When my family moved across the country almost four years ago, those first few months were intensely lonely. I missed the comfort of coffee dates with old friends, the familiarity of my church family, and easy weekend trips to my parents’ house. I missed shared history–feeling known and understood, seen and heard.
Thankfully, I can say that God has provided family among his people here–the beginnings of a new shared history. But as I reflect back on those first lonely months and the many since, I’m also grateful for something else. Though I often felt without friends, the Lord became my nearest companion. He used his word–and my loneliness–to teach me to pray.
Here are five verses that can help us pray:
#1: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” (1 Pet. 5:6—7)
Have you ever considered how prideful it is not to pray? To come to God in prayer with all of our anxieties is to humble ourselves under his mighty hand, acknowledging that we can’t handle the troubles of this world on our own. This passage points out the biblical path to glory, through suffering (see 1 Pet. 5:6—10). But it also invites us to experience this path of glorification on the daily: We humble ourselves, coming to the Lord as finite creatures with more anxieties than we can handle, and our Father lifts us up with his care. We are poor and needy, but the Lord–the sovereign God of the universe–takes thought for us (Ps. 40:17).
#2: “But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’” (Luke 18:13)
Including a time of confessing sin, fears, doubts, and unbelief in our daily prayers becomes a daily opportunity to remember the gospel. We keep short accounts, knowing our Father isn’t surprised by our sin and struggles, believing he’s merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love (Ps. 103:8). We come to him desperate, weighed down by our failures, filled with shame, and as we confess our sin, we can have confidence that he hears and forgives for the sake of his Son.
Attending church each Sunday is the much-needed weekly climax to this daily practice. As I join in the corporate confession of sin and hear my pastor declare the assurance of pardon, I hear the gospel from outside of myself. Receiving God’s means of grace strengthens my faith and gives me confidence in his mercy as I head into a new week.
#3: “Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.” (Ps. 51:12, NIV)
As we get bogged down in the anxieties of daily life and the shame of our constant struggle with sin, we need grace to carry on. We need help to dwell in the riches of God’s mercy that we might have grace to pour into others. And when I pray for joy, I’m reminded it’s not something I can conjure on my own–it’s a fruit of Christ’s Spirit at work in me (Gal. 5:22). Even for something like joy, I need God’s help.
But the second part of David’s prayer is also one I cry out often: Make me willing, Lord. Grant me a willing spirit. Help me do my work with willing hands (Prov. 31:13). Do your work in me, to will and to work for your good pleasure (Phil. 2:13).
Here’s just one example of the ways Scripture gives us words to pray. The Psalms in particular provide language for every circumstance and emotion, and allowing God’s word to shape our prayers renews our minds and transforms our desires.
#4: “To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Thes. 1:11—12)
While I was growing in confidence that the Lord didn’t tire of my neediness, I grew tired of my neediness. So began a discipline of praying for others.
Praying for faraway friends helped me to stay connected. As I brought their needs before the Lord, I would reach out to encourage them, to ask for updates, to celebrate with them as the Lord met their needs. I began to pray more diligently for my husband and children, becoming more watchful for God’s grace at work in our family.
This discipline has helped me to take my eyes off of myself, granting perspective in the midst of my loneliness. And it has helped me to feel settled and oriented here. Though I may not know my place in my church and community yet, I can be someone who prays.
#5: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” (Romans 8:26—27)
Though the Lord has used his word and this season to shape my prayers, it has all been a work of revealing my weakness. My prayers are often selfish and inconsistent, and many days, I’m blind to what I actually need. But the Lord sees. He’s provided a faithful and sympathetic high priest in his Son, Jesus, who always lives to make intercession for me (Rom. 8:34; Heb. 4:14—16). And he’s given us his Spirit. Even when all we can do is groan, the Spirit prays perfectly on our behalf: “Not my will, but yours be done.”