When You Can’t Pray for Yourself

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Was there ever a time you felt so hopeless you couldn’t even summon the will to ask God for help?

It’s nothing to be ashamed of. Even the great leader Moses had days when he needed others to hold him up–sometimes literally. God never meant for us to carry all our burdens alone. And while He Himself is the ultimate Burden Bearer, He understands there are days we need someone we can see, hear, and touch on the physical plane. “The Lord is like a father to his children, tender and compassionate to those who fear him. For he knows how weak we are; he remembers we are only dust” (Psalm 103:13-14, NLT).

If you’re too worn down to pray for your own needs, find someone who can pray for you:

  • A loyal Christian friend
  • A spouse or adult relative
  • An organized small group
  • A pastor or Christian counselor
  • A church class

And if you feel there’s no one: you have no home church, no friends close enough to confide in, no family members who understand? Look up Bible-believing churches and Christian ministries in your area–or, if you’re desperate for immediate help, prayer hotlines. They always have someone available to pray for and with anybody who asks. It’s not good to depend indefinitely on the kindness of strangers, though (and it can be used as an excuse to avoid confessing weaknesses to those who know you personally), so among your other requests, include “find the right church/small group/prayer partner to support me spiritually and hold me accountable for the long term.”

Besides what you need prayers for and whom you should ask, you may want to consider how others will pray for you:

  • The submit-written-requests approach. Usually done in the context of a social-media group, email list, or official prayer ministry. This can be useful with one immediate problem, or as a supplement to other prayer support. Unless you know the prayer partner(s) well and personally, however, relying exclusively on written communications tends to lack the comforting power of hearing someone pray for you in real time.
  • The over-the-phone approach. This is standard with prayer hotlines, of course; but it can also be useful when prayer partners live far apart or when “I need to talk now” emergencies are likely.
  • The face-to-face approach. This is the best kind for serious needs, as it provides the full three-dimensional experience of audible, visible, and physical contact. Count it a special blessing when you find someone who is able to regularly pray for you in person.
  • The laying-on-of-hands approach. A form of the face-to-face approach that involves (usually) several people gathering around one member and making physical contact at once, then offering verbal prayers (in turn or as led) for a specific need. Particularly helpful for anyone facing difficult challenges, this is a traditional part of commissioning missionaries for overseas work. When you feel especially discouraged, it can also be the best means of receiving assurance that others–including God–care about your hardships.

One more thing. However difficult and persistent your troubles, don’t expect to always be all take and no give. Ask for prayer; take some time off to rest; but do expect to regain your own prayer power eventually. Always remember the words of Paul in 2 Corinthians 1:4 (NLT): “[God] comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.” Much of that comfort comes in the form of prayer.

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Positive Thinking vs. Godly Comfort

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How do you tell a “dark night of the soul” (a period of spiritual desolation God uses to test your reliance on Him) from plain old clinical depression? Support from strong spiritual mentors is helpful both in discerning the difference and in getting through either. But what many Christians get instead is “Job’s comforters” advice:

  • “Just snap out of it.”
  • “You must have done something wrong; fix that and everything will be fine.”
  • “If God seems far away, you’re the one who moved.”

My all-time favorite is, “You’ve got to think positive,” often phrased as “Look at all God’s given you; don’t be such an ingrate,” or “Complaining is a sin.” Like Job’s friends, you started out to make me feel better and wound up kicking me with blame-toed boots while I was already down.

Confession time: Studying at Wheaton Graduate School twenty years ago, I regularly heard, “How can you moan about your problems when God’s so good to you?” from one fellow student. When she had to return home because of her father’s severe illness, I silently gloated over the thought that she wouldn’t find it so easy to be perennially cheerful now. I know that attitude was nothing to be proud of and wouldn’t pass the “What Would Jesus Do?” test. There are more Christlike ways to deal with “positive thinkers,” even when you’re at your worst emotionally.

Choose Your Companions Carefully

If someone never shows a trace of unhappiness and can’t understand why you aren’t like that–which leads you to feel jealous and resentful–don’t feel guilty about limiting contact with that person. As St. Paul notes in 1 Corinthians 8, sincere Christians are entirely capable of doing blameless-in-themselves things that can exert bad influence on fellow believers. Your spiritual growth will be better nurtured among less cheerful contacts.

Let me quickly clarify that neither should your contacts be gloom-and-doom types who are all too eager to join you in one pity party after another–that really is the sort of complaining God hates. What you need to look for are empathetic and insightful people who are good listeners, genuinely sympathize with your pain, and dispense advice in small tactful doses. If you have trouble finding anyone, try visiting a Celebrate Recovery or mental-health peer support group.

Be a Giver

If you’re really in an emotional pit, you may not feel like associating with anyone at all. Withdrawing into self-pity, however, will just bring you down lower and lower. By contrast, voluntarily doing something for someone else has a surprisingly uplifting effect on your feelings. Not only does God comfort us so we will have comfort to share with others, He uses the comfort we share with others as a channel to provide fresh comfort to us.

You can join an organized volunteer program or just look for opportunities to offer a kind word to someone who needs it. (And if someone who’s told you to “Snap out of it and cheer up” hits a rough patch, I hope you’ll be more mature than I was as a graduate student, and treat them as you’d want to be treated.)

Remember the Source of All Comfort

You can also help others by praying for them. And keep praying daily for yourself, even when you can’t feel God’s presence or see any obvious change. Fill your mind with comforting truths from God’s Word. Be patient and trust He will yet bring you through to true joy.

And yes, accept that this is not likely to be quick and easy. Like Paul, you may even have to live with this “thorn in the flesh” indefinitely. Often, all that’s kept me going is inherent stubbornness and a lack of alternatives.

Whatever else happens, cling to this: God cares, He treasures a personal relationship with you, and He can use the most surprising tools to lead you into the most amazing blessings.

  • For naturally melancholy Christians tired of being told to "snap out of it"; for Christians who struggle with mental-health issues and long for assurance God delights in them nonetheless; and for naturally optimistic Christians who want to understand their "gloomy" loved ones.

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  • About Me

    I am the go-to writer for people with tough stress issues and special emotional needs—and for those who love them, organizations that serve them, and anyone who just wants to better understand the world of mental/emotional struggles. Or who just wants to pick up some good stress-management tips! Visit my main website at www.PositiveContentFactory.com.

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    Bible quotes used in this blog are from the New Living Translation or the New International Version (1984). See http://www.biblegateway.com/ for copyright details.
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