Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. – Colossians 4:2
I remember growing up in the church and singing a song about spiritual growth in pre-k. “Read your bible, pray every day, and you’ll grow, grow, grow,” we would sing while jumping to illustrate how much we were growing. But somewhere between pre-k and college, I seemed to forget the words. Spiritual growth took a backseat when new goals entered the scene. Suddenly, I stopped worrying about the development of my faith and started caring more about trivial, worldly things that cannot measure up. The worst part is I didn’t even realize what I was doing. If I am still familiar with Christ, still going to church, and still praying before bed at night, I’m fine, right? This was the lie I was telling myself, and it took a whole pandemic to snap me out of it.
During the pandemic churches closed, striking out one of my sources of feel-good Christianity. Then, I realized that my nightly prayers felt empty; there was no difference between talking to God or talking to my pillow, and with a global crisis on the horizon, I really needed sovereign advice. It was easy to find a Bible reading program, and church was available online, but my individual communication with God was desperately lacking. So, for the first time in a long time, I started talking to God with great intention. It was only through total engagement in authentic, unbiased submission in prayer that I realized the sanctity of speaking to the Lord at all. Prayer is our most useful tool in identifying the voice of the Father because it is our way of holy communication. I came to understand that the vital step in reviving my spiritual growth was to change the way I looked at prayer. However, this decision was easier in theory as I had no idea how to pray when I wasn’t explicitly asking the Lord for blessings or thanking Him for the ones He had already bestowed. I found that I was leaving my prayers with as many questions as answers. It is for this reason that I have decided to share my prayer journey and present the questions I have wrestled with and the best responses I have found.
What even is prayer?
The first question I asked myself was: What is prayer and why is it important?
Prayer is an intimate and individualized act of worship that creates a pathway for us to speak to our Father in heaven. Yet, so often, prayer is underestimated and derives certain connotations of order and chore. However, there is no formula for prayer; it is free communication with God. Like everyone, the more you speak to God, the more familiar with Him you become. Once I began to prioritize prayer, I began to see God’s hand more, and I began to recognize Him in other people.
How can I pray when I cannot pray for what I want?
Maybe your friend has an interview for a job in another state, but you want them to stay close by. It feels wrong to pray that your friend won’t get the job, but truthfully, that is what you want. Whether it’s this example, or something far larger, there are times when praying for a specific thing feels uncomfortable because it is not in accordance with God’s will. So, how do we pray about this? First, it is important to recognize that no prayer is strong enough to overrule the will of God. If God has made up His mind, our prayers cannot change it. Therefore, we can ask God to grant us peace with the outcome of our situation, and we can ask Him to appease whatever caused the desire in the first place. For example, why is it so important that our hypothetical friend stays close by rather than moving for work? Perhaps, it is because this friend serves as a source of comfort and companionship to us. Therefore, we can ask God to show us comfort and opportunity for more fellowship in our lives. It is also important to remember that our prayers are not going to offend God. If we inquire of Him, He will not reject us even if He rejects our plans.
What do I do when I’m afraid of how He will answer my prayers? What if I fear what his answer will entail?
There have only been two instances in my life where I have prayed a “do whatever it takes” prayer, a prayer where I am begging God to go to any lengths to answer my cries. Most of the time our prayers are “do whatever it takes, but..”, but don’t touch my family, but don’t take my health, do whatever it takes but let me keep this one thing. But when we finally get desperate enough to pray a “whatever it takes” prayer, we can finally release control and trust fully in the power of God. God does not work according to our agenda, and He is not going to act with conditions. God provides us entirely unconditional love, and we return heavily conditional trust and call it faith. Our greatest prayers are answered when we stop trying to fit God’s plan into our own. God can work despite us, but the most miraculous events occur when we trust Him to work for us, taking our place in the battle rather than sharing the battlefield.
What do I do when I am too close to a situation to pray about it at all?
This is the question that I struggled the most with. A few years ago I got sick, and it was the time in my life where I needed prayers the most. I had an entire support system of family, friends, and doctors praying for me, and yet I could not pray for myself. I didn’t have the words nor the courage. I was so consumed by my own situation that I could not face praying to a god that knew the situation even better than I did. I was faced with the challenge of how to pray when all prayer seemed lost on me. The answer I found was community. The team of family and friends praying on my behalf became my voice of prayer while I was still trying to find it. In addition, I had to keep stepping up to the throne, even if I could not address God. I made the effort, I tried to pray regardless of my feelings, and God saw. He heard the words I could not speak.
In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. – Romans 8:26
In 1 Samuel chapter one, a woman named Hannah is heartbroken because she is barren. She desired to have a baby more than anything in the world, and her desire was so real it consumed her, and she could not form the words to ask the Lord for a child. The bible tells us that Hannah was praying in her heart even when she could not pray with her mouth. However, God heard her wordless cries and answered her. She went on to give birth to Samuel and she dedicated his life to Christ.
Hannah was praying in her heart, and her lips were moving but her voice was not heard. – 1 Samuel 1:13
Perhaps, Hannah could not pray for a baby because it was too important to her. If she didn’t ask God, she wouldn’t get a solidified, no, and she could go on hoping. However, in her heart, she submitted to the Lord and reaped the benefits of her faith.
When we too cannot pray, whether because we are experiencing spiritual drought or because we are too consumed by a situation to bring it to God at all, we must push forth and show up for our Lord in the best way we can manage.
What do I do when I cannot find God in prayer?
Even having this information and coming as far as I have, I am still guilty of offering empty prayers to the Lord. I now admit to the Lord that I am not engaged fully in the prayer and ask for His forgiveness. I then refrain from asking Him for blessings, but rather dedicate that time to praise and thanksgiving. Prayer is not a tool that helps us unlock secret blessings, it is a way to speak to our Creator and become more familiar with who He is. Throughout this process, we consequently learn more about ourselves as His children, how to treat ourselves, and how to love others as well. Prayer is how we foster relationships and effectively love those around us. There is no purer form of love than praying for someone, asking God to provide his unfailing love where ours falters.
Another tool I have found in prayer is that we must be willing to step out for the Lord and follow up our prayers with action. If you pray for cold weather, buy a jacket and prepare. If you ask God to give you courage, do something courageous. Even if it feels forced, God sees our efforts and acknowledges our trust. He wants to watch us be bold in His name. Prayer is submission and how we tell the Lord that we trust His plan more than our own, and we must confirm that trust by stepping out.
Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. – Mark 11:24
When I first began praying more intimately, my prayers felt like ice leaving my mouth. Everything was very uncomfortable because, for the first time, it was real. I had no idea what I was doing, but I knew God was listening and eager for me to engage in real, honest prayer in the way that felt most natural for me and my heavenly Father. There is no cookie-cutter prayer or sequence of words that pleases the Lord more than any other prayer. Prayer isn’t a script or monologue, and there is no study guide or key. Prayer is meant to be a unique and beautiful experience that embodies the individual connection between God and His children who are equally unique. To grow in prayer, to grow spiritually at all, takes effort. It takes stepping out and making the first move, but that first move does not have to be extraordinary and monumental. A small baby step for God will be more life-changing than a leap in the opposite direction because God sees that we are giving Him authority over our lives and He uses that authority to accomplish grand things. Maybe this first step is praying with a friend and being vulnerable. Maybe it is purchasing a prayer book to use as a tool. Or maybe it is a simple prayer of confession in a true form. Prayer is the most natural and effective tool at our disposal and it is vital to whatever our step for the Lord may be.
Documenting my thoughts about prayer, I cannot imagine a better way to conclude than to practice with other believers, so here is my prayer for you:
Father God, I ask that you be with each individual reading this piece now. Grant them wisdom and sensitivity to the Holy Spirit so that you may be seen and admired by your children. Lord, please start a revival of prayer in each of their hearts. Hear their prayers and answer their cries, Father. Amen.