What to Pray When You Don’t Know What to Pray

Learn a simple ancient prayer that your heart can pray when you don't know how to pray.

Sometimes I struggle with prayer. How to pray. What to pray. When to find time to pray. And how on earth can I accomplish prayer without ceasing?

Recently I discovered a short prayer that has been used for centuries. This short prayer is derived from the words of Blind Bartimaeus in Mark 10:47 and the tax collector in Jesus’ parable in Luke 18:13. The prayer is simply,

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of David, have mercy on me, a sinner.

This short prayer expresses the heartfelt need of God’s grace. It voices the confidence that Jesus, the Son of David and Son of God, can pour out His mercy upon us. It is a prayer to be prayed in times of great need and in small ordinary moments of the day.

I read about this prayer in several books about Christian spirituality. A couple of friends told me how praying this prayer throughout the day kept their thoughts centered on God. But I bristled against this prayer at first. Reminding myself that I am a sinner didn’t seem particularly comforting. But in breathing out this prayer I remember I can do nothing without God’s grace. Offering this petition opens my heart to receive the mercy and love I so desperately need every minute of every day. Author John Kleinig’s words in his book Grace Upon Grace makes this clear:

In our spiritual life we are much like helpless babies…Apart from Jesus, we can accomplish nothing spiritually…However, unlike babies, we do not outgrow our helplessness before God…If there is one thing we discover as we grow older and gain in experience, it is that before God we are nothing but beggars…we can only cry out to Jesus, as beggars did in the ancient world: “Lord, have mercy!” (p, 182-183)

The more I use this prayer, the more my spirit soars to the love of Christ. The more I repeat these words, the more I realize how vast God’s mercy truly is. The more is plead, “Have mercy on me” the more I realize there is nothing I can do to earn the Father’s mercy. It is all a gift. I can stop striving to get it. He longs to give it to me. I only need to open my hands to receive.

Just as we can do nothing physically without breathing, we can do nothing spiritually without Jesus. Breathe in your Savior’s name and breathe out a desperate prayer for grace. Receive what you need in the moment.

Luke 18-13

What prayer do you pray when you don’t know how to pray?


  1. Orchid Girl says:

    I typically do the Lord’s Prayer that Jesus taught to the disciples when asked how to pray in the morning and before going to sleep at night. I will, however, beginning praying this one throughout the day †

  2. Sherry Lobo says:

    A lovely Eastern prayer of the heart is ‘the Jesus Prayer’:

    ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. (and on the whole world)’

    This is an ejaculatory prayer that you can just keep on chanting rhythmically with your breathing and while doing absolutely anything, daily chores, or even when lying down. It humbles and also draws one into deeper reflection. Have a nice day- God Bless!

    • Hi Sherry, I love the Jesus Prayer–although it took me awhile to love it. It does help me focus on Jesus and on the fact that I need Him every minute of every day! God bless you!

  3. Merry Christmas! I was drawn to this site because a relative has a horrible dental issue today. Of course, we cannot find a dentist open, so the only thing I knew to do was pray for them. I thank you for such a beautiful simple prayer. It is true that ultimately, all we can do is repent and ask for His mercy. Hope everyone can feel His grace and love today and always! Joy to the world! The LORD has come!

  4. I do hope this follow up will be received in the way it is intended. I was looking up the story of blind Bartimaeus after reading this article, however, could not find it where you listed. It is actually in Mark 10:47. I just wanted to let you know. Thanks again for the prayer suggestion.

  5. Thank you for sharing this…I really needed it today.


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