How do we pray?


A heart without words

Praying is like trying to figure it all out (he said). And trying to figure it all out is like trying to solve a Rubik’s Cube using a pair of chopsticks.

So (I said slowly) you mean it’s difficult?

Uh-Huh. Prayer isn’t really asking, at all. It’s more like a longing to understand. It’s a daily self-rolling-of-the-eyes admission that you have not got it all together…

Break to TV studio:

So what do you pray for? (The interviewer asks Mother Teresa).

I don’t really ask for anything. I listen.

OK, OK. So what does God say?

He listens too.

(Pause in Interview)

“The function of prayer (according to Søren Kierkegaard) is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.” And, “In prayer (said John Bunyan) it is better to have a heart without words than words without a heart.”

A heart without words.

Which brings us to that wonderful moment of insight and tenderness in Paul’s letter to the Romans (8:26-27). It touches on the mysteries of prayer and worship and yet validates the powerful statement of Bill Johnson that “Intimacy with God is our source of strength.”

Here it is:

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.” 

Don’t miss the amazing sequence of insights here:

  • We don’t know what to pray for!
  • We don’t know how to pray!
  • And how on earth (or in heaven, I guess), does the Holy Spirit pray for us?
  • And what does “groanings” mean?

The Spirit asks for things that we don’t know we should ask for? Surely we should know that, at least?

Though, come to think of it, a parent might know better than a child the things that the child needs; or indeed –come the Christmas wish-list– what over-steps the line from pampering to spoiling.

Maybe we have to be protected from ourselves, like children, or “vulnerable adults.” According to Paul, we are characterized by “weakness.” By contrast, the Spirit (our Parent) asks for things that are in line with the will of God, things that will do us good.

The Spirit works with us –that is to say- because we aren’t intended to figure life out alone. “Prayer” is not an added thing that religious people do, but the ongoing conversational relationship between Parent and offspring.

And Paul goes on to make the immense claim (in v28) that “all things work together for good “(v28) within that ongoing relationship.  How so?  How does God really “mean it for our good” when bad things happen? All we have left, it seems, are wordless groans or puzzled silences. But Paul seems to suggest that even these frustrated sighs can become our prayers through the Spirit.

Imagine that.

The first thought that comes to me here is really important and somehow very refreshing. It is that I am not expected to know the will of God all the time!


Some things are clear enough, others less so. And this text reminds me that it’s OK not to know! There is One who knows and that’s enough.

And He is praying the way somebody who knows ought to pray if they only knew how! We are not left to figure it all out and make the best guess. God’s work for me is not limited to what I can understand! Remember that He is able to do more than I ask “or think”! (Eph 3:20)

Remember too that you are not being watched, Big Brother style, but you are being understood. God searches your heart and finds even in your unspoken tears and pain the language of your prayer.

This entry was posted in Christianity, Contemporism, Evangelism, Faith, God, Is it me?, Jesus, life, Listening, The church today and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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