How to face situations that you can’t handle can be difficult and challenging. Here is a prayer for you – the “I Can’t Go There Prayer” – that helps you ask for and receive God’s powerful presence when you face difficult and scary situations you know you can’t handle without God’s help.
How to do this prayer practice:
1) Acknowledge that you’re in a situation way over your head.
In my job as a minister I’m often called on to make difficult pastoral calls. For instance, when I’m entering a hospital room I never know what kind of crisis I’m going to find. That’s when I rely on “I can’t go there” prayers.
I first discovered the power of this prayer on one of my most difficult pastoral calls in rural Georgia. I crossed the road to knock on the door of the miserable looking house across the street from the church. I was aware that community members felt that there was possible drug use in the household. There were children in that home, and the church felt such compassion for them. I was walking into a difficult situation that was way beyond me. I prayed, “God, go with me, because I don’t know how to do this. I don’t know what to say. I’m not sure I can go in there.” Well, I muddled through that visit somehow—as well as a couple other visits to that home– but the family did not respond and come to church. A few weeks later, at Bible study, we talked about how we felt frustrated because we didn’t know how to help. We prayed a simple prayer, “God, we want to have this family in our church, and we don’t know how to make that happen.” The next Sunday morning, there were all three children, early for Sunday School, and the family continues to be part of that congregation.
Here are some of the feelings that might tell us that it’s time for the “I can’t go there prayer.” We feel inadequate. We feel ill prepared. We feel scared, like we’re in over our heads. We think that we don’t have it in us to handle or survive this tough situation. Instead of letting these feelings keep us from acting, use them as an invitation to pray for God’s help.
2) Pray “God, I can’t go there without you.”
Walking across the road to the rural house that day I said a simple prayer, “God, I can’t go in there unless you go with me. I don’t have it in me.”
When we pray this prayer we hand the situation over to God and open ourselves to be receptive to his direction and power. I didn’t use prayer as a magic wand, asking God to make things work out the way I thought they should. I simply knew that I couldn’t do my job as a minister without having God with me.
3) Identify with the Biblical “Go with us” prayer of Moses.
Whenever I say this prayer I identify with a powerful prayer of Moses. He was in a leadership position, yet he was upset all the time, and so aware of his short comings and inabilities. In Exodus 33 the nation of Israel was traveling through the wilderness to the Promised Land. Things were horrible: the people had committed the ultimate sin of making a golden calf idol and worshiping it while Moses was away on the mountain receiving the Ten Commandments. Moses pleaded for mercy as God deliberated over what to do with the rebellious nation.
When God told the people to leave on their journey without Him, Moses prayed, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here.” (Exodus 33:15 NIV) God heard the prayer of Moses and answered, “I will do the very thing you have asked.” (Exodus 33:17 NIV)
Then Moses prayed an even bolder prayer, “Now show me your glory.” (Exodus 33:18 NIV)
One of the most special revelations of God comes next from which we derive the phrase “Rock of Ages, cleft for me.” God explained that no one can see His face and remain alive—it’s simply too powerful for people to witness. Instead God directed Moses to stand in a cleft in the rock where he would be protected as God’s glory passed by. Moses would be able to glimpse God from the back. Just as the cleft of rock was a safe place for Moses as God was going by, prayer is a safe place for us, a means of grace.
With a renewed sense of God’s presence, Moses returned to the people to continue leading them. In Exodus 34 Moses prays the “Go with us” prayer again. “O Lord, if I have found favor in your eyes then let the Lord go with us.” (Exodus 34:9 NIV)
4) Draw Courage from Other Christian Role Models
Whenever I pray the “go with me prayer” I also think about the lives of other Christians that show us what we can do if God’s presence is with us. A biography that I read and re-read is The Small Woman about the life of Gladys Aylward. In the 1920’s Gladys had a strong calling to be a missionary to China. Because she was a parlor maid it took her until the age 27 to finally save enough money to go. Then she was rejected by the missionary society because they felt she couldn’t learn difficult languages. Gladys said, “Nevertheless, I will be a missionary.” She paid her own passage to China and found work helping an elderly missionary. She eventually became fluent in Chinese and several other dialects. One day the leaders of the village called on her because the prisoners in the local jail were rioting. Gladys had absolutely no reason to be asked to do this impossible task except one. The village leader said, “You’re the one who says you can do all things through Christ.” Gladys walked into the jail, and because God went with her she was able to calm down the rioting prisoners, and advocate for their needs.
Thinking about her example gives me the courage to go into difficult situations depending on the verse Gladys taught the villagers. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:15)
5) Believe that God is with you.
Since I began praying that God might go with me into situations that I cannot face alone, I can honestly say that this prayer has always been answered. I’ve never flubbed up a call or a visit after saying this prayer. We can surprise ourselves with what we can do if we go in willing and receptive to bear God’s presence.
6) Use this prayer when praying with others.
I often use this prayer principle when I am praying with someone on a pastoral call. For instance, if I am visiting a grieving family I might pray: “God, we don’t know how to do this, how to face life without the person who has died. We don’t have what it takes.” Or I might pray with someone having family difficulties, “God, we don’t have the love and patience to deal with this. But you have infinite love and mercy; make it available to us, for love can change anything.” Or I might pray in other situations, “Help us later when we’re through this, to look back and know you were with us.”
My personal experiences and tips:
I find myself using this prayer when I have a sense of call from God to do something. It’s a prayer that is extremely meaningful when you are bringing the ministry of Christ’s presence to others.
I also use versions of this prayer in my personal life. For instance, when I am doing sermon prep I pray, “I have nothing to say on my own – this is your church.”
I have found that admitting that we need God is huge for people. We‘re so self sufficient, but this self-sufficiency will keep us from letting God work. Prayer brings down those inner walls that are keeping Him out. It helps us remember that we are blessed with God’s presence and care even when we go through trials and difficulty, and this is a powerful, lovely thing.
See the stories of Moses for similar examples of how he relied on God and prayed to Him. The story referenced here is Exodus 33:12-23.
Copyright Rev. Larisa Parker 2011. All rights reserved.