For it is by grace you have been saved...

Friday, November 29, 2013

When Prayers Have No Words

Well, Thanksgiving is over.  For many, it was over before it started.  Some bypass a time of giving thanks in favor of plotting strategies for "Black Friday" so they can get more, more, more of what they couldn't even take a moment to give thanks for.  But, I digress.  That's not what this post is about. 

When we do take time to give thanks, most of us can find the words.  There may be times in life where God's blessings are so overwhelming that we are a bit speechless, but for the most part giving thanks is relatively easy.  But what about times when our prayers are not so easy?

Sometimes we come to a place where life is so difficult, some tragedy is so overwhelming, some grief is so life altering, that when we do reach out in prayer, there just seems to be no words.  I hate to admit that such a great quote comes from a novel (the bane of the scholarly life in some folks' minds) but I love this line from Steven James' latest novel Singularity:

"I'm no expert on how to talk to God, but I suppose sometimes the most eloquent prayers are those that aren't spoken at all but that rise to heaven directly from the fractures in our hearts, the places where words become superfluous."

Wow.  I love that.  It's so true, both from a practical and a theological standpoint.  Practically speaking, again, we know those times when the words just won't come.  Grief is too strong.  Shock is too fresh.  Pain is too great.  Words won't come.  But we reach out anyway in hopes that God hears the grief and shock and pain. 

And from a theological standpoint, we know that He does.  In fact, He more than hears, He intercedes.  The context isn't just about suffering, but in Romans 8:26 Paul says, "Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness.  For we do no know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words." (ESV)

Again, the context of Paul's comment isn't limited to suffering.  He knows that in our frail, human condition none of us know how to pray properly.  The Spirit aids all true prayer to turn it into something God certainly will hear and answer.  That's a comfort at all times.  But it is especially a comfort in those times when words just won't seem to come. 

Now, you may wonder why this rather melancholy post on the day after Thanksgiving.  Well, partly just because I tend to be a bit moody now and then.  But also because many folks reminded me lately of the fact that there are lots and lots of folks who don't get that happy Thanksgiving.  They can't be with family.  Their family member is overseas, or in the hospital, or maybe even just died.  Suffering doesn't take a holiday.  Death doesn't say "Oh, it's Thanksgiving, I'll take the day off."  Many will have a less than jolly holiday for a variety of reasons, and in their struggles I just want to offer these words of hope. 

Prayers don't always have to have words.  In fact, John Bunyan, author of Pilgrim's Progress, once wrote that "In prayer it is better to have a heart without words than words without a heart."  Sometimes, the words don't really mean anything.  And sometimes, the heart cries with meaning greater than words.  Sometimes prayers that rise to heaven right out of the fractures of the heart are the most eloquent.  And know that the Spirit will intercede on our behalf.  Our prayers are not as weak as we think. 

So if you are hurting, wondering, wandering, or just in need of a little encouragement today, I hope you find it in this:  our God never abandons His children.  He helps us in our weakness.  He even helps us to pray.  What a grand, glorious, gracious, God.  And that is indeed something to be thankful for. 

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