Fresh – “The Prayer When You Don’t Have Words”

Fresh – “The Prayer When You Don’t Have Words”

My wife and I moved here in 2018 from the DMV (D.C, Mryland, Virginia) we had 2 kids
at the time, we have 3 now so one of them is a native Texan. Our daughter layla was 4 going on
5 and our son Zion was 8 months old. Shortly after settling in Emma got pregnant, on purpose
lol. But a couple months in to that pregnancy one day Emma woke up and there was blood and
it was ore than a little. We went to the OB-GYN and they couldn’t find a heartbeat. The doctor
came in and told us “I’m sorry but you’ve lost the baby”. She quickly went into a talk of how this
is normal and common and this happens to many women.
But we went home and wept. Ill never forget the first people at our door within an hour
of recieving the nws was Eric and Deborah Bryant with flowers and love. In the days and weeks
that followed I tried to rationalize that grief- “This IS really common”, “It’s not like we knew the
sex of the baby”, “Maybe we weren’t ready.” But none of those things were comforting.
And let me pause and say this if you are a woman in the room or a couple that has
miscarried, I am so sorry, my heart engulfs you with love and support. You have experienced a
loss. Don’t let anyone minimize it or compare it.
But I’ll never forget I got a phone call from my friend and Central Campus pastor, Kenny
Green, and he said, “Ricky I just want you to know that lament is a form of worship, it’s a type
of prayer. Giving God your grief, is saying to Him, ‘I trust you with my emotions’.


You hve probably found like I have, as a society we grieve really poorly. I mean we know
how to feel and celebrate and give language to SO many “positive” emotions, but not for ones
we deem negative. For example- when someone wins an oscar or a grammy, they almost
always run out of time to thank those who helped get them there. We have words that help us
describe joy and when we are on the mountaintops of love and success. But our vocabulary,
our body language, shrinks when are facing something so daunting. It’s as if the obstacle in
front of us leaves us…speechless.

For some of you 2023 was the year you want to forget. For some of us it was the year
that our losses catapulted our wins off of the scales of life and now everything is broken. We
couldn’t wait for the clock to strike midnight into 2024. Some of you have experienced a loss so
deep it feels like you’re a ghost drifting through what other people call reality. Some of you
have walked through lawsuits, defamation, betrayal, the suffering of a child, the pain of a
diagnosis, and on and on and on.
Some of us have come to the end of our rope and begged God for an answer and a
resolution to fall like Manna from Heaven. Others of us gave up on God because we prayed and
prayed and nothing worked.
Romans 8:24-28 shows us that for those of us who have said yes to Jesus, the Spirit is
with us and when we come to the end of ourselves, He is there praying the words when we
don’t have anymore.


Here’s how it reads in one version- 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is
seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we
do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to
pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who
searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people
in accordance with the will of God.
28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have
been called according to his purpose.
Have you ever considered the implications of this passage? In essence when you are
hoping and praying for something, when you come to God and you’ve exhausted the limits of
the human lexicon and all you have left are groans, and sighs, and tears, the HOLY SPIRIT IS
THERE. And he takes your emotions, your grunts, the pain and the longings of your very heart
and He translates them into intercessory prayer. He becomes the intermediary between you
and Heaven.
When we come to God in humility, in frustration, in anger, in joy, in exhaustion, in
WHATEVER state- when we simply COME, He takes our powerlessness and turns them into
powerful prayers.
Listen to how The Message version puts Romans 8:26-28 (MSG)- 26-28 Meanwhile, the
moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t
know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer
out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves,
knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure
that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.
What if prayer is helplessness in action?

In psychology learned helplessness is a negative term. In essence it is when enough
similar traumatic events continuously happen to you that you stop trying and give up hope that
things will get better. It’s one of the leading causes of depression. And if we’re real it’s one of
the leading causes of anemic prayer lives.
But prayer is taking that helplessness, that powerlessness, and putting it in the hands of
the one who is all-powerful. Prayer is not buying a lotto ticket, it’s not a message in a bottle
across an ocean. It is assurance that everytime we come to God, He is there listening, praying
through us, working on our behalf. Even when it seems the answer is delayed or the exact
opposite of what we wanted.
Prayer is trusting God with our limitations and frustrations.
One of the books that totally changed my prayer life and how I view God years ago was Paul
Miller’s A Praying Life. In fact I’m re-reading it now, and in it he states this “God wants us to
come to Him empty-handed, weary, and heavy-laden, but instinctively we want to get rid of our
helplessness before we come to God.” – Paul E. Miller, “A Praying Life”
God’s Spirit does not remove our weakness, but helps us in our weakness. He bridges the gap
between old and new, between what we see and what he has declared us to be. Prayer is
coming to God saying:
● I’m angry you let my loved one pass away, I feel abandoned and afraid
● Why do I try and try and it seems I can’t beat this addiction?
● How is it that I can pour time and devotion into this relationship and it feels like it’s
getting worse?
● And sometimes it’s saying- God I don’t even know what I’m asking for; I just need YOU!
And when we don’t have the words, remember we also have a prayer book of 150
prayers that demonstrate every possible emotion and need we might be experiencing and how
to come to God honestly with them. Like this Psalm of David, paraphrased by the Message:
Psalm 6 (MSG)
1-2 Please, GOD, no more yelling,
no more trips to the woodshed.
Treat me nice for a change;
I’m so starved for affection.
Can’t you see I’m black-and-blue,

beaten up badly in bones and soul?
GOD, how long will it take
for you to let up?
Break in, GOD, and break up this fight;
if you love me at all, get me out of here.
I’m no good to you dead, am I?
I can’t sing in your choir if I’m buried in some tomb!
I’m tired of all this—so tired. My bed
has been floating forty days and nights
On the flood of my tears.
My mattress is soaked, soggy with tears.
The sockets of my eyes are black holes;
nearly blind, I squint and grope.
Get out of here, you Devil’s crew:
at last GOD has heard my sobs.
My requests have all been granted,
my prayers are answered.
Prayer is helplessness in action

If we take Romans 8:26-28 seriously we would see that the Holy Spirit shows up in ways
when we don’t think God is even listening. He is there praying what we really need. The Spirit’s
prayers are effective when He intercedes for us. We can trust that He prays according to God’s
It’s in the place of deepest weakness, pain, and helplessness that we experience this
incredible communion with the Trinity! Not when we’re strong and have it all together. How
amazing is that? It says that His spirit searches our hearts. Prayer is two way communication. It
is searching the heart of God, and allowing God to search our heart as well.
What if prayer is allowing God to search your heart?

Looking at that Romans passage I imagine even the things we pray for the Holy Spirit is
doing Heaven’s Grammarly on our prayers. For example:
● We pray: God I just want her back, she completes me.
○ The Holy Spirit translates: Father what He is really asking for is for you to show
Him what true love looks like

● We pray: God take this pain away, I can’t bear another day. I just want to die.
○ The Holy Spirit translates: Father she needs to feel you close. She needs to know
that you are here shouldering the weight of this hurt with her.

It is through prayer and listening to the Spirit that we allow God to really search us and reveal
the longing withing us. David prayed in Psalm 139, 23
Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.
But we have to come to God honestly in our brokenness in order to receive the
response our soul NEEDS. I think one of the best examples of this was John the Baptist. John
was the promised forerunner of Jesus. His faithfulness and prominence in Jesus’s time was
huge. He was pointing people to the Messiah and He was regarded highly by everyone. He was
unafraid to speak truth to power and it lands him in prison.
Matthew 11 clues us in to what I think is such an important crucible moment in the life
of every Christ follower. (Matthew 11:1-6) 11 After Jesus had finished instructing his
twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in the towns of Galilee.[a]
2 When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his
disciples 3 to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone
John the Baptist, this giant in the faith. This prophet of renown finds himself awaiting
execution. And he comes to nexus point where his current experience does not match the
expectation he had of Jesus and His kingdom. Believing that the fulfillment of the kingdom
would come in his lifetime. Yes hearts would be transformed, but also believing corrupt
governments would be undone. Yet, John finds himself imprisoned awaiting execution by the
very people he thought Jesus would overthrow.
His current experience does not match the expectation he had of Jesus. A place that
we will certainly come to at least once if not several times in our following of Jesus.

John is coming to Jesus honestly not with the title of prophet but the reality of prisoner.
It is when we are raw and real and lay our honest feelings and doubts before God that we allow
Him to respond in truth and search our hearts. John says, “are you the one that is to come or
should we look for another?” or as we might put it:
● “God I’m doing everything you’ve asked me and I’m still mistreated at this job and
nothing is opening up…it feels like you don’t care!”
● “God it feels like you gave up on me because I don’t understand why my marriage is in
shambles and nothing is working.”
See I love this church not because we gather together to sing a few songs and get this
week’s Ted Talk. No I love this place because you all embrace and create a community where
people can be vulnerable and real. A space where people can come into a worship environment
and question- respectfully, and sometimes not respectfully- the Lord’s control of life. Because
oftentimes we come to a place where we don’t have the answers and we doubt God has
them either. That’s where John finds himself. Listen to how Jesus responds:
4 Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: 5 The blind receive sight,
the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and
the good news is proclaimed to the poor. 6 Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account
of me.”
In other words He says- “just because you aren’t feeling it or experiencing it personally
does not mean I am not working in you and all around you. Don’t let your experience and your
expectations rob your understanding of who I truly am.” He’s claiming that those who accept
the reality of who He really is and what He came to do- those are the ones who won’t
He says I’m the one with you in that prison cell; I’m the one comforting you in the wake
of death; I’m the one sustaining and providing for you- even when you can’t see it! He says to
John and to us, Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me. Put another way,
“You’re blessed when you stick with me even when it doesn’t go the way you wanted it to,
because you’ll goodness beyond your circumstances.”
You and I have to come to God and let Him search us. Because he goes shaping and
molding us into His image. When we don’t come to Him in our brokenness or even in our
celebration, what we are saying in essence is “I know what I need more than you do!” And over
time your heart will grow rigid.
“To pray is to change. Prayer is the central avenue God uses to transform us. If we are unwilling to
change, we will abandon prayer as a noticeable characteristic of our lives.” -Richard Foster

Prayer is allowing God to search your heart. And he tells you what you need to hear,
not want you want to hear. See, here he mildly rebukes John and his disciples but in the verses
that follow he gives this huge tribute to John. When you come to God humbly and honestly and
let him search your heart you’ll find:
● He replaces your self-pity with dignity
● He gives you his presence in the midst of your pain
● He gives you the strength to persevere, even when we don’t get the answers we want
● He gives you His Words, even when you don’t have any
Follow Jesus long enough and you’ll find for every accusation, every doubt, every angry fist,
every tear, every sigh, every ambivalent breath we send his way. He will return it with love,
nearness, goodness, correction, gentleness, and kindness.


Why does this matter?
Why not just keep it in, why bother praying at all? Why should I give God my suffering?
Because if not, a few things will happen:
● If we internalize our pain- than you and I become a retention pond for our hurts and we
never get the flow of living water that God offers us.
● If we simply try and fix our problems- than our hearts will become jaded and hardened
when we realize our limitations.
● If we look to others- we make idols out of people that will eventually let us down
because no person was meant to fix you or complete you.
So, where in your life do you feel powerless right now? Where has the pain swallowed
up joy? Where are the unanswered questions and prayers still echoing off the walls? If it feels
like the suffering in your life is meaningless or pointless, I promise you it is not. We serve a God
who wastes nothing!
Remember Romans 8? Verses 24-28 Paul says, “listen hope is what propels us to keep
asking and keep praying, And even when you don’t have the words the Holy Spirit will give
them to you and pray them for you!” In light of THAT REALITY verse 28 says this, “28 And we
know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called
according to his purpose.
That means in God’s economy, nothing is wasted! He takes you mess and turns it into a
message. He even uses our suffering for His glory.

What if prayer is the realization that suffering makes us more like Jesus?
God does not cause all things, but he allows them, and works with them for his purpose.
Philippians 1:6 tells us He has a plan for us, and we can be confident that he will complete his
work in us.
Romans 8 shows us that in our weakness and in our pain, the Spirit of God is there
sustaining those of us who have submitted to his lordship in our lives. And if you are skeptical
or still searching and curious about this Christianity thing understand what we are saying you
have access to: that when you are at the end of your rope the CREATOR of the Cosmos is not
only with you, he dwells inside of you giving you access to his divine strength, power, and
C.S Lewis said “We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to.
God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his
megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
The Gospel, God’s free gift of grace in Jesus, only works when we realize we don’t have
it all together. The same is true of prayer. It is in our deepest pain that we can find a level of
intimacy we never dreamed of.
Meaning God takes the good, the bad, the ugly, and the stuff you wouldn’t wish on your
worst enemy, and if you trust Him He can make the end result something good. Something

This is where our story becomes Jesus’ story. What God did through and for Jesus, He
will surely do through and for us. God used the suffering Christ to bring about the greatest
good for humanity, and His suffering ended in His glory- the resurrection. The same is true for
us. Yes, suffering is still tragic, sin is still evil, and life is still littered with pain and frustration.
And we don’t need to ignore or suppress it. What we can do is trust that God is working it out
for our greatest good- our own resurrection, when we, along with the rest of creation will be
made new.
Prayer is the realization that suffering makes us more like Jesus?


As a body of believers let’s pray together. You can read this along with me out loud or
silently in your seat follow along. But let it ring in your heart.

Corporate Prayer for when you don’t have the words:
God, we know things aren’t the way they’re supposed to be. It’s exhausting.

There is deep suffering in this very room and in the world that we are weak and helpless to do
anything about.
We ache for the day when everything will be made right.
Some of us are weary from years of praying the same prayer and we’re afraid to admit
that we don’t think you’re listening.
Some of us are tired of running the race of faith when the world and its desires are
pressing in on us and we’re hanging on by a thread.
Some of us are exhausted from chronic pain and terminal illness and don’t know how to
keep going on.
There are no words.
Spirit, we don’t know how to pray in these places of pain, but you do. You are in it with us.
As promised, come and intercede for us, joining in our silent cries.
We thank you that when we don’t have the words, you know the deepest places of our hearts,
even better than we do.
We trust you to hear us and we find peace knowing that you are working it all out for good and
to make us more like Jesus, even though we don’t yet see how.
In the meantime, help us to hold fast to hope and wait patiently for the day you will come again
and bring the world, and us, into your glory.


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