When You Don’t Know What to Pray: 5 Simple Strategies

Obstacles. We all face them, even in our prayer life.

In last week’s post, we discussed the tremendous power of prayer, along with one of the major prayer obstacles we face – making time to pray. If you missed that post, you can read it HERE.

This week, I’d like to consider a second major obstacle and once again, look at some practical strategies for overcoming it.


The reasons are many and varied – busy schedules, too much on our minds, can’t seem to focus. No matter the reason, most of us at one time or another come face-to-face with the obstacle of not knowing WHAT to pray.

Prayer time scheduled, alone with God, our mind goes BLANK.

Not knowing what to pray, our prayer then sounds something like this, “God bless (name of loved one). Help him/her have a good day.”

We become the “pray-ers” of vague prayers.


General prayers are wonderful. Prayers like: “Hallowed by thine name” and “Help my grandchild to treasure your Word.” God’s responses to these types of prayer are difficult to detect, but the prayers are so very crucial.

Vague prayers, on the other hand, rob us of some very precious benefits:

  • Closing generational and distance gaps
  • Helping the “pray-er” be more involved
  • Strengthening our human relationships
  • Displaying the faithfulness, sovereignty, and goodness of God
  • Releasing to God what we cannot control
  • Drawing us (the “pray-ers”) closer to God

Along with your general prayers, include prayers that are specific rather than vague.

Specific prayers are important. They provide the “pray-er” with untold benefits. As well, they provide us with a sense of tangibility because God’s responses to them are detectable.

The Bible on Specific Prayers

We are told in Philippians 4 not to be anxious about anything, but to take everything to God by prayer. EVERYTHING!

And in the book of James, we are given an example of a man offering a very specific prayer.

Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.  James 5:17-18

Not only are we given this precious example, we are told that Elijah “was a man with a nature like ours.” He wasn’t special or more holy. He was like us. What an example and encouragement to our own specific prayers.


Use a List

With our busy schedules and all the many things we are required to keep track of on a daily basis, it’s no wonder we encounter brain fog when we enter our time of prayer. Keep a list of the people you are praying for along with their requests/needs.

There are several ways to keep your list. Choose one that works for you: simple pencil and paper bullet list, physical journal (broken into categories), recorded on a calendar, computer spreadsheet, prayer app (ie: Echo Prayer).


Such a simple, yet often overlooked strategy. If you want to know specifically what to pray for someone, ASK – face-to-face, over the phone, by text or email. Just ask! And if the person you are praying for is too young to answer (grandchild, niece, nephew), ask their parents.

Pray on the Spot

Instead of saying, “I’ll pray for you” when someone shares a request, stop right then and there and pray WITH them concerning the need.

This solves the very common problem of forgetting the details of the request later or even worse, forgetting to follow through on the commitment to pray at all. It also bathes a hurting soul with compassion and love.

Pray Scripture

We will never lack for specifics or question if our prayers are “okay” to pray when we pray Scripture.

Many of the passages in the Bible are prayers: The Lord’s Prayer, the prayers of Paul in the Epistles, and many of the Psalms among others. Pray these prayers for your loved ones. Make the prayers personal by substituting your loved one’s name or responding to the passage on their behalf.

Note, however, that any portion of Scripture can be prayed. We are not limited to those Scriptures that are prayers. If someone comes to mind as you are reading a passage of Scripture, pray that Word over them. If you want to pray Scripture for a specific person (spouse, child, pastor, aging parent, etc.), try a Google search: “Scripture to Pray for (insert relationship, etc.)”. It’s bound to turn up results. Just remember to use discernment when making your selection.

Pray New Testament Prayers

Pray what the New Testament prays. In his article, What Should We Pray For, John Piper shares 40 different prayers. Each prayer is something prayed for in the New Testament. Use this list from time to time as a help in remembering important specifics for your prayers.

Getting around the obstacles of time and specific content takes effort, intention, and commitment. Honestly, it does take work, but it is a work worth doing.

Which strategy will you put into place this week?

We all know prayer is power. It is, in fact, crucial. However if we are honest, but of us have to admit to struggling in our prayer life. Whether it is finding the time or knowing what to pray, we get roadblocked.

Praying with Purpose is a practical resource for helping each of us become more intentional in our life of prayer.


  • Practical ideas for getting past the busyness and to the act of prayer.
  • A selection of methods for praying that connect to an individual’s unique God-wiring.
  • Prayer guides FILLED with ideas for what to pray.

8 comments on “When You Don’t Know What to Pray: 5 Simple Strategies

  1. These are great suggestions, Deborah. I think we all have room for improvement when it comes to prayer. One area I want to continue working on right now is just praying for someone in the moment rather than saying I’ll pray later. Thanks for sharing on Grace & Truth.

  2. These are great suggestions. Last night, I couldn’t sleep well with all that was racing through my mind. Every time something came up, God said “give that to me.” Over and over. Worry by worry. It was like He knew I was overwhelmed but He needed me to be still enough to give Him the load!

  3. ArynTheLibraryan

    April 16, 2019 at 2:51 pm

    Awesome strategies for when you don’t know what to pray! That’s where I find myself too often these days.

  4. This is a great post! Pinned. 🙂 I really, really, really like the idea of praying specifically! If we want to see specific answers to prayer we have to pray specifically! Thanks for linking up at instaEncouragements!

  5. Hi Deborah, great post, and great encouragement. Definitely something I struggle with is my prayer life and its always in need of more depth, more vulnerability, and I desire a closer relationship with the Lord. Visiting from Blessing bloggers.
    God bless

  6. Gretchen Fleming

    April 15, 2019 at 9:40 am

    Very well written and concise! Thank you for sharing why and how we can pray. The 5 suggestions are spot on and easy to remember ????

  7. I am finding that it takes a certain amount of courage to pray specific prayers. In my heart, I know from experience that God is “in the heavens and He does whatsoever he pleases,” so at times this makes me tentative.
    What if his plan is to let the unthinkable happen?
    I trust his sovereignty, but there are times when even this gets in the way of prayer.

    • I know, Michele! Thank you for so beautifully and clearly and honestly expressing something I’ve been struggling with in my own prayer life. Specific prayers (especially for those we love) can be so very difficult. Makes me glad we have each other and Him to share our fears with.

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