When You Just Can’t Pray
- March 05, 2019
- Meg Rodriguez
If there’s one thing we’re taught to do as Christians—when life looks bleak, when we’re anxious or afraid, when we can’t think of doing anything else—it is to pray. Prayer is our breath. It is our survival. It is communion with the Lord, who is nearer than we could imagine. It is our daily bread, our sweet comfort.
So, what about those days when praying feels like the last thing we could do?
I’ve had many of them, more than I would care to admit. And it often comes at the times I would least expect—when life looks to be at its best, and sometimes, when life seems to be at its worst, when I should be leaning into the Lord more than ever. In these times, I know I should pray, but I can’t bring myself to find the right words, much less to utter them. I can’t bring myself to surrender before God, pouring fears and needs and longings before Him. And sometimes, it’s difficult to understand why.
The more I have considered it, I’ve realized that at times I struggle to pray because I don’t feel good enough to come before God. In the weeks that I have felt distant from Him, or in the days when I have felt like my needy requests and wishes have far outweighed my gratitude, I feel too selfish, too forgetful, and too fickle to come to the Lord with all of my fears and my needs. When I haven’t been faithful to Him, I feel like I don’t deserve to be in His presence. Sadly, I’m often not so aware of these works-based patterns of thinking—instead, the belief of these things seeps in slowly, subconsciously, and I balk when I try to pray even though I don’t know why.
Other times, I fail to pray because I fear how God may answer. I’m afraid of laying out my deepest longings and greatest fears, too often expecting the worst. I fear that God may answer with trial in the parts of my life for which I most often ask for safety and security. In my shortsightedness, I fail to trust in the good my Father has for me.
But, how thankful we can be that we belong to a God who acts on our behalf, who accepts our insufficiencies, who covers them with His grace—even when it comes to prayer.
When we feel like we aren’t worthy enough to come to God in prayer—like we’ve been away for too long, or like we have too many things to ask of Him—the Lord’s faithfulness has covered us. And we must rely not on our own faithfulness to Him, but on His to us. We must acknowledge our inadequacy and lean on his forever pursuit of us. We must rest in the fact that we have already been justified—made right with God through Christ once and for all. Nothing that we ask (or don’t ask), nothing that we pray (or don’t pray), nothing that we do (or don’t do) could change that. We don’t have to be good enough to come before Him, and in fact, it’s precisely because we aren’t good enough that we need Him so desperately in prayer.
On the days when we can’t pray because we’re afraid of how God may answer, we must remind ourselves of one of the Lord’s eternal, unchanging attributes—His goodness. When we fall into such fear, we are forgetting His father-ness. He is a perfect Father who wants nothing more than to care for us, to offer us what we need, and to give us good gifts.
Luke 11:11-13 reminds us: “What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
I too often fear that God may answer my prayers with something that isn’t good for me, but Scripture assures us that in light of the eternal, fatherly goodness of our God’s nature, this isn’t even a possibility! Answers to prayer may not be want we want, and they may not be what we think we need, but we can trust that the Lord knows what His children need, and He is for our good, always.
So, let us rejoice in the days when we abound in prayer and thankfulness, but let us remember together that on the days when we don’t, our God is still for us, and His grace and His greatness cover our weaknesses. And He hasn’t left us alone in this. When we can’t find the words for our deepest longings and prayers, He has given us the Spirit to search our hearts and to plead on our behalf.
“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” (Romans 8:26).
On the days when we struggle to pray as we ought, we can take great comfort that we have a God who doesn’t judge us by our prayers, and with whom we have nothing left to earn for ourselves. On these days, and every day, let us rejoice in our Lord who has new mercies for us each morning, who has rescued us from ourselves, and whose Spirit resides within us and searches and knows our needy hearts.