In last week’s post, I shared three aspects of what prayer can (should?) be. Like with all communication between close friends, we should find ourselves sending messages and expecting replies, receiving messages and sending replies, and regularly checking in with the other person.
But prayer is not just talking with any person, it is talking to God. And thus, most of us struggle with these concepts for a variety of reasons. And perhaps one of the biggest reasons is a fear of asking hard questions.
Honestly, most people struggle with having difficult conversations in general. We like easy, and non-committal conversations but going deeper makes us vulnerable. And being vulnerable, by definition, leaves us uncomfortable, and thus we avoid it – as often as possible.
It is the reason that many joke about not having conversations about politics or religion. These types of conversation require us to expose our thoughts and beliefs and often challenge us to think deeper about concepts and ideas than we would otherwise choose to think.
Likewise talking with God beyond offering a very simplistic prayer that most of us would rather (and often) say is especially difficult. Perhaps we believe He does not care. Perhaps we believe He will punish us for questioning Him.
Whatever our thoughts, I want to provide two quick ideas that should dispel that thinking and give us confidence to be open, to be honest, and to challenge ourselves in praying with courage.
The Lord’s Prayer
Over the past many years, I have tried to call this prayer anything other than the Lord’s Prayer. The most common title I use is the Disciples’ Prayer, but a lifetime of habit makes the change difficult. My rationale for the name change is that we have no indication that Jesus ever prayed this prayer (although He may have). But He did teach the disciples to pray in this way (Matthew 6.9 and Luke 11.2).
But my point is not in what to call the prayer, but what Jesus says about the prayer just before He taught them.
In Matthew 6.5-8, Jesus says our prayers should not be public spectacles, at least, until we have taken time to pray privately (Matthew 6.5-6).
Then in verses 7-8, Jesus says our prayers should not be filled with “empty phrases.” Jesus then mentions the idea that many thought the length of prayer was important, but empty phrases can also include mindless repetition. In other words, praying words without really thinking about them.
Let’s be honest. How many of us have prayed “The Lord’s Prayer” without thinking about the words we say? If I am completely honest, I am now struggling to pray the line about “Forgiving our debts (trespasses)” because I don’t know if others are willing to forgive others (we are stating a condition – “as” or “if” and doing it as part of a collective – as “we” forgive others).
If Jesus gave the words to this prayer right after effectively saying, “Don’t pray without thinking” then we should not pray the words because they are simply memorized.
Furthermore, I believe Jesus is inviting us to pray with thought. In other words, we are to give clear thought to our prayers and that includes being willing to think deeply, to ponder deeply, and even to challenge our assumptions about God – within the framework of communicating with God.
Being Willing to Approach God with Tough Questions
Two verses provide me with ample evidence that God is not waiting to punish us for asking questions.
Hebrews 4.16: Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Matthew 27.46: And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Why are these verses important? The second shows that Jesus questioned God – very directly and with a great challenge. Jesus felt abandoned and let His Father know it. He was not scared to express His emotions in the moment. This is not a matter of a lack of faith. Indeed, Jesus crying out shows deep faith because God is a loving God. The Father did not stop loving Jesus in that moment; Jesus simply did not “feel” that love for the only moment in all of eternity.
The previous verse mentioned that because Jesus understands us (Hebrews 4.15), we can be bold in approaching the throne of God. Bold does not mean arrogant; rather, we can have utter confidence, while remaining humble, that God will hear us. (Hebrews 10.19-22 shares a similar sentiment.)
So, we can and should think as we pray. We can ask God challenging questions to help us better understand our situation, His will for us, etc.
But if we venture to engage God in meaningful communication, we must be ready for His response. And His response may require an increased responsibility. As I have often said, God is not afraid of our questions, but we are often afraid of His answers.
Are you willing to engage God more deeply in prayer? If so, I encourage you to do so with confidence and humility. If not, what is preventing you from doing so? Ask God, openly and honestly to help you overcome any concerns, any doubts, or even fears. He is waiting to hear from you. So send your message and then expect a response. Then repeat the process again!
The following picture is a teaser for the announcement that was first mentioned in my post on June 27. In next week’s post I will share the next step in my journey and my goal of personally living in, but not of, this world.