When You Don’t Know What to Pray

My friends, there are many joys and blessings that are given to followers of Christ, but there are also many frustrations and heartaches experienced by individuals yielding to Him. Many know what it is like to lose friends—even within church settings—when they are serious about the Bible and their walk with Christ. Sometimes God permits dreams to be dashed into pieces or desires unfulfilled. Sometimes God allows things to happen which breaks one’s heart to the core. 

When these happen, one can find himself in a place of not knowing what to pray. After all, he has prayed many times, and he has confessed of any known sin. Why bother praying? What good is it? 

We are far more stubborn, idolatrous, and autonomous than we care to think or admit. While I am not saying every hurt which comes is a result of these, but we must take these into consideration. Jesus desires for us to desire Him above all else, but if we are honest there are often plenty of other desires and loves surpassing our desire and love for Him. It is easy to sing a song saying that He is all we want or need, but when one had persons, things, plans, hopes, and dreams taken from him, his sincerity of passionate singing is put to the test. What is one’s honest reply when God speaks to him, “Child, you still have Me”? It’s okay for the heart to break and for a person to experience grief. This comes with being human. God is not angry with a person feeling disappointed. sad, or even angry necessarily. However, will a person continue to trust God, and even love Him, despite the inner ache? Every true saint must experience this to some degree. But what does one do when they are so broken and wearied that they just don’t know what to pray?

We are like wild stallions who must be broken if we would desire to be used for God’s good purposes, and one of His good purposes is to conform us to the image of His Son—to make us more like Jesus. This is a painful process of squeezing, molding, pruning, chipping, grinding, and purging. Are you and I willing to let Him do what only He can do? Will you and I yield trustingly to Him, knowing He is God and we are not? Still, what if we do not know what to pray? We are told,

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. ~ Romans 8:26-27

Go ahead and groan wordlessly. Cry, mourn, and grieve. Yield to the breaking, for it serves Kingdom purposes. If you and I should desire to be like Jesus, can we be so without hurt, disappointment, or suffering? Isaiah says, “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief,” (53:3). And just as we benefit from His suffering (see Isa. 53:4-6), so others are helped by ours. We are told elsewhere,

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. ~ 2 Corinthians 1:3-5

When you and I go through difficult situations, bombarded by perplexity, hounded by questions, and frustrated by the agony God gives comfort in mysterious ways. Sometimes all this seems senseless, heartless, and arbitrary. Yet, God brings you and I into the lives of others experiencing these, and we are able to be ministers to them, applying the balms of both grace and empathy.

What does any of this have to do with prayer? Everything! We are utterly dependent on God, but too often we really do not believe this. But when we do, we don’t always know how or what to pray. This is okay. Just groan. The Holy Spirit will intercede through these, and conform us more into the likeness of Christ in the process.

A Deeply Broken Heart Can Lead to the Development of Deeper Compassion

Cash was our “three legged bandit” we adopted from the local animal shelter. When we got him he still had stitches where a back leg had been amputated. He had recently been rescued from his previous owners who paid no attention to his injured, useless, infected leg.

Regardless of any hardships he had gone through, there was not much he was afraid of. In fact, he brought a sense of security to our other rescue, Jolie. While they had their share of scuffles, there was a bond between them. Jolie felt safe with him, even enough to go outside to potty and play when it was thundering and lightning!

Cash had a bark that would make others afraid or uncomfortable, but he was actually a big ol’ cuddle bug. He always made his rounds, some nights going to our son’s room to be with him, some nights cuddling next to me on the couch, then some nights cuddling next to his favorite person, his mama. I am certain inside that doggie brain of his he thought my wife was his girl and not mine. Whenever she and I would hug or smooch, Cash would run up, “Woof! Woof! Woof! Woof!” with his tail a-wagging, as he would shove himself in between us, as if to say, “This is my girl, bucko!”

Make no mistake, he could be a pain in the butt, but I loved that crazy dog. Far more than I realized. He often made me laugh. I was convinced he had watched a lot of romance movies, because he would look a person in the eyes, hold the gaze, and slowly draw near to give doggie kisses.

We had him for about two years when something dreadful happened, and we had to make the heart wrenching decision to put him down. The day arrived when we would take him to the vet. On the way there we stopped by Burger King and got him a couple of sandwiches. When we arrived at the clinic he was all excited. To him, he thought he was going to simply get a thermometer put in his rear, a shot, a bunch of treats, then go home. Just as plenty of times before. Little did he realize the very one he trusted most was bringing him to his death.

He was so excited they had to give him a tranquilizer to calm him down.  My family and I loved on him while we still could. Soon the tranquilizer began kicking in, so the vet began euthanasia. Cash began shaking and I knew he was afraid. I got in front of him as he laid there. As I petted him, I told him, “It’s okay, buddy, it’s okay.” There was a tear coming down from his eye. He was being betrayed by the very one who loved him so much. I just kept petting him and speaking to him as he slipped away.

I never had my heart break in such a manner. For the next several months I would have periods of crying, as I missed Cash terribly. I was very angry about this situation. “Was it not bad enough to have my heart ripped out by those I sought to minister to?” I cried out to the Lord. “Why did this have to happen? He still had a lot of puppy in him!” The whole situation was unfair, and I held onto some resentment for quite some time, I confess.

There were those who did not understand. To them, Cash was “just a dog.” But to me he was so much more. It was not important they did not understand; however, my heart was broken into a thousand pieces. Ah, but this was a lesson in compassion to be learned. There are those around me and afar who suffer loss; some of these losses might appear trivial, but are devastating to them, nevertheless. I do not need to understand, I simply need to empathize. As their heart breaks, I am to remember the anguish of my own heart breaking. I might not understand why they are taking a loss so badly, but their pain is very real and far from being trivial.

The strange thing about compassion and empathy is that we must experience suffering and heartache if we would have these qualities developed in our lives. Pain and heartache hurt. Sometimes to the very core of our being. While we do not always understand, these do serve a greater purpose, a greater good, although we often wonder how any good can come out of pain.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. ~ 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (ESV)

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. ~ Romans 8:28

Everybody Cries

While many of my political and religious views are quite different than those of the band REM, they have a song I like and have found comfort in. The song is called, “Everybody Hurts,” and it encourages persons to keep pressing on because they are not alone, as everybody cries.

Many of us have learned to bottle up everything inside and to not display our emotions—especially sadness and tears. “Big boys and girls don’t cry,” we are told. Crying is for sissies, we are taught. However, crying is part of being human. Jeremiah the prophet was a tough cookie, as he endured constant persecution. Yet, he is known as the “weeping prophet,” as he cried for his country and coming judgement. King David, was anything but a wimp. He, as a young shepherd took out lions and bears. He took down Goliath. He was a fierce warrior in battle. He was not a dude to mess with. Yet, he tore his robes and cried when friends died or when confronted with his sins. No one is more manly than Jesus! He was gentle and humble, but who could willingly endure the torture and suffering He went through? Yet, we are told He wept.

Perhaps you or someone you know needs to cry. If so, it is alright. If someone needs a shoulder to cry on, let them do so. Do not ridicule or shame them. Crying is a natural form of release. Suppressing emotions and refusing to deal with feelings and situations are not healthy but can lead to mental health issues (e.g., depression, etc.).

“I don’t like crying in front of people,” some will object. That is fine. If you need to cry, play a sad song or watch a sad movie by yourself.  Cry into a pillow. In any case, just as laughing is part of being human, so is crying. It is not a sign of weakness, it is a demonstration of being a person. As REM says, “Everybody hurts sometimes.” 

Cry it out and keep pressing on. Things will get better.