One evening, years ago, I went outside to drive the car into the old garage next to our house. It was one coldest and windiest nights of that winter, but I hadn’t put on a cap or gloves because I was going to be out there for only a minute. I was moving fast so I could get back into the warm house. But when I opened the door and turned on the light, I saw something that made me slow down a bit. A bird had flown into the open door behind me, and was flying around in the rafters. I could tell that the little bird was afraid of me and was uncomfortable with me being in there with him, but it wasn’t about to go back outside into that cold wind. So the little bird just flew around in circles, and then landed on a shelf not far away, keeping a close eye on me. It was cold outside, and it was cold in the unheated, uninsulated garage. So I felt sorry for that bird, and I would have liked to help him in some way. But I did not know what to do. The bird did not want to go outside, and I didn’t want to chase it outside. But I knew if I left him in the shed, he would probably die. The next day I did find him dead on the floor. I know there were a lot of birds out in the cold that night and many of them probably died. That’s nature’s way. But that one was right there looking at me, and I would have helped him if I would have known how. But I didn’t know of a single thing I could do. I knew what was ahead for that bird, and I didn’t like it, but there was no way I could help.
That’s the way it often is in life. There is someone we’d like to help, but we just don’t know how. Someone we love and care about is in a tough situation or in despair or headed for trouble, and we know it, but there’s nothing we can do. If we knew what to do, we would do it, no matter what it took or how much it cost us; but we can’t see any way to do anything at all. Even if we did have a good idea, and there was something we might be able to do, oftentimes the other person will have none of our meddling. “I’m all right,” they’ll say, or “I can handle it,” or, “Just mind your own business;” just like that bird would have certainly flown away if I took even one step towards it. That night, I just turned off the garage light, locked the door, went into the house, I said to myself, “That is the way it goes in nature; it’s a tough world,” and I thought no more of it.
But when it is our loved ones, we can’t do that, can we? We hurt with them, and that hurt can go on day after day, week after week, even year after year. It is a helpless sickening feeling, but one we all get our turn at having.
Of course, we can pray. You probably knew I was going to say that. Pastors are always talking about prayer, and for good reason. Our Lord commands us to pray, not only for help in our troubles, but also to give thanks for our blessings. So, of course we can pray, and we are supposed to pray, and I hope you pray every day, for help in all your troubles and to give thanks for all your blessings. But when it comes to praying about specific situations, even though I am a pastor, sometimes I don’t even know what to pray for. Do you ever find yourself not knowing what to pray for?
For example, when our children are small, we want everything to go well for them. Who wants to see a little child suffer anything? So we help them, we provide for them, we protect them, and we try to shield them from life’s bumps and bruises. That’s what parents are supposed to do. But we also know that if they never have to suffer anything, if they never go through any trouble or any pain, if they never have to struggle; they will never have the opportunity to build any emotional strength or endurance or character, and they won’t be very well prepared for life. But we aren’t going to pray for trouble for them, are we? At the same time, it is probably good that not every one of our prayers gets answered right away in just the way we want. This raises all sorts of other questions about why some have to suffer so much– but that’s a topic for another time. I’m just saying now that when it comes to prayer, oftentimes we don’t know what to pray for, and oftentimes with our kids, we have to sit and wonder about how best to help them. Do we help more by taking away their struggle or by letting them deal with it? Every situation is different, and the best prayer is probably to pray for wisdom. We find ourselves inadequate to instruct God on the specifics. (continued…)
Luke 11:1a — One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray…”
Romans 8:26 — …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.
Luke 18:1 — Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a poor sinner. Amen.
–Ancient Jesus prayer