How Can I Pray When Life Becomes Unexpected?

In other words, we pray through the unexpected by armoring up. When life becomes unexpected, God has given us the tools to walk through it. He has given us his Word and the Holy Spirit. We have his wisdom and his protection.

Heather Riggleman
Woman in a mask holding a Bible

Congratulations. You’re a follower of Jesus. Life feels fuller, the trees are greener, and the future is filled with endless possibilities. Life is just peachy until the unexpected happens: Cancer, COVID-19, job loss, divorce, a wayward child.

You question what God is doing. You wonder if he cares or if he really is in control. You don’t understand or even know how to pray through the unexpected. Friend, we have all been there. Let me remind you what Jesus said. He said in this life you will have trouble. He didn’t say if he said when. He didn’t say he would put your life in a protective bubble. He didn’t say the unfair things wouldn’t touch you. He said, You will have trouble.

The earth is not our final home; we are destined for somewhere better. Hebrews 13:14 says, “For this world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come.” And just to be sure you understand that this world, our plans, and life are temporary, God makes it very clear in Proverbs 19:21 what to expect. “You can make many plans, but the Lord’s purpose will prevail.” There it is. Clear as day. God’s plans will always win out over our plans. We should always expect the unexpected with God!

In life, we have no way of knowing what the future holds; only God knows. It can leave us drained, disappointed, depressed, or even worse. No matter how strong we feel spiritually, the unexpected can and will come for a visit. But the key to combating the unexpected isn’t asking God why but instead, “Now, what God? I trust you.”

When we whisper, now what, we are submitting ourselves to God’s authority. This reminds us we are not in control. We’re reminded God can turn the worst situations into good. We’re reminded he is the Almighty! In turn, this protects us from the enemy because he would love nothing more than to get you alone with your negative thoughts.

Lysa TerKeurst says it best, “In the quiet, unexpressed, unwrestled — through disappointments, Satan is handcrafting his most damning weapons against us and those we love. It’s his subtle seduction to get us alone with our thoughts so he can slip in whispers that will develop our disappointments into destructive choices.”

The Power of Prayer

Another well-known author, Mark Patterson says, “Prayers are prophecies. They are the best predictors of your spiritual future. Who you become is determined by how you pray. Ultimately, the transcript of your prayers becomes the script of your life.”

So, what exactly is the power of prayer? The power of prayer isn’t in the words you utter. It’s not about what you pray or even how you pray. Prayer can be defined as talking to God, but it is much more than that.

The answer is found in one pivotal scripture. In Matthew 18:18-20, Jesus tells us about the power of prayer when he said,

“Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” 

The Apostle Paul, when writing to the church at Ephesus, had this reality on his mind. He was writing to a group of people that he so desired that they might walk well in this world in the midst of life’s battles and unexpected moments. He said it this way.

Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God so that you may be able to take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For we do not struggle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore, put on the whole armor of God so that you may be able to make your stand when the day of evil comes, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm, then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, and with the breastplate of righteousness in place and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. Take the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (Ephesians 6:10-18).

Armor Up

Priscilla Shirer, author of the Fervent: A Woman's Battle Plan to Serious, Specific, and Strategic Prayer, says, “Prayer is the portal that brings the power of heaven down to earth. It is kryptonite to the enemy and to all his ploys against you.”

In other words, we pray through the unexpected by armoring up. When life becomes unexpected, God has given us the tools to walk through it. He has given us his Word and the Holy Spirit. We have his wisdom and his protection.

Whenever anything unexpected happens in my life or in the life of my friends, we text each other to “Armor Up,” because we all know the battle is just beginning and we cannot possibly get through it without his armor. It means we need to refocus our thoughts and shift our perspective.

It reminds us to filter everything expected and unexpected through God’s Word. Psalm 25:15 reminds us: “My eyes are ever on the Lord, for only he will release my feet from the snare.” As we shift our focus, we begin to replace fear with faith.

Armoring up also reminds us of the role we have on this earth. You don’t wear high heels to a marathon, do you? No, you wear the best pair of running shoes you can find. The same is with us — when we actively put on the full armor of God, it prepares us for the unexpected, to navigate the unexpected, and to combat the unexpected.

Armoring up puts you on guard. 1 Peter 5:8 says, “Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.”

The enemy doesn’t cause all of the unexpected in our lives. We would give him far too much credit to believe that. But he can hit us when we are down. If he can get us to take our focus and thoughts off of Christ, then he can devour us. This is why it is imperative to be on guard when the unexpected strikes.

In other words, a strong root of faith, cultivated by the hard work of your personal relationship with Jesus, reading God’s Word, standing on his word as we armor up. This is how we pray and activate our faith when life becomes unexpected.

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/kzenon

Heather Riggleman is an author, national speaker, former award-winning journalist and podcast co-host of the Moms Together Podcast. She calls Nebraska home with her three kids and a husband of 21 years. She believes Jazzercise, Jesus, and tacos can fix anything and not necessarily in that order! She is author of I Call Him By Name Bible Study, the Bold Truths Prayer Journal,  Mama Needs a Time Out, and Let’s Talk About Prayer and a contributor to several books.  Her work has been featured on Proverbs 31 Ministries, MOPS, Today's Christian Woman, and Focus On the Family. You can find her at or on Facebook.  

Originally published August 14, 2020.