Have you ever been stuck in prayer? The words just don’t come. There are internal questions, perhaps confusion about God or your circumstances, and words won’t suffice.
Prayer that often leaves us feeling helpless is when we attempt to move our lips and the result is silent air.
Hannah, a barren woman, desperate for her heart’s desire is a perfect example of the “wordless” prayer. In her overwhelming grief she was in the temple, God’s house, and appeared so out of sorts that Eli the priest questioned her character!
Her sorrow was coming to the surface in an abnormal way. No sound was coming out even though her lips were moving. Eli was sure that she was out of her right mind accusing her of being drunk!
Even today we can find ourselves trapped in our limited understanding of what prayer is. We can judge ourselves or others for the un-sanctified looking prayer.
Haven’t you judged your prayers before? Isn’t there an invisible measuring stick that we somehow use to determine whether our prayers are God-worthy?
There are times, such as Hannah’s situation, that it just doesn’t matter what getting to God looks like anymore!
Suffering is relative. No one person’s pain is less important to God than another’s. Pain is pain. Loss is loss. Disappointment is disappointment. Fear is fear. Confusion is confusion. Who you are and what your story is does not qualify or disqualify you.
For all of us there will be that moment when prayer is elusive and all you can offer to the Lord is a straining breath.
My first experience with this type of prayer was actually not mine. I was at a fifth grade Christian camp, the first I had ever attended. As I wandered the grounds I was drawn to the small white chapel. I began to enter and heard gasping and weeping. So I did what any fifth grader would do, I hid, watched, and listened.
There was a beautiful young woman on her knees, face down, body wracking with sobs that became silent. I now understand Eli’s response to Hannah, this kind of prayer is not pretty! She wept, and writhed in such agony. Her voice would come in waves, but not in words…no these were groans such as I had never witnessed. In this confusing scene, my heart was moved. I began to weep with her even though I knew not why she was so distressed.
In the midst of the chaos a hush came over her, the chapel, and over me! It quickly became holy ground and I didn’t even know what that was! The presence of the Lord was near, oh so near.
I found out later in the week that this beautiful young woman had leukemia. She was 21 and her prognosis was grim, she had already been given her life expectancy statistic. She was anything but a statistic, she was a woman of God, emptying herself before Him, and allowing Him to meet her in her uncertainty, fear, grief, and pain.
Dear friend, are you waiting until you can put your pain and struggles into words before you talk to God? A dear friend just expressed to me as she has faced a tragic situation…what is there to say?
We need to remember Jesus…
Hebrews 4 14-16 Now that we know what we have—Jesus, this great High Priest with ready access to God—let’s not let it slip through our fingers. We don’t have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He’s been through weakness and testing, experienced it all—all but the sin. So let’s walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help. (The Message)
Jesus understands pain and He wants to be in it with us.
Romans 8 26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. (NIV)
You see, God doesn’t always use words to express the depths of His heart either.
Come before the Lord, tell Him you don’t have the words, you feel stuck. Ask for the help of the Holy Spirit to enter into prayer. And then…just breathe, and as your trials surface, like Hannah, let the grief, sadness, and disappointment be emptied without thought or reason. Let it be what it is for that moment.
Letting it out is letting God in.
And as I wept with this unknown girl, so Jesus will weep with you and bring His presence to comfort you. He will be the shoulder to cry on without judgment, without need for explanation, for prayer is an “our heart” to “His heart” experience.
Hannah left the temple when her wordless prayer was completed and her spirit emptied out. Here is the result…
1Samuel: 1 12 As she kept on praying to the Lord, Eli observed her mouth. 13 Hannah was praying in her heart, and her lips were moving but her voice was not heard. Eli thought she was drunk 14 and said to her, “How long are you going to stay drunk? Put away your wine.”
15 “Not so, my lord,” Hannah replied, “I am a woman who is deeply troubled. I have not been drinking wine or beer; I was pouring out my soul to the Lord. 16 Do not take your servant for a wicked woman; I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief.”
17 Eli answered, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.”
18 She said, “May your servant find favor in your eyes.” Then she went her way and ate something, and her face was no longer downcast.
At that moment her situation had not changed, but her spirit did. The weight lifted…
Matthew 11 28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
What emotions, experiences, failures need to be brought before the Lord that you are unable to verbalize?
The dare to be like Hannah, is to dare to feel and face the hard stuff. Like Hannah, as we empty the burden at the feet of Jesus, we leave lifted and free.
The wordless prayer is holy.