Best of Daily Reflections: Meeting God in Honest Prayer
We should lift up our hearts and hands to God in heaven.
For the last several days, I have been mulling over the question “What enables us to keep on trusting in God’s faithful love when our lives are stung by suffering?” I’ve pointed to the encouragement we receive from Scripture, from Jesus Christ, and from Christian community. Today, I want to offer one further way to hang in there with God during difficult times.
As Lamentations 3:41 puts it, “We should lift up our hearts and hands to God in heaven.” This is a poetic way of saying that we should pray openly and energetically. When we’re suffering, it can be tempting to stop praying altogether. God feels distant. We worry that God has abandoned us. Or we figure that, at any rate, he’s sick and tired of our prayers. So we stop praying. This is understandable, but it cuts us off from one of the main supports to our faith.
The third chapter of Lamentations exemplifies the kind of honest, open-hearted prayer that keeps us connected to God. It begins with a full-throated lament about how God has hurt the writer. Then it moves into a stunning celebration of God’s faithfulness and renewing mercies. But that’s not the end. After this pinnacle of trust, the writer of Lamentations accuses God in outrageous language: “You made us trash and garbage in front of all other people” (3:45). Then, after telling God how much he has been crying (3:48-49), the writer begs God to punish those who have hurt him: “Give them a tortured mind–put your curse on them!” (3:65). Now if this isn’t honest prayer, I don’t know what is.
When we are hurting, sometimes it seems as if God has turned his back to us. Yet, at other times, he makes his love known to us as we open our hearts to him in prayer. Let me tell one more story from the time when my dad was dying. For months, I prayed for his healing on a daily basis, sometimes alone, sometimes with others. There were moments of hope, but these quickly dissipated.
One day, I was walking in the hills above my parents’ home, crying out to God for help. As I poured out my heart, all of a sudden I felt God’s presence. It was almost a physical sensation. In that moment, I knew two things with deep conviction. First, I knew that my dad would soon die. Second, I knew that God loved me and my family and would never let us go. You might think that I was confused by the seeming inconsistency between these two thoughts. But, in that moment, I felt a miraculous sense of peace. What I had wanted when I prayed was for God to heal my dad. What I got was the life-changing presence of God and a profound reassurance of his love.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Have you ever encountered God in the midst of honest prayer? What keeps you from praying? What helps you to pray more consistently? More honestly?
PRAYER: O Lord, yes, yes, may I lift up my heart and my hands to you. May I pray consistently, faithfully, honestly. Help me, Lord, to remain in communication with you as I live my life each day, at work and in the car, when I’m reading a report and speaking with a colleague, when I’m having dinner with my family or walking the dog with my wife.
Give me special grace, Lord, to pray when I’m hurting. If I’m tempted to cut off our conversation, help me to persevere.
All praise be to you, O God, because you are not only a God of comfort. You are also a God who wants relationship with me. What a wonder! Amen.