Let’s talk about prayer for a moment. How does God really want us to pray? What expectations are we to gain from practicing prayer? Before we go too far, let’s agree on one thing, all prayer is good. The poem-like invocations and benediction we may hear at church. The hurried giving of grace before a meal. Even the prayers that don’t seem like prayers such as the exasperated sigh of “heaven help me.” But above all, prayer is to be genuine.
God is so interested and open and desiring for us to be genuine and real in our prayers that He inspired Psalms 38. It opens, “O Lord, don’t rebuke me in your anger or discipline me in your rage! Your arrows have struck deep, and your blows are crushing me.” (Psalm 38:1–2, NLT)
Most of its 22 verses lay out all the problems, hurts, and concerns of the person praying. The person praying feels God’s anger, their health is broken, guilt overwhelms them, their wounds fester, racked with pain and fever, exhausted, crushed, anguished, heart problems, dimness of sight, loneliness, enemies are laying traps, silent, near-total collapse and more.
Nowhere does the writer suggest a solution. They don’t ask for healing, the removal or destruction of their enemies, or offer to God how to address their many issues. Although other Psalms do. Neither does the writer rail at God, claiming Him to be unloving, unfair, or capricious because of their problems. Amid all these issues, the Psalmist prays, “For I am waiting (with hope) for you, O Lord. You must answer for me, O Lord my God.” (Psalm 38:15, NLT) But nowhere do they suggest or request a specific answer.
Now, I’m not suggesting that we never ask specifically. There are times to pray in faith (Hebrews 11:1). But the problem does come up when we ask for a specific answer, and God moves differently. In those moments, we may feel that our prayers were not answered, but they were.
Sometimes, prayer is simply telling God what is going on and opening ourselves up for whatever ways God chooses to answer. That “pray it out” kind of prayer looks like this – “Lord, this is what is happening right now. This is how I am feeling. These are my fears, my hopes, and my sins. I don’t have all the answers, but I’m trusting in You.” No grand bargains, no attempts to control, no formulas intended to move God to meet our demands. Just an honest and open conversation built on faith, hope, and love.
God invites these kinds of prayers. Peter wrote, “Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.” (1 Peter 5:7, NLT) And Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28, NLT) It’s like God is saying, “let me carry that for you.”
How will God answer? In whatever way is best. Not best as we see it, but best as He sees it. There are other kinds of prayer where we do ask for God’s intervention, for His healing touch, for a miraculous change of circumstances. But many of those answers, as miraculous as they are, are fleeting. Lazarus did die again. But a changed heart, a renewed hope, a strengthened love – those last forever.
So, dare to tell God the truth. Tell Him your hurts, your worries, your complaints, and your sins. Put your hope and trust in Him. Give it up and pray it out.