by Matt Schmidly
Most of us have had the experience of setting aside an hour to pray, kneeling down and pouring our hearts out to God, praising him, bringing our petitions to him, praying about everything we can think of, only to look at our watches and see that only twelve minutes have passed! What are we going to pray about for the next forty-eight minutes!
Don’t despair. This is normal when you set aside longer (than usual) times of prayer.
What do I do when I run out of things to pray?
Prayer is indeed simple; it’s a simple as talking to the Father. Yet when the disciples witnessed Jesus pray they said, “Lord, teach us to pray,” (Luke 11:1). Prayer is simple; yet we need to be taught. And one thing the Spirit has taught me is to let the Word aid my prayers and let my prayers aid his Word.
When you run out of things to pray for but are still wanting to spend more time in prayer, turn to the Scriptures. For me, this is not a time of Bible study or even Bible reading. I’m asking the Holy Spirit to spark a prayer in me.
For example, yesterday, after spending some extended time in prayer, I began to lose steam. My mind began to wander and nothing was really coming to mind to pray about. Nudged by a message Jeremy Weimer preached on New Year’s Day, I turned to Psalm 119 and decided to pray through the first section of the psalm. When I pray a psalm, I want to make the prayer of the psalmist my prayer—not just saying the words, but a prayer from my heart. So I began to pray this psalm out loud:
1 Blessed are those whose way is blameless,
who walk in the law of the Lord!
2 Blessed are those who keep his testimonies,
who seek him with their whole heart,
3 who also do no wrong,
but walk in his ways!
4 You have commanded your precepts
to be kept diligently.
At this point, the word “diligently” jumped off the page. God has not called us to be casual in our obedience. “You have commanded your precepts to be kept diligently.” We are to be careful to walk in his ways, to work hard at obedience, to be mindful of the details of his ways. At this my own inadequacy was setting in. So I took a couple of moments to pray about being more diligent in keeping his commands. Then my eyes and voice went to the next verse:
5 Oh that my ways may be steadfast
in keeping your statutes!
This is the psalmists petition. And it was mine too! And began to repeat this sentence in prayer—not in a lifeless, rote repetition, but the true desire of my heart. “Oh that my ways may be steadfast in keeping your statutes!” That I too would be steadfast, resolute, single-minded, unwavering, and adamant in my walking in his ways! Soon my words were not the psalmists’ but my own, asking God to do this work in me.
Returning to the text I prayed:
6 Then I shall not be put to shame,
having my eyes fixed on all your commandments.
7 I will praise you with an upright heart,
when I learn your righteous rules.
8 I will keep your statutes;
do not utterly forsake me!
I quickly realized these are the benefits of keeping God’s word. Disobedience leads us to all sorts of problems that inevitably lead to shame. But God’s ways keep us from this. Following him allows us to “praise you with an upright heart.” Rather than approaching him with guilt, confession, repentance, and (finally) forgiveness, we can praise him with an upright heart.
Now the full-orb of the psalmist prayer came into view for me. He begins with the (1) reasons for obedience—the obedient life is blessed and commanded by God. Then comes the (2) request for steadfast obedience. And ends with the anticipated (3) results—a life free from shame and an upright heart. With this in view, I prayed through the psalm again.
Now let’s return to the problem of running out of things to pray for. Our flesh often gets in the way of our prayers. The issue of steadfast obedience may not be something that I would naturally pray about. Especially since my flesh would try to make me believe that I’m doing pretty well in the obedience department.
But when the light of the Word of God shines into our lives, and exposes who we are, and words like diligently and steadfast confront us, then we have something to bring to the Father. Something that he can use to work in us.
And I never would have made this a matter of prayer on that day had I not opened the Scriptures.