly prolific psalmist, shared an intimate relationship with the Lord. Yet, even he had moments when he needed to remind himself to praise God and express his honest emotions. In Psalm 103, for instance, David exhorts himself to praise the Lord and not forget His numerous benefits. If you need to remind your soul about who the Lord is and why He deserves praise, Psalm 103 is an excellent starting point.

Amidst these challenging times, let Psalm 91 guide your prayers for those under your care. It is a psalm that offers assurance. Whether you are praying for a friend, your children, or someone you are mentoring, personalize the psalm by inserting their name: “[Name] dwells in the shelter of the Most High and finds rest in the shadow of the Almighty. [Name] declares, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God in whom I trust.'” Of course, you can also pray this psalm for yourself if you need reassurance of God’s protection and sovereignty.

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Consider praying Psalm 144 when you want to take an offensive stance in your prayer life. It begins powerfully: “Praise be to the Lord my Rock, who trains my hands for battle and my fingers for war. He is my loving God and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer, my shield in whom I take refuge, who subdues nations under me.” The psalm further contains verses that you can intercede with over your children and the younger members of your church community. Verse 12 states, “Then our sons shall be like plants grown up in their youth, and our daughters like corner pillars, carved to adorn a palace.” What a beautiful and resilient image to pray over the next generation! Verse 14 declares, “Blessed are the people to whom such blessings fall! Blessed are the people whose God is the Lord!” How marvelous it is to pray for walls of protection, and that no cry of distress may be heard within our communities, whether physical, emotional, or spiritual.

When praying for someone going through a challenging time, consider using Psalm 62. As verses three and four highlight, the adversary may try to bring us down, and there will be moments when we feel assailed from all sides. However, as the psalmist affirms, our souls can find rest in God! What a powerful prayer to offer on behalf of someone: “[Name] finds rest in God; their hope comes from Him. Truly, He is their rock and salvation; He is their fortress, and they shall not be shaken.”

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These are merely a few examples of specific psalms that you can incorporate into your prayers. However, many other psalms may precisely capture the emotions you are feeling or provide comfort when you are uncertain what to say.

Pray the Scriptures for Others

Lastly, let’s discuss the act of praying with someone else. Here are some invaluable tips from my aunt, especially when praying for a new believer or someone you are not acquainted with:

  1. Start by listening. Often, people appreciate having someone simply listen to their concerns before offering prayers.
  2. Don’t feel the need to immediately vocalize your prayers. Let them know, “I’ll take a moment to silently pray.”
  3. When you do begin praying aloud, consider using scriptures to guide your intercession. Praying God’s Word is a potent tool. Allow the Holy Spirit to do the work. Remember, praying in faith does not require possessing the gift of knowledge. Praying Scripture is for everyone!

Above all, remember to respect and honor the person you are praying with and for. As stated in Romans 12, living in community means outdoing one another in showing honor. Let us honor our fellow believers when we pray on their behalf.

Hopefully, these tools will assist you in finding the words when uncertainty plagues your prayers. Remember the words of Jesus regarding prayer: God is not looking for eloquent speech, and He does not need us to babble on and on (Matthew 6:5-14). Prayer is an avenue for us to intimately connect with our Lord, to offer praise, and to approach Him with childlike vulnerability, articulating our needs and requests—whether aloud, silently in our hearts, through the meditations of Scripture, or in partnership with others.

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So, don’t be discouraged when the words fail to come naturally. Embrace the various approaches available to you, and trust that your heart’s sincere desire to reach out to God will always be heard.

Remember, you can find more inspiration and guidance on prayer at 5 WS.

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