Friday, July 7, 2017

Prayer Misconception #1: "It has to be just right"

            Misconception Number 1:  Prayer has to be “just right” or God won’t like it.  And that makes me freeze up because I don’t know what to say. 
            I have to say honestly that I used to believe this.  It wasn’t so much a spelled-out, conscious thought.  But it was always there in the back of mind, causing me to edit my prayers or to try to word them in pleasing, faithful-sounding ways. 
            I felt like there were so many things that Christians were supposed to be - faithful, joyful, trusting, not envious, not complaining, not doubtful, etc. - that I couldn’t just be honest about what I was feeling and thinking. 

            I didn’t realize that I could admit to confusion and doubts and fears.  Because that wouldn’t sound very Christianly, would it?  So as I would start to pray, if I was going to say something that sounded displeasing or doubtful or angry, I would alter the words and try to make it sound so proper and righteous and polished.  I wanted to be pleasing to God. 
            And there is nothing wrong with being pleasing . . . except when it takes the place of honesty and transparency with the Lord, when it causes us to hide parts of ourselves from Him for fear of disappointing Him. 
            And for many of us, we try to be a “pleasing” Christian not so much because we want to honor Him but because we are afraid of what will happen if we don’t please Him.  Because we haven’t really grasped the magnitude of His love for us.  Because we don’t feel like He could truly love us, as we are.  We know of His love, but we haven’t yet let it fill us and heal us.  We haven’t yet let ourselves accept it because of past hurts and fears and doubts and negative self-views.     
            And when we are living in that state, we are living not out of God’s love but out of our fears.  We fear not being worthy, not being good enough, being a burden to Him, and being abandoned by Him because of our shortcomings.  And so we put on that “good Christian” mask and try to earn His love and attention and approval.  And we can’t possibly believe that God wants us to be completely honest and transparent with Him, even in our prayers, when there is so much “ugliness” inside. 

            Well, after living this way for decades, I have come to the opposite conclusion.  God doesn’t want us to be pleasing if it means that we are being less than honest.  Anything less than all-out, ugly honesty is deception.  And deception breeds distance between Him and us.  And if there’s one thing that God died for, it’s closeness.  Honesty brings closeness.  Besides, we are not impressing God anyway with our attempts to be righteous and pleasing when it means that we are hiding what’s really inside of us and walling off a part of our hearts from Him.
            And so I learned that I needed to pray differently.  Instead of hiding my fears and doubts, I confessed them.  If I was angry or hurt because of God’s silence, I admitted it to Him.  If I felt like I didn’t have any strength or hope to keep me going anymore, I poured that out to Him.  And the walls started to come down. 
            I wasn’t concerned anymore with keeping up a strong front.  I just wanted to be close to Him.  I didn’t want to “try and do” so hard anymore; I just wanted to “rest and be” with Him.  And I could tell that by being honest with Him and pouring it all out and sharing with Him all the ugly fears and doubts inside, I was opening up parts of my heart that I had kept hidden and protected for so long. 
            It’s exhausting to hold shut all those rooms in your heart that are bursting with ache and pain and fear and doubt, to keep trying your best to look like you’ve got it all together when you’re falling apart inside, to not even know you are falling apart inside because you won’t admit it to yourself. 

            Can you doubt and be angry and still be a Christian?  Absolutely.  Just talk to God about it.  The way I see it, having doubts or being angry is not sin.  The Word tells us that when we are angry, we should not sin in our anger.  It doesn’t tell us “don’t be angry.”  Anger is a feeling, and sometimes it’s very justifiable and righteous.  And many times, it’s an indication that there is something else going on inside of us that needs to be dealt with.  The feeling itself is not a sin.  It’s what we do with it or because of it that makes it sin or not.
            And I think it’s this way with doubt also.  We will all have doubts from time to time.  Sometimes they will be stronger and sometimes they will be more hidden.  But there will always be doubt.  Not necessarily doubt about God’s existence (although that may pop up from time to time), but doubts or concerns about the way He moves and works, doubts about if He is listening or if He cares, doubts about His leading and His answers to prayer, doubts about our understanding of the Bible, prayer, Christianity, and ourselves.
            And while there may be those who will disagree with me, I don’t think that it is a sin to have doubts.  Doubts are just things that we are confused about.  They are unanswered questions.  They are concerns.  We find them behind our pain and fears and in the holes in our hearts.  But it’s not about having doubts; it’s about what we do with them.  Do we let them drive us to the Lord or away from Him?  This is what determines if doubts are destructive or not. 
            And doubts can be very constructive if we let them push us closer to God.  They can be great builders of our faith if we let them drive us to prayer and the Word and answers, instead of wallowing in them or giving up on God or taking a step backward. 
            As Jesus told “Doubting Thomas” in John 20:27, “Put your finger here; see my hands.  Reach out your hand and put it into my side.  Stop doubting and believe.”  Jesus used Thomas’s doubts to draw him closer to Himself, basically saying, “You’ve doubted and sought answers.  And now that I have given them to you, believe!”  Do not hide doubts from God in shame.  Let them build up your relationship with Him, through greater honesty and a passionate pursuit of Him. 

            Complaining to others is griping, but “complaining” to God is prayer.  I put complaining in quotes because I don’t mean whining and blaming and accusing; I mean pouring out our hearts and crying out to Him.  Prayer needs to be honest, not “pleasing.”  Prayer doesn’t need to be polished or follow some formula; it needs to be about presenting to God whatever is in your heart and mind.  Doubts, fears, praise, confessions, and all.  This will bring God closer than any “righteous-sounding, self-sacrificial, martyr-like” prayer ever could.  When we cry out to Him, He hears us.
            Psalm 34:17-18“The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles.  The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”