When I Don't Know How to Pray

Sometimes I struggle to pray for other people. Not because I don't want to, but becasue I don't know how. 

Why would I presume to know what someone else really needs? People ask for prayers for tensions to be resolved or pains to be healed, but what if God is working in their lives in the midst of the difficulties? Should I really pray for that to be cut short? 

Not only that, there's the risk. What if I pray for something for someone, and it doesn't happen? Does knowing I prayed for them simply add to their disappointment in the God they thought would provide? 

How do we even begin to pray for the complicated relationships of the world system? What do we know about how to solve intertwined oppressions of war, poverty, slavery, oppression, and terrorism that God wouldn't already know or long for? What could my prayers add?

As if staring at a blinking cursor with an approaching deadline, I freeze, wondering what should come after a name or a situation in my prayers. 

Subconsciously, I think this is why I forget to pray for other somtimes. I want to avoid the awkward fumbling for words that will surely follow. 

I may have found a word that can unlock this for me. A word that can authentically and deeply pray for another person, and for the world, without presuming to know what is actually best. It is a word that simply asks God to do what God does- to heal, restore, and make whole. 

Shalom. 

Shalom is the Hebrew word often translated as peace, but it is so much more than the way we view the word peace. Shalom means wholeness, friendship, and healing. Shalom is not simply the absence of strife, it is the presence of God and His restoring love. 

Shalom is something we need a lot more of, individually and globally. Shalom is the word I am chosing to pray. 

Loving God, bring Your shalom to us.  

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I lift up my soul in trust and hope

When you read the Bible, do you look at more than one translation? Sometimes, side by side, verses don’t read very differently. But other times, the difference can smack you between the eyes.

It’s a good little trick when you don’t know the original languages. All English translations have a bit of interpretation built into them, as the teams of scholars decided how to translate words and phrases. Especially in the case of idioms that might not carry the same meaning across cultures.

Psalm 25:1 in the NIV reads

In you, Lord my God, I put my trust.

Psalm 25:1 in the ESV reads

To You, O Lord, I lift up my soul.

I love the way each of these versions deepens the meaning of the other.

We often think of our “soul” as being synonymous with our spirit. But in biblical times, people thought of the soul as synonymous with our personhood. It is not one of our characteristics, but the union of our characteristics.

“Your soul is what integrates your will (your intentions), your mind (your thoughts and feelings, your values, your conscience), and your body (your face, body language, actions) into a single life.” – John Ortberg

To You, O Lord, I lift up my soul. That is an act of trust.

My soul easily drifts towards fragmentation. Being overwhelmed leads to trying to do too many things at once. Feeling self-doubt leads to seeking validation in too many places. Experiencing loneliness leads to spending too much time on too many social media sites.

Suddenly my beautifully knit soul is unraveled into a heap of tangled yarn.

As I sit with verse one, Psalm 25 becomes my prayer. I take my soul, and lift it up as a meager offering, an act of trust in God’s character.

My soul is disintegrated. Daddy, can you fix it for me? Please?

 Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths. Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long. Remember, Lord, your great mercy and love, for they are from of old.

Do not remember the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to your love remember me, for you, Lord, are good. Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted. Relieve the troubles of my heart and free me from my anguish.

 Look on my affliction and my distress and take away all my sins.

May integrity and uprightness protect me, because my hope, Lord, is in you.  – Psalm 25:4-7, 16-18, 21 (NIV)

When life is disjointed and splintered. When I am spreading myself thin. When stress has broken me apart. When I am scouring every corner for validation. When sin has crumpled me.

To You, O Lord, I lift up my soul. Heal me. Forgive me. Redeem me. Save me. Knit me back together. My hope is in You. In You, Lord my God, I put my trust.

Do you ever feel like your soul is splintered? What does it look like to trust God to knit it back together?

Walk through the Psalms is a series reflecting on the beautiful and timeless poetry found in the middle of the Bible. It is an intentional study of God’s Word, grounded in the belief that God gave us the Bible so we could meditate on it, whether that takes us through inspiring or frustrating territory.