What is your prayer life like?
Are there times when you feel like it’s easier or harder to pray to God?
Perhaps you know the feeling of wanting to pray about something, but you just can’t work out how to start or how to explain the thing. You can remember a time when prayer felt like a long walk along a straight road, but now praying feels like stumbling through a maze.
Prayer like a business plan
When things have order and logic, prayer is easier. But right now, the upheaval of life means your thoughts and feelings are getting in the way.
Dear friend, my exhortation is this: in this moment, God still wants to hear your messy prayer.
If we have a deep longing for super-ordered, logical prayer, it can stem from a few different places: sometimes it’s the desire to make sense of the thing within our own minds—something like a “processing prayer”.
Perhaps we really want to make sure our prayers match our theology. That’s not a bad thing, by the way. However, behind the good desire to have a perfect prayer can lie a desire for control over our lives, or even an inaccurate picture of our heavenly Father as a miserly boss who needs every “i” dotted and “t” crossed before signing off on our request form.
But whenever we find ourselves grasping around in the dark, trying to impose structure on the messiness of our situation, we need to remember who it is we are praying to. Because God loves our messy prayers.
We have a Father who we can come to in need
In Romans, the writer Paul tells us that we “…did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:15). It sounds a little weird for all of God’s children to be called “sons”, but here we see that because we are part of God’s family (and truly part of God’s family–inheritors, not just the kid who is always at your house), we can call him “Abba”.
“Abba” is an Aramaic word which means “Father”, and it’s a word which reveals an intimate relationship between the father and the child, rather than something distant or formal.
And that’s what we have with our heavenly Father: we are so important to our heavenly Father, our Abba, that an inability to put things into words can’t keep him from hearing us.
We have the Son who provides us with a pattern of prayer
If there was ever someone who has the authority on how to pray, it has to be Jesus, right? The gospels show us a great variety in Jesus’ prayers.
Of note are the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:9-13, and Jesus’ prayer to the Father in John 17. In them, we have very different styles of prayer. In Matthew 6, there’s a distinct order to how Jesus prays:
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. (Matt 6:9-13)
—whereas Jesus’ prayer to the Father in John 17 goes back and forth on each topic a few times before moving on:
I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. (John 17:6–8)
Yes, Jesus gives us a structure we can follow when he teaches us to pray in Matthew 6. The prayer we know as the Lord’s Prayer is such a simple and yet profound model for us to use. But at the same time, Jesus isn’t shy about pouring his heart out in prayer. When Jesus prays in the garden of Gethsemane before he’s arrested, it’s a tangled knot of feelings:
And [Jesus] said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.” And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (Mark 14:34–36).
Despite being overwhelmed with emotion, Jesus came to his Father and poured out his heart. This should give us great confidence that God hears our messy prayers.
So pour your heart out. It’s okay to take the whole mess of how we are feeling to him and say, “Please help.” Our prayers don’t have to make sense as we start, but often I’ve found that just starting can make a world of difference in speaking to God:
Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us. (Psalm 67:8)
We have the Holy Spirit who translates our prayers
In his letter to the Romans, Paul writes,
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” (Rom 8:26–27)
If you were ever afraid of not making sense in your prayers to our Father, then take heart from the knowledge that the Holy Spirit proofreads them, translating the complex state of our hearts into a prayer that can be taken into the throne room of God.
It’s not on us to have everything make perfect sense.
Pray like a child of God
Have you listened to a child tell you about their day before? It lacks order of importance and chronological order, but that’s not what the kid is concerned about; they want to speak to you. It’s similar with God and us.
So trust that God can and will do something about the thing you’re bringing to him. The answer might not be what you expect, but God our Father knows how to give good gifts (Matt 7:7–11). After all, he has given us the best gift in Jesus, in a hope for the future, and a life knowing him now.
The world might be in upheaval, but God’s good at keeping promises.