“Please write a blog post about the epidemic among well-meaning believers in the use of ‘just’ a million times per prayer. ‘Lord, if you would just…’ ‘In the midst of this struggle, just…’ ‘We should just depend on you…’ It’s a phony qualifier meant to make our prayers sound humble or modest. I HATE it. I just do.”
I’ve harbored the same resentful lament – first against those who pray so pitifully (for a primer, click here), then against myself for doing worse and condemning them for it.
Have mercy on me, Lord, a sinner.
That one-line cry seems about the extent of my prayer life these days; sometimes I make it all the way through the Lord’s Prayer, but that’s about it. Unlike my more “spiritual” days, I don’t have any lists I keep or pray through; I don’t record requests or answers. I don’t pray (much) with my kids beyond thanking God for a meal, and I can’t remember the last time I prayed with my wife, mostly because I’ve never really prayed with Megan and the habit has mostly stuck.
The fact is, my prayerlessness is really pretty staggering. I’m ashamed of it and I’m afraid of it. I’m appalled by it and I’m alone in it (well, not really on that last part, but it feels like it sometimes).
In some regard (and forgive me if this seems a huge cop out), the only real hope I’ve found in the area of prayer is Romans 8:26-27. Everyone knows (and misapplies) Romans 8:28 – “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” – but that’s just the outcome of the means – of God’s means – found in verses 26 and 27:
“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. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”
The Spirit groans on my behalf. A lot. In my sleep, in the morning, in the shower, in the car, in my office(s), in my work, in my rest, in my study, in my relationships, in my marriage, in my family, in my hunger, in my satisfaction, in my struggles, in my victories, in my doubts, in my (over)confidences…the list goes on and on. The “less spiritual” I’ve become in my old(er) age, the more I (finally) recognize how hardly spiritual I really was in my youth. Indeed, the Lord calls us to pray (and often that’s the only reason I try), but we easily forget (or at least I did) that the Spirit is the one who does so on our behalf – even when we feel like it, and especially when we don’t. This, if there is such a thing, is the power of prayerlessness.
I’ve read the usual suspects on prayer – Church fathers and theologians, Christian pastors and missionaries – and I always come away convicted and convinced that I’m somehow not doing this right. I feel even worse when I eagerly judge those who ask God to “just” do anything, self-justifying my reaction to the lazy language of evangelicalism (which I hate in all its shallow forms) rather than actually praying in a way that seems so beyond my capacity.
So I resonate with my friend’s observation and lament, but also confess my own hard heart as I desperately cling to God’s promise that the Spirit will intercede on my behalf. I take comfort in the solace of Hebrews 7:25, which reminds me that, “…he (Jesus) is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.”
I try to pray because he asks me to. I’m “just” glad Jesus helps me as much as he does.
(At times in the past, I’ve written my prayers, pieces of which eventually turned into songs and other forms of poetry (or vice versa). For a Theology of Prayer course in seminary, I collected some of the shorter offerings and put them together in an anthology. You’re welcome to download and read them in this Prayer Collection.
In addition, while I’ve always found the prayers of the Psalms helpful to put words to emotions, in more recent years, I’ve also appreciated prayers in The Valley of Vision and tried (but mostly failed) to follow the Book of Common Prayer.)