In a discouraging season of my life, many of my prayers have sounded like this:
“God, this isn’t fair…”
“God, only if you would change this little thing…”
“God, I’m tired, aren’t you tired of me whining? If so, please grant me this…”
“God, is it ok to cuss in prayer?” (And usually I’d end up doing so)
A part of me thought I had come to some new breakthroughs in how honest I was with God in my prayers. Surely He is pleased with how “authentic” and “real” my prayers must be! (Don’t we all have those words posted in our room somewhere? So it must be good) And I thought that was how I should pray in this season of suffering, by complaining and venting as much as I could to God. Sometimes it felt good, and other times it made me feel worse.
In reading the Psalms, I came to some clarity on what was missing in my prayers. This, not to say, any prayer need be formulaic or somehow it is “incomplete”. (Nor would He somehow answer a prayer that is better written, etc…) But what did help me was in recognizing that I did not have the full picture of how the Psalmists cried out to God. I thought that many of the Psalms were about these godly people lamenting and complaining and begging God, and in turn, showing honesty and passion. They would show a real struggle of their being, questioning their situations and getting mad at injustices and feeling like God had somehow forgotten about them. And I think I imitated that part well; I really let God know how I felt about this and that and was vulnerable and just let Him have it. But what I failed to do was the other half of what most of these “venting” Psalms showed.
Psalm 77 begins with: “In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord, in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying; my soul refuses to be comforted. When I remember God, I moan; when I meditate, my spirit faints” and closes with: “I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your wonders of old…you led your people like a flock…”
Psalm 102 begins with: “Do not hide your face from me in the day of my distress! … Because of my loud groaning my bones cling to my flesh.” It closes with: “You are the same, and your years have no end. The children of your servants shall dwell secure…”
Psalm 42 begins with, “Why are you cast down O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?” and closes with: “Hope in God; for I shall again praise Him, my salvation and my God”.
Psalm 55 begins with, “My heart is in anguish within me…fear and trembling comes upon me, and horror overwhelms me,” and closes with: “Cast your burden on the Lord and He will sustain you; He will never permit the righteous to be moved”.
Psalm 13 begins with, “How long O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” and closes with “But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because He has dealt bountifully with me.”
What’s seen is this: Remembrance of God’s character and gratitude that flows to worship. For every “How Long O Lord” There seemed to be at the end “But you are faithful”, and for every “Must the wicked prosper?” There was “I will remember your deeds”.
For every seeming complaint and rant, the Psalms would focus back onto God, His character and His goodness. And in doing so, many of these Psalms (not all of them! Some end on a solemn note) would end by the people blessing the Lord or singing His praises.
Usually that didn’t happen to me once I started ranting, I ended the prayer with a “come on God, hurry up” or “It’s not fair” kind of statement. But, after seeing how many of these Psalms that start on such a downer end up as praises, it did get me questioning my approach of being “vulnerable/authentic” in prayer.
The ranting and complaining part is so easy for any of us to do. I like to wallow in self pity, and it feels good to vent and be mad. But to forget what God has already done, both from personal experience as well as revealed in His Word, is not what I should strive for. And being authentic in prayer doesn’t mean I have to forget the reality that God is still King. And even if I vent, why do I need to ignore the fact that He has shown great things?
The next time I pray to God one of these angry long drawn out prayers, I would hope to eventually put my eyes back on Him, and remember that even though it doesn’t make sense, even though I might still be angry, that I can remember who He is: A loving Father, a gracious Redeemer, a Holy God who has already given me the miracle of new life and who will continue to make me more like Him.
I don’t think that will come naturally or easy to any of us, and even for this reminder we need His divine help. But hopefully remembering His faithful character and being grateful for His presence in our lives would help selfish people like me get my eyes off myself and onto a generous and loving Father, who loves me despite my rants and doubts and all.
Eun Soo is a youth pastor living in Denver, CO with his wife Gracia. They went to seminary together in Dallas and dreams of someday living in France, to either be super tourists or to spread the Gospel. Either way, it will be fun!