Praying when You Just Can’t






It’s pretty easy to thank God when ­every­thing’s going well in your life. When you feel good. When you have your health. When your loved ones are doing fine.

It’s a lot harder to praise Him when things—sometimes most things—are not going well. Before I was diagnosed with cancer, I always enjoyed singing in worship, praising God and thanking Him for all my wonderful blessings. Prayers came easily to my lips, especially prayers of thanksgiving, because I had a lot for which to be thankful. In fact, if you had told me there would come a time in my life when I ­wouldn’t be able to pray, I would have laughed at the suggestion and insisted it could never happen.

But it did.

In those first dark days after my diagnosis, I literally ­couldn’t pray. When I would read my Bible and then try to pray, the words simply would not form. Instead, tears rolled down my cheeks, sometimes just a trickle and sometimes turning into heavy sobs. The ­only thing I felt like I wanted to pray was a desperate cry for healing. What else was there to say?

And then I read a verse in the Bible—one ­I’m sure I’d read many times before, but it never had seemed that significant:

And the Holy Spirit helps us in our distress. For we don’t even know what we should pray for, nor how we should pray. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will. Romans  8:26-27

Two wonderful verses about how to pray when you feel you ­can’t pray. They were right there in the Bible, sandwiched between Paul’s discussion of suffering and his explanation of how we can be victorious even in difficult times! (Read the whole chapter and you’ll see what I mean.)

It was okay that I felt I ­couldn’t pray. The Holy Spirit would pray for me. He would take my “groans” that were too deep for words right to God Himself. And even better than that, the Spirit would know what to pray for me. He would pray accord­ing to God’s will. I love how The Message renders Romans 8:26: If we ­don’t know how or what to pray, it ­doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans.

That’s one amazing God! He knows that at the times we need Him most, we may not be able to express ourselves to Him, so He has His own Spirit do it for us! After I found that verse, I would often just sit, my hands on my lap, palms toward heaven, tears rolling down my cheeks . . . praying.

I never said a word. I ­couldn’t even form cohesive thoughts in my mind, but I prayed. I ­didn’t worry what or how to pray. I simply allowed God’s Spirit to take my innermost thoughts, my deepest fears to God and pray for me.

In time I was able to pray again myself, but sometimes even now I still practice the kind of prayer I learned when I had no other way to pray.

Another amazing thing I learned about prayer during my cancer ordeal is that God has given us prayers we can pray when the pain is too deep.

I spent the entire six months of my chemo in the Psalms. I ­don’t think I opened my Bible up anywhere except to the middle, where my eyes would fall upon a psalm that expressed my need to God.

I remember one day telling my husband how much the Psalms were blessing me as I dealt with the struggles of chemo treatments.

My surprised husband reminded me that in years past I had commented that those who wrote the sorrowful psalms seemed to be “a bunch of whiners.”

“Well, now ­I’m a whiner, too!” I explained.

It was true. For the first 36 of my life I had it ­really easy. A wonderful, loving home growing up; a good education; a great marriage; super children—nothing to whine about. Life had been so good that I had never needed God the way I did after I found out I had cancer.

Quite to the contrary, the psalmists had plenty of trouble in their lives, plenty of times they desperately needed God’s help. So I read the Psalms. Day and night I read the Psalms as my prayers to God.

To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul; in you I trust, O my God. Psalm 25:1-2 niv

I am worn out waiting for your rescue, but I have put my hope in your word. Psalm 119:81

However you pray, your prayers are reaching the Father’s ears. The scriptures tell us that in Heaven there are “gold bowls filled with incense, which are the prayers of God’s people.” (Revelation 5:8; 8:3-4) Your prayer is a sweet fragrance to God. Here’s one more from the Psalms you could pray today: Lord, sustain me as you promised, that I may live! Do not let my hope be crushed. Amen. (Psalm 119:116)

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