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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On the Edge of Your Seat–For Better or Worse

Last Tuesday evening, I saw a Bible-study speaker stand up and say, “I’m praying that all of you will be on the edge of your seats waiting to see what the Holy Spirit will do next.”

Somehow, I reacted less than joyfully to the prospect. I live most of my days “on the edge of my seat” all right–but the driving motivator is usually fear of not finishing, fear of being interrupted, fear of disappointment or spoiled plans or failure or all of the above. I’ve had far more than my share of rained-out events and last-minute requests over the past several months, and the last thing I feel like doing is making myself not only open to but eager for more of the same.

So here I sit, fuming because the Creator and Master of the Universe won’t let me instruct Him on how to orchestrate things. I don’t care about becoming a spiritual giant, a prayer warrior, or a joyful-in-all-circumstances person. I don’t care about loving my neighbor who may be flooded out of house and home, terminally ill, or surviving by street prostitution. I care about being spared the frustration of unexpected technical glitches and traffic delays.

And I feel that if I take the trouble to make a comprehensive to-do list and say a quick prayer every morning, having everything go according to plan is no more than my due.

At least the Holy Spirit has gotten through to me far enough that I no longer can maintain that attitude without feeling guilty. Stepping onward to the “James 1:2” attitude (“When troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy”) is something else again. Fear grips me at the thought–the fear that “joyful” means “I’m okay with this, and I accept that You probably don’t intend to ever change it for the better.” The fear that joy really means resignation and that God considers anything good enough for the likes of me.

On the edge of my seat? More like slumped in the chair with major depression imminent.

When it comes down to it, guilt is a lousy motivator, rooted in fear and knowing little of gratitude. How often do I bother to look on from James 1:2 to the promise in verses 3 and 4? “For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.”

Does that sound like I can’t trust God to change the important things for the better?

Letting go of the desire to control is more than a hard thing to do. It’s one of those things I can’t possibly do without accepting God’s help. My “I know best” pride is really fear of the unknown. There are times I can almost taste the joyful life of standing strong and complete, unfazed by anything and brimming with gratitude over all God has done for me. Still, the path between here and there is a wide bayou where I can see only the fast-flowing surface, every step forward whispering the terror of being swept off my feet or plunging into bottomless depths.

With the help of the Spirit, can I trust the One on the other side to show me where the firm footings are?

And the only answer is: I must. For a life lived in caution and anger and obsessive planning is a living death, the epitome of what Jesus warned of in Matthew 16:25: “If you try to hang onto your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it”–not just “life” as measured from time of conception to time of last breath on earth, but life in the sense of functioning to the maximum, of getting and giving everything I can during my years here.

A couple of millennia ago, a very busy apostle planned a visit to Jerusalem thinking he knew how long he would be there and where he would travel afterward. Instead, he wound up spending several years in jail, first in Palestine and then in Rome–and even his trip from the former to the latter was interrupted by a shipwreck and the need to winter in Malta. All that time, Paul lived with little idea of what would happen next or when it would happen, with no word on whether he would ever be able to pick up his original plans where they left off. He could easily have justified himself in fuming, “God, after all I’ve done for You, this is the thanks I get!” Instead, he wrote to his friends in Philippi:

“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. … Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise” (Philippians 4:6-8).

Nothing fits that description better than God. Why not lean forward in your seat, eager to see what He’ll do next?

  • A blog 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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