I cry out to the Lord with my voice; With my voice to the Lord I make my supplication. I pour out my complaint before Him; I declare before Him my trouble. (Psalm 142:1-2)
We can learn so many things from the life of David, the shepherd-king who loved the Lord. He stands as a powerful example – not as a ‘perfect’ man, but rather one ‘after God’s own heart,’ a man not afraid to be completely honest before God and before man. Perhaps the most powerful lesson that we can glean from the psalms written by this great man of God is how to pray. When reading the psalms we don’t see a super-spiritual man who always seems to be strong in faith, untouchable and unshakeable, rooted on the rock and unperturbed by the happenings around him. Rather, we see a man unafraid of the sometimes raw human emotions that assail us all. In all aspects of his life, David is intensely, passionately human. His weaknesses are ‘out there’ for all to see. His errors aren’t hidden behind politically expedient PR. What emerges is that David had a prayer relationship with God that provides an encouragement to all of us to pray as he did – with absolute honesty.
Powerful prayer requires that we are first completely honest with God.
There is a prevalent misconception – a whitewash in the church – that creates the perception that real faith doesn’t acknowledge the problems. While this may seem valid and even something to be admired, it’s actually a skewing of the truth. It’s also the reason why so many believers get despondent, feeling that somehow, they can never seem to find the kind of faith that ‘measures up.’ They interpret loud prayer, the kind that seems to fervently declare the Word in apparent unshakeable faith, as being powerful prayer. They assume that this is the kind of prayer that God wants, that it is the kind of prayer that brings transformation and results.
While this may well be the case, it is just as often little more than a spiritual veneer – a semblance of faith, an outward show that disguises an inward lack. The real truth is that many of these outwardly full of faith Christians have not yet learned to be honest with God. Real faith is only possible when we acknowledge the problems. We have to look the situation or difficulty in the eye before we can believe that God can and will change it. This is why David’s example is so powerful. Before he exercised his faith for God’s intervention, he first laid out the issue before God exactly as he saw it. David was a man of powerful prayer because he did not avoid the issue. He first brought God his problems, the emotions they stirred up in him, his weaknessess, and the things he struggled with.
This kind of honesty requires courage. Pride works in us to perpetuate the world’s standards of not showing weakness, always being in control, having it all together, and being just that much stronger than everyone else. People spend a great deal of their time playing roles and playing at being successful in them. Raw honesty is reserved for times with the psychologist on the understanding that it’s entirely confidential. No one will know what we’re really feeling, doing, or saying. But this is the kind of honesty that engenders powerful prayer. It requires courage, passion, and commitment. When we can come before God and lay it all out before Him, it humbles us and brings us to the place where He can begin to work in us.
We have a tendency to skip over all the ‘stuff’ and get straight to the ‘prayer of faith,’ working on the assumption that God knows already. This, however, is irrelevant. He does know, because He’s omniscient. But He wants us to know. That is the first purpose behind absolute honesty in prayer. God wants us to look at our situation, look at ourselves, and look at our inability to deal with it on our own. Real faith isn’t a matter of ignoring the problem and looking only at God. It’s first acknowledging the problem and then looking only at God. It’s calling things as they really are and then trusting God to work them out according to His will and purpose, and for our good, however that may be. The powerful prayer is one that acknowledges the problem and acknowledges God’s power and sovereignty.
The other reason why God wants us to be honest is that it gets things out of the way. Humans are strange and complex creatures. We react to stressful situations in different ways. Some of us ‘hide’ by pretending the problem isn’t there. Some of us wallow in the difficulty and can see nothing else, allowing it to batter us and bring us down. Complete honesty before God removes excuses and reactions and puts things into perspective. It’s a way of facing up to things and of getting rid of the excess emotions that cloud our thinking and spur us into wrong responses. Once it’s all out there, we are able to see it as it is and receive grace to enable powerful prayer to change it according to God’s purposes.
Finally, powerful prayer is honest communication between us and our Father. Being absolutely honest with God means we trust Him completely. It means that we can bring Him everything, including our feelings, emotions, and weaknesses, and trust Him to understand and help us through. In difficult times, it’s often hard to accept that God wants to change us before He changes our situations. This is the basis of honesty with God. It brings us closer to Him. It removes any barriers that our emotions may have raised up. It reveals our wrong attitudes that may be hindering our prayers.
We somehow feel, as Christians, that surrendering all means that we no longer have emotions. This is deception. God created us with emotions, and we’ll have them always. Salvation doesn’t remove them, nor does God expect us to remove them. Being a Christian means that we are no longer controlled by our emotions. Obviously, being human, we cannot accomplish this alone. It is only in Christ that our spirits assume control rather than our emotions. This doesn’t alter the truth that our emotions are still there and that they have a purpose. Powerful prayer harnesses our entire being, not only our spirits.
I’m reminded of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. This is a poignant example of powerful prayer engaging the spirit and the emotions. It’s also an example of absolute honesty before God. Jesus didn’t ignore the problem that He was facing – the torture, injustice, rejection, and crucifixion. Nor did He ignore His very real and very human emotions. Instead, He laid it all before His Father, and was given the grace to pray with His spirit in control. He showed us how to come to God and honestly say, “This is how I feel.” We can never be freed of the control of our emotions if we don’t first acknowledge their existence.
There is a difference, however, in being honest about how we’re feeling and praying emotionally. That difference lies in our heart attitude. If we use the emotions we’re feeling a tool for manipulation, or if we validate our emotional responses rather than God’s power, we’re no closer to powerful prayer than if we’d never aired them. Powerful prayer is a spiritual exercise, not an emotional one. Our spirits engage our emotions in prayer, just as we may lift our hands, or kneel, or use other phyical actions, but our spirit communes with God. Prayer from a purely emotional perspective will never suffice. God may, in His mercy, respond to emotional prayer, but powerful prayer is a thing of the spirit.
God uses our emotional honesty to grow our faith. He uses it to change our attitudes and perceptions. He uses it to test us and to transform us. It’s only as we bring our emotions honestly before Him that He can lead us through them and teach us real meaning of faith and communion with Him. This is the beginning of spiritual maturity, of coming to the place where we are led by the Spirit rather than the flesh, where we learn to recognise the emotional responses that hold us back and find transforming grace. We are to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Powerful prayer engages the whole person. We’re made in His image, and all our parts are made in His image too. We cannot ignore some or pretend they aren’t there. Rather, as we lay them all before Him, they can be restored to the perfect purpose for which they were intended – communion with God without hindrance or reservation.
Teach us, Lord, to pray. Help us to desire powerful prayer not because of what it can get us but because it’s honest and open communion with You. Help us to recognise our own weaknesses, and grant us the courage to lay all things before You without reservation, trusting in Your grace and power.