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When Words Fail

Romans 8:26–27

Beads of perspiration form on your brow, your heart flutters, your mind swims. An endless loop replays in your head: the scathing, screaming argument with your mother; the prognosis from the doctor; a schedule so full you can’t calm your thoughts enough to fall asleep at night.

You’ve probably been there at some point in your life: You rush before God like an eager child bursting into a room full of toys only to find that you have no idea how to begin to pray. You don’t know if you should be asking for guidance, protection or forgiveness—or all of the above. And what about how to order your list? And should you say special words? How does this prayer thing work?

Maybe you’ve finally got a minute to yourself, so you grab your Bible, look up to the ceiling and think, Now what? That list you’ve been building in your mind goes blank. The phone rings. The kids cry. The TV blares from another room. The dog barks. Anything—and everything—interrupts the moment. Help! How do you pray when words fail?

Enter the Holy Spirit. He perceives our heart’s agony and comforts us in our weakness. He knows our spiritual battle often burns hottest when we fight within ourselves. We wrestle with how to prioritize our prayers. We struggle with imposing our human agendas on a holy God. We cross our arms, grit our teeth and mentally stomp our feet when things don’t turn out as we desperately prayed they would. Life’s frustrations can mute us spiritually: “We do not know what we ought to pray for” (verse 26). But God does not stop hearing us when we’re dumbstruck before him. Both in silence and when our words flow in a jumbled torrent, the Holy Spirit intercedes on our behalf to the Father. He does know what to pray for.

The next time your spirit groans with a weight heavier than you can bear, trust that even when you might not be able to find words to pray, God clearly hears your cries through the intervention of the Holy Spirit. He knows your heart, your thoughts and your greatest needs better than you do yourself. Though your words may fail, your intercessor will never fail you


  1. Describe your prayer life. Do you struggle with it or does it flow naturally? Is it structured or hit-and-miss?
  2. Have you ever been at a loss for words during a time of prayer? How did the Holy Spirit intercede on your behalf? (For example: in song, in tears or in inexpressible ways.)
  3. Examine your heart. What things in your life have you been unable to express to God? Now, let the Holy Spirit lift these struggles from you and carry them before the Father.

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.

Related Readings

Psalm 94:1–23; Habakkuk 3:1–19; Philippians 1:3–11

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