“Fear not because your prayer is stammering, your words feeble, and your language poor. Jesus can understand you.” JC Ryle
We’ve all been there. If we say we haven’t, we are lying or self-deceived. It’s something that we will deal with until we see the Lord in glory. What am I talking about? I am talking about how, too often, we cannot find the right words in prayer.
We see the articulate prayers of learned theologians but the only words we can muster up is “Lord, I just…” The word just becomes our best friend when the right words don’t come to mind. Though repeating that word constantly may be humorous on occasion, it generally speaks to the fact that we struggle with prayer. And there’s nothing wrong with struggling in prayer. It’s a universal difficulty for Christians.
With this universal issue comes a glorious truth: in the midst of your struggle–when you just can’t seem to find the words!–Jesus understands you.
The Holy Spirit’s Role
When we can’t muster up the strength to find the right words — or even to pray in general — the Spirit is helping us pray. “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness,” the Apostle Paul says in Romans 8:26. “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.”
This weakness we experience does not come on a rare occasion. It’s not some once-every-few-months nuisance. This is something many Christians experience every single day. Our weakness is that we do not know what to pray, but thank God, the Spirit does. He prays for us, intercedes for us, pleads for us.
The Spirit takes our imperfect prayers and makes them perfect. “Invisibly and inaudibly,” RC Sproul once said, “He takes our prayers and makes them conform to the perfect will of the triune God.” The Spirit takes our sin-stained, jumbled, feeble prayers and transforms them into God-honoring, Christ-exalting, Spirit-empowered prayers.
Don’t be Impressive
There’s a word of caution here. We have to do some introspection because many times the reason we struggle in prayer is because we’re trying to sound impressive. In our minds, maybe God will be even more attentive if my prayer sounds like scholarly theologian’s prayer. (And there’s also the issue of trying to appear intelligent in your prayers because of people around you.)
Of course, this is untrue. First, you must repent of thinking the specific words you use in prayer have any impact on God’s ability or desire to listen. He listens regardless if you say justification or simply made right with God the whole time. Second, and more importantly, God doesn’t care what words you use as long as your heart is in it. You can stutter, mumble, and get words twisted and God will be pleased with it if it’s coming from a heart of worship.
Just remember: you’re not impressing anybody with lofty words in prayer. Truth be told, you’re technically behaving like a Pharisee, and I imagine you don’t want to do that. Pray what comes to your heart. And when words don’t come, rely on the Spirit!
Jesus Understands Them
Like Ryle said above, Jesus understands our feeble prayers. We need not get discouraged, upset, or frustrated because we struggle in prayer. If our heart is in the right place, we can rest assured Jesus understands the groaning of our hearts.
It’s not as if God doesn’t listen or Jesus doesn’t hear if your words are few and stammered. God would rather hear few words from a sincere heart than many words from a selfish heart. It’s the posture of the heart, not the mere words, that God cares about.
God hears your feeble prayer (Proverbs 15:29). Not only does He hear, but He listens (Psalm 66:17-20). And not only does He listen, but He inclines His hear for the stammered, struggle-filled prayers of His children (Psalm 116:2).
Don’t be afraid that, for some reason, God isn’t hearing, listening, or inclining His ear to your prayer. Even amid your prayer struggles, God is there. He is listening. He is eager to hear the cry of your heart! Go to Him.