I didn’t know that I was hiding. I’ve always been good at praying. Or so I thought.
My dad left when I was seven. I’ve always looked to God as my Father, my provider. What I didn’t realize is that God wants to be more than just my provider.
God longs to be my soul’s confidante—deep where I feel lonely, where I struggle to receive and make space for me.
Loneliness is something I usually cover up by getting things done. It looks good because I’m well rewarded for checking boxes and being productive. Even in ministry.
But at the end of the day, even though I’ve accomplished a lot, I don’t feel like I’ve fully lived. Because what I really want, I didn’t make space for: to be known. I did not nurture my soul with God.
I find it easier to take care of others and get things done for God, rather than be vulnerable with my needs.
But God is showing me prayer is an intimate soul conversation to be loved and known, rather than a spiritual transaction to be made better.
Praying touches the part of me that is in process, uncertain, full of questions and doubts.
That is why praying is hard to do. And when I don’t know how to pray, it makes me feel ashamed.
Jesus understands and says, “Come to me, weary and heavy-laden. And I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).
Although this is Scripture, in our Christian culture, our desert prayer times are often met with well-meaning encouragement like, “Relationship with God isn’t a feeling.”
Although partially true, this can de-humanize our connection with God. The Psalmist reminds us there are no easy answers. “He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust” (Psalm 103:14).
Sometimes, it takes more faith to tell God we don’t know how to pray—rather than praying for faith to pray like we used to.
This is how I began praying new intimate prayers. As I did, I uncovered a few soulful ways to pray when you don’t know how:
1. When You’re Overwhelmed, Whisper His Name.
Remember receiving a first love note? It didn’t have to be long. Yet your heart felt known seeing your handwritten name. It kept you company in the daily grind. Whisper His name and listen for His echoes return in the quiet. God names the stars and He whispers your name.
“He heals the broken hearted…He counts the number of the stars; He gives names to all of them”
2. When You Don’t Have Words to Pray, Rest Knowing Jesus is Praying for You.
Your silence will not drive Jesus away. Nothing can separate you from His love. Not even your unrest. He’ll never get tired of you. Sometimes, the greatest prayer we can experience is God’s complete understanding and compassion. His presence.
“Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died … is also interceding for us”
3. When You are too Stressed to Pray, Take Care of Yourself.
We are a generation who doesn’t know how to express our souls to God, even though we drive ourselves to exhaustion, doing for Jesus. As Richard Swenson says, “Chronic overloading is not a spiritual prerequisite for authentic Christianity. Quite the contrary, overloading is often what we do when we forget who God is.”
Extend yourself the kindness and comfort you generously give others. Ironically, the times we most need God’s comfort are the times we deprive ourselves of soul-nurturing time.
We feel selfish. Yet, God says, we can only comfort others with the comfort we first receive ourselves (2 Corinthians 1:4).
Instead of layering on guilt, let God love you through your choices to prioritize taking care of you.
4. When You Feel Numb, Invite Jesus into Your World. Journal.
Instead of struggling to reach Jesus, invite Jesus to enter your world. Research in a Newe York Times article shows the power of writing your personal story can lead to behavioral changes and improve happiness. Even 15 minutes of expressive writing makes a difference.
When we journal our stories with God, we give Him space to re-write our stories with us. Don’t you get ah-ha moments as you write?
“For the word of God is living and active … It penetrates dividing soul and spirit” (Hebrews 4:11–12).
The “word” is the Greek word logos—translated as living voice. God is not limited to the written word. God uses everything living to speak into our lives. This includes journaling.
5. Have an Honest Conversation. Take a Walk. Find God’s Love Notes.
In a recent interview, Max Lucado shared prayer must be an honest conversation with God and not a repetitive act.
“I don’t pray for long periods of time … my prayers are relatively brief. The times I really feel blessed through prayer is when my prayers are sincere—when I kind of think through what I’m going through, or I’m going through a hard time and I use that prayer to talk to God about everything.”
Take a walk outside and let God touch you. Research shows that just 10 minutes can refresh and help with anxiety, depression in school work, work and everyday life.
6. When You’re too Exhausted to Pray, Stop and Rest.
“Arise and eat. For the journey is too great for you” (1 Kings 19:7).
Elijah had done everything he knew to do—even defeating the prophets of Baal. Yet, his problems did not go away. Stress broke Elijah’s spirit. In despair, Elijah woke up to find fresh bread baking on hot stones and water—left just for him.
Not only that. God sent an angel—to touch him—twice. God knew Elijah needed physical rejuvenation first—in order to hear His gentle voice, whispering in a gentle breeze.
So, when you find it’s hard to pray, don’t be afraid. You’re standing at the very cusp of who God longs to connect with the real you. Take the time to rest. You’re worth it.
by Bonnie Gray