Fuller

Being Honest with God in Prayer

April 11, 2022 • Life for Leaders

Scripture – Lamentations 3:40-41 (NRSV)

Let us test and examine our ways,
+++and return to the LORD.
Let us lift up our hearts as well as our hands
+++to God in heaven.

Focus

Time and again, the Bible invites us to be fully honest with God. No matter what we’re thinking or feeling, we can talk openly to God about it. The most stunning example of such openness in prayer comes in the Garden of Gethsemane, when Jesus prays on the night before he is crucified. In shocking candor, Jesus asks his Heavenly Father to take the “cup” away from him, the cup of suffering, the cup of the cross. Yet, having shared his deepest yearnings, Jesus also offered himself fully to God, to walk faithfully on the road of suffering.

Today’s devotion is part of the series Lamentations in Lent.

Devotion

As you know, recently I have been mulling over the question “How can I trust God when I’m 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, “Let us lift up our hearts as well as our 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, God is 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, namely, conversation with God.

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 have made us filth and rubbish among the peoples” (Lamentations 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 anguish of heart; your curse be 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 away from us. Yet, at other times, God makes his love known to us as we open our hearts in prayer. Let me share with you a story from the time when my dad was dying. I’m thinking that I have told this story before in Life for Leaders, but it seems right to tell it again here.

For months and months as cancer ravaged my dad’s body, I prayed for his healing, every day, several times a day. I prayed alone. I prayed with others. I prayed while driving and working. As I prayed, 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 as usual. While pouring out my heart, all of a sudden I felt God’s presence in a powerful way. It was almost a physical sensation. I know God is always with me, but sometimes God graciously helps me to know, even to feel his presence. In that moment, God gave me two gifts of knowledge. First, I knew that my dad would soon die. The healing for which I was asking would not be granted, at least in this life. Second, I also knew that God loved me and my family and would never let us go. It might appear that I was confused by the seeming inconsistency between these two bits of knowledge. But, in that moment, I also felt a miraculous sense of peace. What I had wanted when I prayed was for God to heal my dad. This would not happen. What I got was the life-changing presence of God and a profound reassurance of God’s love.

Of course, God could have met me when I wasn’t praying. God shows up whenever God wants to, of course. But I do believe that because I was praying so honestly, my heart was open. I was ready to hear from the Lord, to be both saddened and gladdened by what I heard.

A sculpture of Jesus in prayer, embedded in the wall of the Garden of Gethsemane in Jerusalem. © Mark Roberts, 2022

Perhaps the greatest example of honesty in prayer comes during Holy Week. The gospels teach us that Jesus knew he was going to be crucified. He had told his disciples it was necessary. Thus, when Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray, he knew what lay before him. He had known it for many months and now it was time for him to do what was required of him. (The photo is a sculpture of Jesus in prayer, embedded in the wall of the Garden of Gethsemane in Jerusalem. © Mark Roberts, 2022).

But, in his prayer in Gethsemane, Jesus asked for something that is truly mind-blowing: “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want” (Mark 14:36). Yes, to be sure, Jesus was surrendering to his Father’s will. But that was the second part of the prayer. In the first part, he asked for the “cup” to be removed. Jesus was asking for another way, for something other than the cross. But wait—we might object—he knew what the Father’s will was. Yes, he did. But even then, Jesus, the unique Son of God, felt free to ask for another way. This is utterly astounding. If it were not in Scripture, we’d say it couldn’t be so.

The prayerful honesty of Jesus in Gethsemane confirms what we find elsewhere in Scripture, in the Psalms, to be sure, and also in Lamentations. God invites us to open our souls, to lift up our hearts and our hands, praying honestly and energetically, holding nothing back.

May God give you the grace to do this today and in all the days ahead.

Reflect

Have you ever encountered God in the midst of honest prayer?

What keeps you from praying honestly?

What helps you to pray more consistently? More honestly?

Act

Read the story of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane in Mark 14:32-42. Take time to reflect on this story and what it means to you.

Pray

Gracious God, 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.

Give me special grace, Lord, to pray when I’m hurting. If I’m tempted to cut off our conversation, help me to persevere.

Thank you for the example of Jesus in the Garden, for his stunning demonstration of openness in prayer, as well as for his willingness to do your will, no matter what.

All praise be to you, O God, because you are not only a God of comfort. You are also a God who wants a relationship with me. What a wonder! Amen.

Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Best of Daily Reflections: The Most Unexpected Prayer


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