Complaining in Prayer

· Prayer

Sometimes we pray with bright hope and deep faith. Our hope is buoyed by our faith and our faith is fueled by our hope. We are prayerful.

But there are other times - sometimes long seasons and grim chapters - when our faith is crumbling and our hope is dim. In these barren years, our once vibrant heart is cold and dark: a sepulcher. How do we pray then when our very words choke us, dusty and dry?

If our emotions dictate our praying, we will likely stop praying. Too much effort, too little energy, no point.

But - what if we prayed exactly what we were feeling - not what we think we should be feeling, or what we want to be feeling - but what we are feeling? The raw. The dark. The angry. The sad. What if we prayed out our desperation and our hopelessness and our frustration with the whole idea of praying.

In just such a dire season, I came across this verse:

Evening and morning and at noon

I utter my complaint and moan,

and he hears my voice.

~ Psalm 55:17 - ESV

In pondering the verse, as I sometimes do, I wrote it out in my own words. The RKV (Revised Kathi Version):

Morning - noon - and night,

I whine and nag - I complain to my listening Good Father

about those who are dearest to me -

those He gave to me and loves more than I do.

And I know He hears me.

What if we just complained to God? It's not as if we'd be telling Him something He doesn't already know. But it might just be that we'd be telling our soul something that we need to remember. That God hears. That He knows. That His hearing and knowing aren't determined by my believing. It's based on the fact that HE IS.

I could be wrong here, but the very idea of complaining implies hope. Children complain to parents expecting something to be done (I'm too cold, I'm too hot, I'm too hungry, etc.). And to teachers (I can't see the board, I broke my pencil, I forgot my book, etc.). We complain to businesses (this item is defective, shipping took too long, a competitor has a cheaper price, my food was cold, etc.). The motivation of our complaining is that something can be done - something should be done! Complaining is an expression of hoping.

I was helped when I learned that my role in my praying is a small sliver of what is happening in prayer. I might pray through the day and through the night. When I'm awake. When I'm aware. When I want to. When I'm prayerful. But Romans 8 (verses 26 and 24) tells me that more prayer is going on than what I'm praying. Far more.

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.

Christ Jesus is the one who died

—more than that, who was raised—

who is at the right hand of God,

who indeed is interceding for us.

Could it be that the Holy Spirit's groans are more informed than my moans? Could it be that Christ's position at God's right hand around the clock is more prayerful than my morning, noon, and night?

I am simply not praying alone. The Son and the Spirit are praying with me and for me. They live to pray.

The Bible is replete with examples of such complaining:

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?

~Psalm 22:1 - ESV

I say to God, my rock:
“Why have you forgotten me?
Why do I go mourning
because of the oppression of the enemy?”

~ Psalm 42:9 - ESV

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?

~ Psalm 13:1 - ESV

With my voice I cry out to the Lord;

with my voice I plead for mercy to the Lord.

I pour out my complaint before him;

I tell my trouble before him.

Psalm 142:1-2 - ESV

And the Bible is replete with reminders that I am not forgotten or ignored. That I am heard. Here are several:

But Zion said, The Lord has forsaken me;
my Lord has forgotten me.”

“Can a woman forget her nursing child,
that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb?
Even these may forget,
yet I will not forget you.
Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;
your walls are continually before me."

~ Isaiah 49:14-16 - ESV

But know that the Lord has set apart the godly for himself;
the Lord hears when I call to him.

~ Psalm 4:3 - ESV

Before they call I will answer;

while they are yet speaking I will hear.

~ Isaiah 65:24

And especially this:

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper,

to be with you forever.

~ Matthew 14:16

Jesus said: "And behold, I am with you always,

to the end of the age.”

~ Matthew 28:20

The Spirit and Jesus will be with us, helping us pray, praying with us when we can and praying for us when we can't, always. Forever.

We must grasp this: God hears every whisper, every cry, every joy, and every complaint. Always.

He is always inclined toward His people - even when our hearts are feeble. Our inclination doesn't determine His. He knows our frailty.

We are His.

Come and hear, all you who fear God,
and I will tell what he has done for my soul.
I cried to him with my mouth,
and high praise was on
my tongue...
Truly God has listened;
he has attended to the voice of my prayer.

Blessed be God,
because he has not rejected my prayer
or removed his steadfast love from me!

~ Psalm 66:16-17, 19-20

Feeling too feeble to pray isn't new. Others have known it and they exhort us to press on.

"There are some who give up their prayers because they have so little feeling in their prayers -- so little warmth of feeling. But who told us that feeling was to be a test of prayer? The work of prayer is a far too noble and necessary work to be laid aside for any lack of feeling. Press on, you who are dry and cold in your prayers, press on as a work and as a duty, and the Holy Spirit will, in His good time, refresh your prayers Himself."

- Arthur F. Winnington-Ingram, 1858-1946 (Joy and Strength, Mary Wilder Tileston, Ed., p. 286)

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