Praying When We Don’t Know How

I don’t know about you, but I’m definitely feeling my weakness these days.  I’m engaged in a situation where I have no control and everyone else is making decisions that I have to navigate and walk another person through, even if I don’t fully agree with those decisions.  (Truly none of us have control, but that’s a topic for another Voice of Grace.)  Part of feeling my weakness is feeling that I don’t even know what’s best.  This leaves me wondering how to pray.

Last night was a particularly rough reminder of navigating others’ decisions, not knowing how to respond and definitely not knowing how to pray.  As two insomniacs struggling with anxiety laid awake in my house, Romans 8:26-27 came to my mind and was a source of comfort, “In the same way, the Spirit helps in our weakness.  We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.  And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.”

At the moment of my deepest weakness last night, where I was praying for something not knowing if it was the right thing to pray for, wondering if I was uttering a selfish prayer and being completely unable to discern the will of God, Romans 8:26-27 stopped me in my tracks.  I cried out to the Spirit to intercede for me.  I chose (albeit cautiously and with trepidation) to rest in the fact that the Spirit would intercede in this situation and pray for exactly what is in line with the will of God.

I suspect that all of us have a situation or two like this in our lives.  Situations where we can’t even maintain the illusion of control.  Situations that are so complicated that it’s impossible to discern our own hearts and know what to pray for.  It can be easy to lose heart.  As I write this in tears, I know that I’m on the verge of that.  But these words from John Piper in his commentary on these verses provides me with comfort.

Yes, it would be very helpful to hear from the Lord or to have the grace of complete wisdom. And it is certainly right to pray for that. But it may be that this situation will be one of those moments when we “do not know how we must pray” and instead groan over our weakness. Is it not wonderful that God is not condemning or ever criticizing us here for not having the faith (as some might put it) to discern his will? . . . Paul’s point is to encourage us and help us. Even when we don’t know what we would like to know, and can’t pray with more specificity and assurance of God’s will, we must not lose heart, but trust that God has his purposes in this and has provided for us in our weakness. The Spirit prays for us.

Dear friends, if your situation leaves you in a similar place and with similar feelings as mine; join with me.  Join with me in taking baby steps towards “trusting and not losing heart” knowing the Spirit can accomplish this too, even when we feel weak and unable.

Karen Jacobsen is the Director of Children’s Ministry and Refuge 686.