Are your prayers too polite?

wordswag_1510143547077The young man in the airport talked too loudly, sharing details of his life that made those of us within earshot uncomfortable.  I wondered if he was intoxicated, at first. Then, I decided to go sit by him while we waited to board the aircraft. It was soon clear that he was just a kid with some social adjustment problems, who did not get the cues that most of us understand. So, I listened and smiled, cringing in embarrassment for him as he shared things I did not need to know.   In contrast, I think of times in my living room, when I am among close friends. It is appropriate to engage in conversations that flow around deep feelings, hopes, dreams, life.

So, what do your prayers reveal about your relationship with your Heavenly Father?
Is He someone you know well, Whom you trust?
Or, are your prayers polite and formal?

Philip Yancey, in his book, Prayer, Does It Make Any Difference? – insists that Biblical prayer is different from the prayers that are heard in the average church on Sunday morning. “The church I attend reserves a time in which people in the pews can voice aloud their prayers.  Over the years, I have hard hundreds of these prayers and with very few exceptions, the word polite applies.  One, however, stand out in my memory because of its raw emotion.  In a clear, but wavering, voice a young woman began with the words, “God, I hated you after the rape!  How could you let this happen to me?”   The congregation abruptly fell silent;  no more rustling of paper, or shifting in their seats.  “And I hated the people in the church who tried to comfort me.  I didn’t want comfort, I wanted revenge.  I wanted to hurt back, I thank you God that you didn’t give up on me, and neither did some of these people.  You kept after me until I came back to you.  Now I ask that you heal the scars in my soul.” – {Christianity Today, October, 2006} Raw, intense, personal – and for many – unthinkable!

Yet, if we read David’s prayers in the Psalms, for example, we find similar emotions. Ever prayed like this?  “O Lord, don’t rebuke me in your anger or discipline me in your rage! Your arrows have struck deep, and your blows are crushing me. Because of your anger, my whole body is sick; my health is broken because of my sins. My guilt overwhelms me— it is a burden too heavy to bear. . . . My heart beats wildly, my strength fails, and I am going blind. . . . Do not abandon me, O Lord. Do not stand at a distance, my God.” (Psalm 38:1-4, 10, 21, NLT)

Moses, who was given the arduous task of shaping a slave people into a nation that would be the people of God, grew angry with their constant complaints and rebellion.   This man of God grew frustrated beyond measure.  He prayed,  “Why are you treating me, your servant, so miserably? What did I do to deserve the burden of a people like this? Are they my children? Am I their father? Is that why you have told me to carry them in my arms—like a nurse carries a baby—to the land you swore to give their ancestors? Where am I supposed to get meat for all these people? They keep complaining and saying, ‘Give us meat!’ I can’t carry all these people by myself! The load is far too heavy! I’d rather you killed me than treat me like this. Please spare me this misery!” (Numbers 11:10-15, NLT)

Abraham, when he heard of God’s plan to destroy Sodom, bargained with God. “Would you spare the city if I can find 50 righteous people in it?  How about 40, maybe 30?”    “I know I’m trying your patience, Master, but how about for twenty?” “I won’t destroy it for twenty.” (Genesis 18:31, The Message)

Jesus, in the garden the night before His crucifixion, begged the Father, “Is there another way?  Please let this cup pass from me!”

My point today is not that we have to insult God, complain when we pray, or strive for some fake authenticity!  I have heard those prayers, too.  When someone tries too hard to be more intimate with the Lord than they are, their prayers make me as uncomfortable as that young man who did not understand the social code that prevails in a public place.  Prayers that pretend a deeper intimacy than actually exists come off as forced, phony, and hollow.

God invites us to come to Him, as we are, where we are.  We bring our joy, our disappointment, our confusion, our sins, our temptations, our victories.  We praise, petition, and worship.

 God wants to know us and I am convinced that we do not honor Him by concealing our true feelings in prayer!  Jesus’ counsel to us is to ‘go into our prayer closet rather than standing on the street corners’ when we pray. There, alone with God, we get real. We can, like Jacob, wrestle with Him!  He’ll win, but we will learn in the process – about ourselves and about Him.  He’s not intimidated by our hard questions.   We only sin if we dismiss God from our lives with an arrogant, “I can do it myself” kind of prayer.   There is no sin in asking boldly, in praying honestly, in telling our Lord we’re not on the same page, singing from the same hymnal, as He is.   Here’s the truth – He knows what’s hidden in the corners of our mind!

If we pray only nice and polite prayers the only one being spared the truth is us!

Raw emotions are terrifying, because they threaten our sense of control.  But, I can say from my own experiences of prayer, when I let go and let myself get real with God, angry enough to physically tremble, broken enough to sob, joyful enough to sing loudly –  I get up from my face knowing that He’s touched me.  I go out from those prayers knowing I am not alone, walking with my Friend. Anyone who saw me or heard me praying in those moments, might well conclude I’d taken leave of my sanity, but God – who knows me better than anyone in the world, loves me through the stormy prayers.

Pray with intensity.  Love God by sharing your true heart; with all its sins and grief and joy,  with Him.  He will love you for it.  

Here’s a word from the Word on which to meditate today- “Since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:14-16, NIV)

Now, go find a place alone and spend some time with the One who knows you best and loves you most.

______________

Lord You Have My Heart

Lord You have my heart
And I will search for Yours
Jesus take my life and lead me on
Lord You have my heart
And I will search for Yours
Let me be to You a sacrifice

 And I will praise You Lord
And I will sing of love come down
And as You show Your face
We’ll see Your glory here

Martin Smith © 1992 Thankyou Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

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