Four weeks ago, I spent Monday night at gate 76 of Detroit International Airport, fervently praying for my three-year-old grandson, Chandler, who was undergoing an emergency surgery.
A CT scan had revealed a fractured skull and bleeding near the brain, but beyond that, I really didn’t know or have the medical understanding of exactly what was going on. In an email I sent the next day to some praying friends, I wrote, “I don’t have all the technical info. I just know we need to pray fervently.”
Those statements capture the intensity and yet ignorance I felt that Monday night in the airport.
How do you pray when you don’t exactly know what to pray for? When your spirit is fervent, but your knowledge is limited and your ability to help is non-existent?
Sometime during that Monday night, I read Psalm 39. In this short, 13-verse chapter, I found clarity for prayer and reminders of the power of God.
The Psalm begins with David also expressing a fervent spirit: “My heart was hot within me, while I was musing the fire burned” (verse 3), but an inability to articulate (verses 1 and 2).
When he did choose to speak, he prayed for knowledge in five areas:
Pray for knowledge of your frailty.
Lord, make me to know mine end, and the measure of my days, what it is; that I may know how frail I am. Behold, thou hast made my days as an handbreadth; and mine age is as nothing before thee: verily every man at his best state is altogether vanity. Selah. —Psalm 39:4–5
Trials are a blessing to us in that they remind us how frail we truly are. The sooner we acknowledge that we are not in control and are powerless to do what God alone can do, the better.
Pray for knowledge of your vanity.
Surely every man walketh in a vain shew: surely they are disquieted in vain: he heapeth up riches, and knoweth not who shall gather them. —Psalm 39:6
Every part of our lives that is not attached to eternity—and major trials have a way of pointing those parts out—is empty. Pray for God to reveal to you the empty pursuits of your life and realign your values.
Pray for knowledge of your dependency.
And now, Lord, what wait I for? My hope is in thee. Deliver me from all my transgressions: make me not the reproach of the foolish. I was dumb, I opened not my mouth; because thou didst it. Remove thy stroke away from me: I am consumed by the blow of thine hand. When thou with rebukes dost correct man for iniquity, thou makest his beauty to consume away like a moth: surely every man is vanity. Selah. —Psalm 39:7–11
Does a fresh awareness of your frailty and vanity discourage you? It would if it weren’t for the fact that we can place our hope in God. I love that phrase above: “My hope is in Thee.” Ask God to deepen your sense of dependence on Him and give you a renewed confidence in Him.
Pray for knowledge of your adversity.
Hear my prayer, O Lord, and give ear unto my cry; hold not thy peace at my tears: for I am a stranger with thee, and a sojourner, as all my fathers were. O spare me, that I may recover strength… —Psalm 39:12–13
Here the psalm turns a corner as David presses his case with God. Rather than pleading with God to answer him because of how good David is (as we are sometimes inclined to do: “Lord, I’ve served You…”), David asks God to take notice of his adversity because of how desperate David is.
I’m thankful that we have promises all throughout God’s Word that God does give ear to our cry and care about our tears. But I’m also thankful that we have these words of David to voice our desire for God to take notice of our need.
Pray for knowledge of your eternity.
…before I go hence, and be no more. —Psalm 39:13
The Old Testament saints seemed to have limited knowledge of the resurrection, although there are several passages throughout the Old Testament that reveal it in bright clarity.
We who know Christ, however, know that the end of this life brings the beginning of a better one. And we know that though our affliction would endure through all of this life, it works for us “a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (2 Corinthians 4:17). Our trials bring perspective of what really matters—including eternity and that we spend our lives introducing others to Christ.
When You Don’t Know…
In the midst of a trial, there are so many things we don’t know, including how long it will last and how it will end. But there are things God wants to reveal to us through it, including our frailty and dependency and His knowledge of our adversity.
If you are in a season of suffering and don’t know how to pray, try Psalm 39. Be encouraged as you see yourself in David’s struggle and as you let his prayer renew your trust in God.