There are times in our lives when we don’t know what to pray. Sometimes, our burdens are so heavy and our crisis so intense that mere words cannot express our needs, desires, wants, and hopes.
I vividly remember one such occasion when all I could do was cry out, “God!” My soul was so burdened that nothing else could come out of my mouth.
In The King, the latest installment in The Bowers Files series, author Steven James provides one of the best descriptions of crisis prayers that I have ever read. The main characters in the series are FBI Special Agent Patrick Bowers, his fiancée, Special Agent Lien-hua Jiang, and Patrick’s step-daughter, Tessa. In The King, Lien-hua is abducted by a serial killer, manages to escape, but is wounded during the escape. While she is in surgery, Patrick, who is not religious, instructs Tessa to pray. Tessa’s experience with prayer is described in the following paragraphs.
Earlier she’d told Patrick that she would pray, and she had. But the whole time she’d been unsure what to say. And even though she was usually pretty good with words, that’s not really how her prayer had come out. It was more like a screech in her soul that went beyond language—sort of like fear wrapped in a desperate kind of love, but she hoped that God wouldn’t hold her lack of eloquence against her.
Her mom was dead.
Her dad was dead.
All she had was Patrick and Lien-hua.
So, oh yeah, she’d prayed.
And the fact that she hadn’t really known what to say bugged her. But then she thought that if it’s true what they say, that ninety percent of communication is nonverbal, that most of it comes through in body language, gesture, posture, facial expression, eye contact, and inflection, then why wouldn’t our prayers, our communication with God, be the same way? Why should words suddenly matter so much, especially to someone who’s so good at reading hearts?
When we don’t know what to pray, whether it’s a one word cry of “God!” or a screech from our soul, I am grateful that the Holy Spirit reads our hearts, takes our words, cries, gestures, and body language, and tells the Father what we really mean.
“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 groaning 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.” (Romans 8:26-27)