Living in Faith, Scripture Lessons, Scripture verses

How to pray when you’re too overwhelmed to pray

Sometimes praying is easy. We have specific things in mind, know just what to ask, and the prayer comes straight from our heart with no problem. But sometimes we don’t know what to pray. The situation might be so complicated or scary that we don’t know how to put our feelings into words or where to begin.

There’s a verse in the Bible that tells us what to do when we’re too overwhelmed to pray. It’s Romans 8:26.

Here are two translations that I think are easiest to understand:

In certain ways we are weak, but the Spirit is here to help us. For example, when we don’t know what to pray for, the Spirit prays for us in ways that cannot be put into words. (Contemporary English Version translation)

In the same way the Spirit [comes to us and] helps us in our weakness. We do not know what prayer to offer or how to offer it as we should, but the Spirit Himself [knows our need and at the right time] intercedes on our behalf with sighs and groanings too deep for words. (Amplified Bible translation)

How refreshing to know that we don’t have to say perfect prayers for God to hear us. We don’t even have to say specific words.

We can say, “Lord, I’m so overwhelmed by ______ that I don’t even know what to say. But you know my heart and hear me anyway. Thank you for that.”

And, based on what Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans, the Holy Spirit will take it from there. We just have to sit still and be with God.

Jesus told His disciples that the Holy Spirit would come as an intercessor, as a bridge between us and God. The Spirit would teach the disciples (and us) and would remind them (and us) of the things Jesus taught (John 14:16, John 14:26).

Paul built on that with his assurance that the Holy Spirit would speak to God on our behalf.

The study notes in the Life Application Bible explain it like this:

As a believer you are not left to your own to resources to cope with problems. Even when you don’t know the right words to pray, the Holy Spirit prays with and for you, and God answers. With God helping you pray, you don’t need to be afraid to come before him. Ask the Holy Spirit to intercede for you “in accordance with God’s will.” Then, when you bring your requests to God, trust that he will always do what is best. (Life Application Bible: New International Version. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 1991.)

This is so refreshing for me to remember, and I hope it also is for you. As crazy as the world around us seems, we can pray about everything without getting tangled in our own words.

Here’s what we can do when we’re too overwhelmed to know what to pray:

  • Settle in for some time with God.
  • Tell Him we’re so hurt or scared or confused or overwhelmed (or whatever it might be) that we don’t know how to pray about the situation.
  • Thank Him for giving us the Holy Spirit to communicate on our behalf.
  • Ask that the Holy Spirit take what’s on our heart o God.
  • Be still and let the Holy Spirit work on our behalf.
  • Thank God for hearing us when we aren’t able to put our thoughts or feelings into words.
  • Know that our prayers are heard, even when we can’t say them ourselves.

I can’t think of many things more beautiful than that. What an amazing gift from God.

Your turn: What helps you when you don’t know how to put your prayers into words? Leave a comment so we can encourage each other.

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6 thoughts on “How to pray when you’re too overwhelmed to pray”

  1. Sometimes life does overwhelm us so much we lose our hope and don’t even know what to say to God. Your tips help us turn our focus back to the Lord so we can see His power instead of our problems. Thank you, Leigh, for helping us see that prayer is not a difficult set of rules.

    1. Barbara, I’ve found myself in that spot of not knowing what to say so often! I’m thankful God knows and loves us so much that He still understands us even when we can’t put things into words. And, like you say, it’s also comforting to know that prayer doesn’t have to follow a set of rules. Thanks for reminding us of that!

  2. God is amazing. It brings peace just knowing Holy Spirit intercedes for us. Sometimes my only prayer is help but I know He can take it from there.

    1. Jen — exactly! How amazing to know that the Holy Spirit takes our fumbling words to God and that He is exactly the Helper we need, no matter the situation. You’re right — He can definitely take it from there! Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  3. I’ve been there–I expect we all have–when we just don’t know what to say to God. I’m so thankful He planned for that. He knew His children would need help and planned for us to have that Counselor, Comforter, the Holy Spirit. Thank you for this inspiring and comforting message.

  4. Leigh, God really is our provider for EVERYTHING. Even the prayers we say to Him should be inspired and guided by His Spirit in us. Once again, God takes the pressure of self-reliance off our backs and allows us to rest in Him.

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