Last week, a friend shared with me about a very difficult situation she was facing, so I asked, "how would you like me to pray?"
"I'm not exactly sure," she responded. "It's hard to know what would be best."
After my friend left, I thought about her situation and others like it. Sometimes, it's not clear how we should be praying. We know we need to pray, but what do we do when we don't know what we should pray for?
It's in those times that we have to go back to God's Word to learn what to do. The Bible offers at least 10 ways to pray when we don't know what to pray for.
Pray the Scriptures
Even though I've been a Christian for a long time now, I'd never really thought about praying the Scriptures until I joined Arabah Joy's Praying the Promises of the Cross challenge. But praying the Scriptures is one of the absolute BEST ways to pray, especially when we don't know exactly what to pray for or how to pray.
Simply take a passage of Scripture and pray it as your own personal prayer. Psalm 23 is an especially easy passage to do this with since it's already written from a first-person viewpoint.
Pray for the Lord's will to be done
When Jesus was suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane and praying over His coming death, He asked if it were possible for His bitter cup to pass by. But He immediately followed this up by praying, "but not as I will, Lord, but as You will" (see Matt. 26:36-46).
What a perfect example to follow! No matter what we're going through, no matter what we're facing, we can always pray for God's will to be done even when we're not certain what His will is for a specific situation.
Pray for wisdom
Solomon was given a huge choice. The Lord asked him what he wanted. Instead of choosing wealth, fame, riches, or renown, Solomon wisely asked for wisdom so that he could Biblically govern God's people. It's an amazing story found in 1 Kings 3, and we can follow Solomon's fantastic example by asking for the same.
James 1:3-4 follows a similar thread. When we lack wisdom, we should pray and ask for it! We may not know exactly how to pray for a given situation, but we can - and should! - ask for wisdom for handling it.
Pray for repentance from sin
Even when we don't know how to best pray for a given situation, we can never go wrong by praying for repentance from sin. We can pray for those living in sin to confess and renounce their ways, and we can also pray that our eyes would be open to our own transgressions and that we would repent of them.
Pray for the salvation of the lost
When was the last time you prayed for someone's salvation? I don't pray for this nearly as often as I should. Yet 1 Timothy 2:4 tells us that God's desire is for all men to come to know Him as Savior and Lord. So, even if we don't know what God's will is in a given situation we're going through, we can pray in His will by praying for the salvation of the lost.
Pray for spiritual growth
In addition to praying for repentance from sin and for the salvation of the lost, we can also pray for spiritual growth. The book of Hebrews has much to say about the benefits of deepening faith and spiritual growth. The author desires his readers to grow up and develop into mature believers.
We can pray for our own spiritual growth and for the spiritual growth of the Body of Christ, knowing that this is something the Lord desires of all His children.
Pray for the unity of the brethren
In John 17:11, we find Jesus praying that His disciples will be one, just as He and the Father are one. We can pray for the same.
We can pray for our marriages, that we would be one with our spouses. We can pray for our congregations, that our church members will be in agreement with one another. We can pray for the Body of Christ as a whole, that we would be unified through Christ and His finished work on the cross.
No matter what we're facing in life that might seem confusing, praying for the unity of the brethren is an excellent way to pray as Jesus prayed and to help keep our focus on Christ and not on our circumstances.
Pray for increased faith
I have yet to meet a believer who feels like he has enough faith! I think it's pretty universal among Christians to feel like we all need more faith. So when we don't know how else to pray, we can pray for increased faith, not only for ourselves but also for the entire Body of Christ.
Pray for daily bread
Straight from the Lord's Prayer in Matthew 6, we can pray for our daily bread. This simple prayer reminds us to focus continually on God for His provision. It keeps us from desiring excess but offers us a way to express our needs to the Lord.
Here in America, many (most?) of us have our daily bread and then some. It's so easy to forget that even if we already have tomorrow's daily bread in hand, it still comes from God and that He is our ultimate and only provider. As we pray for our daily bread, it's wise to keep Proverbs 30:8-9 in mind:
Remove falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches— feed me with the food allotted to me; lest I be full and deny You, and say, “Who is the Lord?” Or lest I be poor and steal, and profane the name of my God (NKJV).
Pray to give thanks and praise to God
Last but certainly not least, pray prayers of thanks and praise to God. Although we might not know how to pray, He knows exactly what we need and knows exactly how He plans to work through any given situation. We should praise Him for that.
We can thank Him for his provision, His grace, His salvation, and His mercy. We can praise Him for His many attributes. We can rejoice that He is at work in our lives. We can praise Him for all that He has done.
There is no shortage of the things we can thank and praise Him for. Even if we don't know how else to pray, we can never go wrong by praising and thanking Him for Who He is, knowing that He is orchestrating all things for His glory and our good!