Spiritual Growth

How to Pray When You Just. Can’t. Even.

Our spiritual enemy wants to keep us from prayer and will use our everyday struggles to distract and discourage us. The good news is that you can still persevere in prayer and become all God calls you to be!

By Christine McParland

Does it ever feel like life is conspiring to keep you from prayer? Is your soul weighed down by hectic schedules, incessant notifications, and devastating headlines? How do you pray when you just. can’t. even. . . ?

If you’ve ever felt this way, you’re not alone. Most of us have felt (and still feel) this way on nearly a daily basis. But it’s not life that’s conspiring against us; our spiritual enemy wants to keep us from prayer and will use our everyday struggles to distract and discourage us. The good news is that you can still persevere in prayer and become all God calls you to be! Read on to learn how.

Relax—you can’t prayer anyways (in your own strength).

Prayer isn’t as much something we do as it is a gift we receive. Through God’s grace, the Holy Spirit within us prompts and opens our hearts to commune with our Heavenly Father. God desires to spend this time with you infinitely more than you desire to spend it with him!

“Prayer is not what is done by us, but rather what is done by the Holy Spirit in us.” –Henri Nouwen, The Only Necessary Thing, as quoted in Praying Through by Jarrett Stevens

This doesn’t mean that we don’t need to do anything to pray. It’s like a dance; while you can’t waltz or foxtrot by yourself, neither can a partner drag you through the steps. You need to follow your partner’s lead and dance with your partner. Similarly, in prayer the Holy Spirit leads us, but we must cooperate with that grace and follow him.

Next time you try praying and it feels like you just can’t, relax! Remember to invite the Holy Spirit to lead you. Perhaps simply pray, “Come, Holy Spirit,” and follow wherever he takes you next—even if it’s just to stay there and enjoy being in God’s presence.

Talk to God about how you can’t pray.

Once when I was sharing with a spiritual director about a specific struggle in my relationship with God, he asked, “Have you told Jesus about it?” His pointed question helped me realize I was trying to get my act together in my own strength before coming to Jesus, instead of just bringing it to Jesus to begin with.

When you’re struggling to pray, tell Jesus about it: “Jesus, I don’t know what to say. This is so hard. I’m frustrated. Why can’t I hear you or find the words to say? Sometimes I don’t even want to pray, and I don’t know how to make myself want to. Would you please help me?”

Praying this way may feel uncomfortable if you’re not used to being brutally honest with God. That’s ok! He is big enough to handle your fear, anger, frustration, grief, and pain, as well as your hope, joy, and excitement. Remember that Jesus, being fully human as well as fully God, experienced the full range of human emotions, including grief and anger (John 11:33-35 and Mark 11:15-17). Because he understands our weaknesses, we can approach him in prayer with anything and everything we’re feeling (see Hebrews 4:14-16).

Can’t pray? Don’t panic—pick up a book!

If you’re still struggling to pray and are tempted to quit, try picking up a book! While reading about prayer isn’t the same as praying itself, it’s a helpful tool that can encourage and inspire you to grow in prayer. You can even turn your reading time into a devotional practice by imagining yourself reading in God’s presence, much like you would with another loved one in the same room.

Here are some of our favorite books on prayer:

7 Ways to Pray by Amy Boucher Pye

Author Amy Boucher Pye draws from church history to share powerful prayer practices. Some of the different ways you can pray include praying with Scripture, praying with your imagination, practicing the presence of God, and listening in prayer. Each practice can be simplified to fit your daily rhythm, or they can be mined for deeper riches that will last a lifetime of prayer.

How to Pray by Pete Greig

Starting with the basic question of “Why pray?”, author Pete Grieg (one of the founders of the 24-7 prayer movement) covers some of the basics of prayer including worship, intercession, and contemplation. He also includes brief bios of prayer heroes from Saint Patrick to Corrie ten Boom as well as a helpful “P.R.A.Y” acronym: “Pause. Rejoice. Ask. Yield.”

Praying Through: Overcoming the Obstacles That Keep Us from God by Jarrett Stevens

Author and pastor Jarrett Stevens demystifies prayer, taking us back to the basics of the Lord’s Prayer and showing us how even our mundane lives can help us pray: “Prayer is all about taking the things you do naturally and making them supernatural.” He also addresses many of the circumstances that discourage us from praying including when we’re grieving, when we feel lost, and when we’ve run out of words.

Find these and other prayer resources at NavPress.com!

Christine loves how stories open our imaginations to God and His work in our lives. As a marketing coordinator at Tyndale, she is excited to help readers connect to life-changing stories through books, Bibles, and blog articles. In her free time, Christine enjoys reading multiple books simultaneously, exploring the forest preserve near her home, and writing about everything she sees and experiences.

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