Learn to Say “Help” to the Lord

We Need to Pray (but We Resist It)

In C. S. Lewis’s book The Horse and His Boy, Shasta endured a long journey in which nothing seemed to go right. As all hope was fading he noticed a quiet presence, breathing “on a very large scale.” The barely audible breathing was Aslan’s, the God figure in the book, who had been accompanying the boy through many of his difficulties.

“Who are you?” asked the boy.

“One who has waited long for you to speak,” responded Aslan.1

It is not always easy to talk openly to the Lord. We need help, but it is difficult to actually ask God for it. Why is it so difficult? Why do we sometimes resist speaking to him?

Take anxiety as an example. Anxious people know they are needy, but their instincts are to worry their way through doomsday scenarios so they can be prepared. Meanwhile Scripture urges us to pray rather than to feed anxiety (Phil. 4:6).

Side by Side

Edward T. Welch

Written by a prominent biblical counselor, this practical book aimed at everyday Christians will equip readers with the tools they need to wisely walk alongside one another in the midst of life’s struggles.

Our inclination is to live self-sufficient lives. When there is trouble, we first try to figure it out, then we worry, as if there is no one who cares or hears. Or maybe we give God the cold shoulder because he didn’t give us what we had hoped for, or we hide from him because we cherish sins in our private world. There are probably dozens of reasons why we resist calling out to the Lord.

I know I resist asking for help. I prefer to give help and to keep my neediness to myself. This means that I am slow to ask both other people and God for help. That is deranged, indeed. But I am not alone.

God indicted all of Israel by saying, “They do not cry to me from the heart, but they wail upon their beds” (Hos. 7:14).

Wailing on our beds is easy and natural. But crying out to the Lord is spiritual—it is a gift from the Spirit—but it is also the most human thing we can do. Real life begins with, “Help, I need Jesus.” Listen to how the psalms cry out to God:

Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me,
for I am poor and needy. (Ps. 86:1)

O Lord, God of my salvation;
I cry out day and night before you.
Let my prayer come before you;
incline your ear to my cry! (Ps. 88:1–2)2

We have no reason to resist. Humility before our Father, rescuer, and comforter; openness and freedom to speak what is on our hearts to Jesus, who calls us his friend—these are spiritual fundamentals.

Pray the Prayers of Scripture

From this starting point of humility, we can imitate the disciples and say, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples” (Luke 11:1). Then we can be tutored by the two hundred or more recorded prayers of Scripture. Think of these prayers as open doors into our deepest needs. Here are some of the prayers we find:

Prayer for Help in Trouble

“Help” in times of trouble will be one of our favorite types of prayers. Psalm 130 begins with the direst of pleas:

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord!
O Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
to the voice of my pleas for mercy! (Ps. 130:1–2)

Dire straits are best accompanied by “help.” We have a basic need to cry out, “Help.”

In the psalms, the request is often for deliverance from enemies who threaten to destroy the entire nation. In Psalm 130, the entreaty is more personal. The psalmist is teetering between life and death, and God invites us to speak the same words when we are in overwhelming and threatening situations. Either way—“help” for yourself or for your community—this is one of the ways that God teaches us to call out to him.

Prayer of Confession

“Lord, forgive me” is certainly one of the important prayers of Scripture, and we aspire to make it one of our favorites.

Forgiveness of sins is essential to human satisfaction. The Hebrew word for that satisfaction is shalom, which means that all is right before God, and when all is right before God, we experience an abiding peace that is unruffled by the disappointments of life. Only confession and forgiveness bring shalom.

We have a need to confess sin. When we confess sin and couple our confession with an accurate knowledge of God’s mercy, we can expect nothing short of a growing peace.

Psalm 130 begins with a plea for deliverance. The desperation is palpable. He needs help quickly. Yet notice where his mind goes:

If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
O Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness,
that you may be feared. (Ps. 130:3–4)

The psalmist knows that if there is no forgiveness of sins, there is no deliverance. Since there is forgiveness of sins, he is confident that nothing will separate him from the loving presence of his God, and if God is present, all is well.

When in doubt, confess something. Confess that you are struggling to pray, if needed. Confession is always a good place to start when we feel lost.

Prayer to Know the Lord Better

When God’s forgiveness takes hold of us and begins to transform our experience of everyday life, the door opens to surprise us with even more of God’s character. Who is this God who loves and forgives?

Notice the back and forth. The hardships of life provoke our prayer for help. Confession and forgiveness assure us that God will, indeed, help. Then our hearts are deflected from our circumstances and toward the Lord himself.

We start with a simple “help” to the Lord. That is the hardest step.

Psalm 46, for example, envisions the worst but doesn’t even ask for help. Instead, the psalmist knows that his greatest comfort lies in remembering who God is:

God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble. . . .
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.” (Ps. 46:1, 7)

The psalmist’s comfort is the knowledge of God.

For the psalmist, this knowledge was bound to God’s promises and past faithfulness to Israel, especially in the nation’s exodus from Egypt. For us, this knowledge is summarized in Jesus. His death and resurrection assure us of his love, forgiveness, presence, and faithfulness. He is the deepest satisfaction to the real needs of life.

Practice Praying

What we are trying to do is have Scripture shape the way we pray. To this end, we can highlight the prayers in Scripture and make them our own, but there is no reason to limit ourselves to the prayers of Scripture. Instead, we can make everything in Scripture a prayer. For example, every command in Scripture becomes an occasion for confession—“Lord, I fall far short, please forgive me”—and a request for power—“Lord, give me power to follow you fully.” The phrase in Psalm 62 about finding rest in God can be prayed as our aspiration: “Father, this is what I want—to rest in you alone. Please teach me that you alone, not my ability to figure things out, are my rock and rescue.”

Scripture takes us from circumstances to matters of the heart. Poor health, fears about those we love, financial stability in an unpredictable economy—Scripture takes these seriously and deepens them.

Prayer for our sick aunt will include her circumstances (physical health) and her soul. We will pray for healing, and we will pray that her inner person is renewed, especially through knowing God’s presence, while her body will never be fully renewed in this life.

Prayer about our selfish boss will include petition that the boss will act justly and (1) that we will be able to work knowing that Jesus himself is our boss (Eph. 6:5–6), or (2) that we will find opportunities to trade kindness for the boss’s selfishness (Eph. 4:32). Prayer for an out-of-control schedule can include (1) confession of wanting to please people (people pleasers are always saying yes); (2) confession of an obsession with video games; (3) faith to take a weekly Sabbath; or (4) grace to focus on what is in front of us as we trust God for the things yet to do.

We move from things seen to things unseen, circumstances to spiritual realities.

So we start with a simple “help” to the Lord. That is the hardest step. It is impossible in ourselves, which means that when we say it, we can take pleasure in God’s power at work within us.

And then a universe of communication possibilities opens up to us. Every cry of our hearts can be further shaped by Scripture. We cry out, God reveals more of his heart to us, we learn of him and speak more, he reveals himself more, we respond in thanks, and on and on. We need this communication, and we look forward to praying this way with others.


  1. C. S. Lewis, The Horse and His Boy (New York: Harper Trophy, 1954), 174.
  2. Similar psalms include 23; 40; 42; 46; 51; 62; 63; 73; 77; 84; 116; 121; 131.

This article is adapted from Side by Side: Walking with Others in Wisdom and Love by Edward T. Welch.

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