The blunt truth about praying for others

Our prayers have a lot of power, protection, and purpose. 

That said, sometimes our best prayers require only a few words. 

Scripture is blunt about a lot of things. Have you ever noticed that truth doesn’t require an abundance of words? 

One of the most important lessons about prayer is covered in just three verses. 

The blunt truth when praying for others

One of my favorite lessons about praying is embedded in a passage from Romans 8. You have heard these verses before, but you might have heard other parts of this passage emphasized instead of one, blunt statement. 

The passage says: “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. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:26–28 NIV). 

The apostle Paul said, “We do not know what we ought to pray for” (v. 26).

When was the last time the director of your class on Sunday said that? 

Imagine the pastor asking everyone to bow their heads and then leading them to pray by saying, “I’ve got no idea what I ought to pray for.” 

Yet, it is the truth. 

We might know who we need to pray for, but “we do not know what we ought to pray for.” 

Acknowledging that one blunt truth will add power to your prayers. 

What do I pray, Lord?

I am praying right now for two young men, both of whom have cancer. I know they and their families need prayer. I know what I want to pray for all of them. I want miracles. I want healing. I want God to receive glory for his miraculous work in their lives. I want these two young wives not to lose their husbands. I want a little boy to grow up with his dad. I know what I want to pray for. 

But “I don’t know what I ought to pray for.” 

In my heart, I hear myself asking God, “What do you want to do? What is your perfect plan? How do you want to redeem the terrible for your good purpose? God, what is ‘good’ about any of this?” 

Should I be praying them out of heaven and hope they are left here on earth?  

The blunt truth of Scripture is, “I don’t know what I ought to pray for.” 

Earth is all we really know, and it makes it almost impossible to pray with right desires. That’s why Paul makes this next blunt statement. 

The only perfect prayers are prayed by God’s Spirit

“The Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans” (v. 26). 

The only way we will pray for what we ought to pray for is to allow the Holy Spirit to intercede for us. 

When the Spirit authors our prayers, he will pray for what we ought to pray. He intercedes with perfection, and our job is to listen to the Spirit’s wordless groans. It is incredibly difficult at times to quiet our wants and trust his wisdom. In fact, it is impossible at times. That is why prayer isn’t left only to us. It is also the continuous, unceasing work of the Spirit within us. 

“The Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God” (v. 27).

The Spirit isn’t praying for what we want. He is praying for what God wants. If we could see the big picture, we would be praying for whatever God wants as well. It is best even when we can’t understand how it is even remotely acceptable.  

And it is okay to hate the fact that God will do what is best, even when it is not our idea of best. 

“We don’t know what we ought to pray for.” That is the blunt truth about prayer from God’s word. 

But so is verse 28. 

Do you love God and his purpose?

“We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (v. 28). 

If it is what we ought to pray, it is what we should want. But, it is okay if you can’t. God is going to do what is perfect even when we can’t pray for that. He loves us and he knows we love him, even when we can’t like him. 

My husband Jim had a conversation last week with a pastor friend who lost his son to cancer three years ago. That pastor confessed that sometimes he barely had enough faith to go on. A rabbi friend had counseled the pastor saying, “It is hard to ask the person who just bloodied your nose to hand you a handkerchief.” 

Yet, that is what some of our most difficult prayers to God are like. 

Sometimes this life shoves us down a mountain and the Lord allows us to tumble to the bottom. Everything about it hurts, including the climb out. The only wrong thing is to look God in the face and say, “Forget it. I don’t need your kind of help. I’ll do it myself.”  

You can trust the hand that holds the world to hold you together

When your heavenly Father extends his hand to you, take it. It is the hand that created the world. It is the hand that holds you eternally, and nothing can snatch you away. It is also the hand that holds you together during the worst of times. 

I am praying for two young men who are men of faith. I don’t know what I ought to pray. I do know who does. His prayers have no words yet are perfect. He is groaning for what God wants. I know God loves these men, their families, and all of us who are praying in faith.  

May we rest in God’s good purpose, which is guaranteed to those who love him and are called to serve his purpose, rather than our own. 

It’s okay when we don’t know what we ought to pray for because God’s Spirit does. And God’s will is accomplished on earth, as it is in heaven. Jesus taught us we ought to pray for that. 

Whom are you praying for? 

How will these three verses change what you pray for?