Pray. Even when words fail.
This past year has been a tough one. Going into my second year of grad school has been no easy feat and one that has comes with many ups and downs. As this past semester ended, I found myself out of steam. Last spring when it came time to write a paper, I didn't want to simply because I didn't want to do the work. This whole academic year, I haven't wanted to because I felt like I didn't have the words or mental stamina to do a good job, much less get the job done. My tank was empty.
My personal life has also been full of its own set of challenges. I knew at the beginning of this school year I was beginning a season of transitions and changes. Transition and change are two words that I despise because it calls me out of my comfort zone and out of routine - two things I thrive in (don't we all). In addition, the Lord was prompting me to pray some very specific, very hard things. Good things but hard things. Things I sometimes wouldn't dare say out loud. All of this showed me how much fear I had in my heart: broken places where I didn't trust God fully and where I needed to deepen my understanding about the character of God.
I started August with a head and heart that was just exhausted.
But, the Lord had called me to a different area of service that has opened my spiritual eyes in so many different ways. After attending the school program of Bible Study Fellowship for eight years and one year in the "adult" program, I started this year as a group leader.
One aspect of our weekly leadership meetings that became sacred to me was our time of corporate and individual prayer. During this time, we began by praising God for who He is. We were praising Him for His character - who what He has done but simply His heart. Then we thanked Him for His works and the things we can see Him doing and praising Him for what we couldn't see Him doing. And everyone is praying out loud.
The first time I experienced this, it was kind of a shock to the system. I prefer to pray in my heart and when I do say anything out loud, it is usually through conversation or song. This prayer time was really stretching me.
So many weeks, as we approached prayer by first getting on our hands and knees before Jesus, I began to feel the weight of everything. My heart was tired. My body was tired. My mind was tired. Jesus was asking me to do hard things and here I am expected to do something that is hard for me in the midst of a hard season. At first, I would hear the beautiful prayers of the women around me and feel overwhelmed and inadequate. I was struggling just to find the words, must less say them out loud. The words that came to my mind sounded more like the babblings of a toddler, learning to put words together to make sense of everything.
Our prayers always began by praising God for who He is and so often, my mouth would freeze. I couldn't find the words to praise Him. I would hear ladies saying things like, "You are the Alpha and Omega. You go before us and You are our Rear Guard. You are our Hope and our Peace. You are Sustainer. You are Creator. You are our Treasure." All of those things I believe in my heart and in my mind without a doubt. My fear was that if I opened my mouth to say them, I would fall apart and wouldn't be able to control the tears. Those weeks and months, the prayers of those women, their faith and hearts on display before Jesus, strengthened my heart. My heart and my mind and my body was comforted by our shared faith and shared desire to want to know Him more. Those women walked in with their own burdens but they still praised God. They knew His character, even though they might have been going through something where He hadn't quite become clear yet. Sometimes all I could say in my heart was "Yes, Lord. You are all of those things." Or sometimes simply, "Jesus."
"In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weaknesses. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit 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." Romans 8:26-27 (NIV)
In those times when I couldn't say anything, when I couldn't pray the hard prayers Jesus was asking me to, when I was afraid to death of what was next but couldn't bear to say it out loud, God knew. The groans of my heart, the cleansing breaths to remove the knot that had come in my throat, the babblings were all known and all made sense to Him. On the weeks that I did begin to pray out loud, I would feel so overwhelmed by the love and presence of Jesus. In those moments when I couldn't say anything at all, I felt so fully known and fully loved.
This might feel like a change in topic but has the Lord ever given you something specific to pray for that just made you nervous? Those hard prayers? Something you may desire above all else but wouldn't dare say it?
This year the Lord has been asking me to pray for the same thing but I've had three different reactions:
1. Well, if I pray for it, You're still not going to give it to me so what's the point?
2. Well, if I pray for it, You may give it to me and I'm scared of what that will look like so...No thanks.
and most recently
3. I'll pray for it since You're asking me to but I'm not sure I want it or that I'm ready for it.
The prayers and the weekly act of getting on my knees before Jesus surrounded by a group of women who love the Lord are part of what brought me from reaction 1 to reaction 3. There were many lessons and moments with Jesus in our quiet place that brought me here as well. But prayer, oh man, did I see God move through those prayers. I felt the changes in my heart as He chipped away at my walls. The more I revealed of myself to Him, the more He showed His character to me.
God is GOOD. God is faithful. God is all that I need Him to be and more. God is beyond my understanding but not limited by my understanding. God is sovereign. He promises and He fulfills. He restores. God is our peace. God is our rest. God is our deliverance in the battle. Sometimes our deliverance from the battle isn't instant victory but His presence as we fight.
My deliverance hasn't been instant. For this specific prayer, it has been slow and many years in the making. This season of transitions is just getting started. But I have rest and peace knowing exactly what to do when I have absolutely no idea what to do or say: get on my knees and praise God simply for who He is.
Sweet friend, I don't know what you're going through or what hard things you may be walking through but I have seen in my own life that FREEDOM and VICTORY and PEACE that is found through praising God for who He is through prayer. It might feel weird and you might not know what to say but you can start by just saying the attributes of God.
You can click this link to view the many different attributes of God that illustrate His character.
You can click this link to view the many different names God that also illustrate His character.
As you pray, please, please know that those attributes of God are not contingent upon your faith. God is who He is whether or not you believe He is, whether or not you believe He can fully heal or restore or make good on His promises. But by praying those attributes, God can show you those parts of your heart that He can heal and your faith can be strengthened. I certainly don't have all the answers or this prayer stuff mastered. I still have a lot of work to do and a lot to learn. But I know that without a doubt that the words of Romans 8:26-27 are true and God can make sense of the tears, fears, and groans of your heart.
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I am currently a teacher and life-long student of Scripture learning more about life and Jesus's marvelous love and boundless grace.