On the Journey
By Rick Hamlin

7 Ways to Pray When You Can't Pray

How to pray when you can’t pray? A couple of us editors were discussing this problem when someone brazenly said, “You know, I think if you’re trying to pray it is praying. To try to pray is to pray. You can’t fail.”

Perhaps prayer is the only human endeavor where trying to do it is doing it. I mean, if God is God, he’s got to hear us no matter what, even if we don’t feel like we’re praying when we are. We don’t feel all peaceful and in touch with something beyond ourselves.

I know what that’s like. You bow your head, close your eyes, you mutter something and your mind is flying in a thousand directions. You’re worried about your health, your family, your work, your lack of work. You’re thinking about the grocery list and the checkbook and the laundry when you want to be praying. Can’t pray? Here are some things I do. Try 'em.

  1. Go ahead and say it to God anyway. Say whatever is on your mind. Say the worst. It can’t be any worse than anything he’s heard. He’s God, after all.
  2. Breathe. Take some deep breaths. A friend of mind uses the phrase “God is love” as he breathes. In and out. “God is love.”
  3. Too disgruntled to pray? Start thinking of what you’re grateful for. Make a mental list. Write it down if you want. As Joel Osteen writes in his latest book, “Seeds of discouragement can’t take root in a grateful heart.”
  4. Pray for someone else. Pray for lots of other people. Log onto OurPrayer.org and read through some prayer requests. Praying for others always helps focus me. My problems always fall into perspective.
  5. Say the Lord’s Prayer or the 23rd Psalm. I once met a businesswoman who would say the Lord’s Prayer to herself whenever she became angry. It was one surefire way to calm herself down.
  6. Sing. Sing to yourself. It could be a hymn, a praise song, but it could also be some rock number that always makes you feel up and inspired. Music always works on the spirit. The psalms, after all, were meant to be sung.
  7. Go for a walk. Go for a run. Look at a tree. Look at a flower. Climb a mountain. Sit in a chair absolutely silent.

Remember, to try to pray is to pray. You can’t do it wrong. There are probably as many different ways of praying as there are people on this earth. Each one of us has our way of communicating. Each one works.

Rick Hamlin is the executive editor of Guideposts magazine and the author of 10 Prayers You Can't Live Without. To learn more about the book and explore your own prayer journey, watch this video.

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Your Comments (13)

l'll try some of the methods you suggested l need to do something prayer should be a joy, not a chore.

We all do get to that dry place at some point, and what an encouragement you gave in your 7 points to improving your prayer focus. Awesome! God bless.

want to let u know how mush I enjoy reading the Guidepost.
My husband died in July & it seem like I can't seem to get thing done with think about him being around & experting him to come thought the door any time from somewhere, but I know that it has to done. I am getting some help from the kids. His & ours.

Thank you Rick for wise advise.

Couple of minutes ago, i was exactly in this situation. A while ago, I was angry with the maintenance team at my apartment. After they left I was angry with myself for lack of self-control at the same time, sense of guilt flooding unto my heart.. causing me to be frozen even i confessed my sin and asked God for forgiveness.

After reading your 7 ways to pray when you can't pray, i know what to do.

Thank you again.. and blessings

Some devout Christians I know can pray the most eloquent prayers. The words just flow from them without having been rehearsed or embellished. They are strictly from the heart, and I envy those who can do that. My prayers are usually silent ones, unless I am really stressed or otherwise emotionally challenged. But when I speak to God, it's like speaking to a friend, or a neighbor. No fancy liturgy, no quotes from the Bible -- just a chat or a gripe, depending on what kind of day I've had. I always pray for others, even people I hardly know. So while I will never get a Nobel Prize for praying, I feel that He is always with me, and knows what's in my heart. It's my head that is often askew, however.

I constantly pray. Sometime I have so much to pray for , that I don't know where to start or end. My mind seem to be racing and the right words get stuck. I also know God know even the words that dont come out.

Great article and exactly what I needed. I always feel inadequate when I pray. Glad to know I'm not alone in a wandering mind during prayer. But I know God knows what's in my heart even if my brain doesn't always.

Thank you! I needed a new outlook and the encouragement you gave!

This was sooooo need today.

Thank you for your words this helps me when I don't know how to start my prayers. I do have to say I pray over my meals even in restaurants. I don't care if people are looking are not. I have even had a waiter say that it was nice to see people pray even in public. Again, thank you and God bless you.

Dear Mr. Hamlin,

Over the years, I have always enjoyed reading your articles. This is another good article from you, thank you! Prayer is a very important part of my life. It is the real way I can communicate with our Father. I use our computer room in our house where it is quiet, to pray to Him throughout the day. When I go out, I pray wherever I am. If I am in a restaurant, I bow my head to thank God for the meal prepared and given to me. I know I am getting looked at and stares are coming my way. I choose to ignore them because it is more important to me to thank my Father by prayer right at that moment, than to worry what strangers are thinking of me. Prayer is an open and direct communication with God. How better can that get? To know that I can praise Him, ask Him advice, tell Him I love Him, and oh, so much more, at any time of the day. Prayer comes first, because God comes first. Our world comes second in all things.


Thank you. I needed to read that. I feel guilty that I don't make more of an effort to read my bible. Then try to relax & pray. God demands praise. No excuses. I'm so very blessed & seem to stay sick a lot, even when I'm doing things right (to the best of my knowledge).
May God Bless All Of You! Once again, thank you.

These are helpful suggestions, Rick, for what I believe is a really common problem.