Is prayer just for praising God and asking politely for things we’d like? Maybe that is what happens if we think God is an Englishman – we can’t go round showing emotions, can we?
The “stiff upper lip” doesn’t seem to have been an Israelite trait. The Psalms are full of direct, searching questions, born out of frustration, fear, loneliness, desperation and other “negative” emotions:
- “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer…” (Psalm 22:1-2, NIV)
- “Because of your wrath there is no health in my body; there is no soundness in my bones because of my sin” (Psalm 38:3, TNIV)
- “O Lord, all my longing is before you; my sighing is not hidden from you.” (Psalm 38:9, ESV)
- “O God, listen to my complaint. Protect my life from my enemies’ threats” (Psalm 64:1, NLT)
- “Our God, why have you completely rejected us? Why are you so angry with the ones you care for?” (Psalm 74:1, CEV)
- “Listen to my prayer, O Lord, and hear my cry for help! When I am in trouble, don’t turn away from me! Listen to me, and answer me quickly when I call!” (Psalm 102:1-2, GNT)
It is not just the Psalmists that are so frank with God about how they are feeling, others do it too:
- “O LORD, you deceived me, and I was deceived; you overpowered me and prevailed. I am ridiculed all day long; everyone mocks me… Why did I ever come out of the womb to see trouble and sorrow and to end my days in shame?” (Jeremiah 20:7, 18, NIV)
- “‘It’s too much, Lord,’ he prayed. ‘Take away my life; I might as well be dead!'” (1 Kings 19:4, GNT)
- “‘Meaningless! Meaningless!’ says the Teacher. ‘Everything is meaningless!'” (Ecclesiastes 12:8, NIV)
Yes, it is true that in many instances these feelings are turned around and a positive attitude of faith then follows. However, this does not mean that the initial feelings didn’t occur, were invalid or inappropriate to bring to God. The turning point seems to have come after these emotions were voiced.
So, how honest are we about our feelings in prayer? Do we tell God how we really feel or hide behind a veil of piety, saying what we think we are “supposed” to say?
© Joe Lenton, July 2012