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September 19, 2021 | Doug Sauder
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Tucked inside the front pocket of my Bible is a card from my son. It’s on cobalt blue paper, folded in half with two red balloons, a heart, a shamrock, and a cross drawn on the front. The heart is a little smudged, so he used an arrow to point to it and then wrote “heart” under the arrow.
The shamrock is colored green, the heart pink, and the cross red. Written next to the cross he apologized that it was drawn “too Black Sabbath-y, but I know you’ll understand.”
And written at the top in green is “Happy Valen-Birth-Patty-Mas!”
Creative holiday bundling.
Inside the card is a handwritten message with a signature that is special to us. It was truly from his heart . . . and it truly melted mine. After 22 years, his gift of a simple card is still all I ever want. I think most parents feel this way—those heartfelt and homespun cards mean so much because the words are birthed from unadulterated love.
As our Father, God also appreciates pure, childlike expression in our prayers to Him. Unfortunately, as we spiritually mature, there is the tendency to grow “beyond” simple prayer and grow wary of candid prayer. This can happen for any number of reasons, including doubt, fear, and pride. Still, there is undeniable and immeasurable peace, intimacy, and strength to be gained by simply expressing to our Father what’s on our hearts. This raw expression can take many forms and can range in emotions, but at the core it is an invitation for God to listen and respond. We see this idea come to life in many of the prayers of King David.
While a great deal of David’s prayers represent a mainstay of spiritual maturity, they also provide a glimpse into the more childlike, candid relationship he enjoyed with God. His prayer life was a colorful tapestry of worship woven with woe. Keep in mind, David was the greatest of the kings of Israel; but, above all, he identified himself as the “sweet psalmist of Israel” (2 Samuel 23:1 NKJV). Why do you think that is? I contend that David, a man after God’s heart, found his greatest victory in his unfiltered, colorful prayer life.
David wasn’t afraid to admit to fear, frustration, or failure. His psalms reveal a man who never hesitated to question God’s timing or complain of his desperate circumstances (Psalm 6:3, 13:1–2, 55:2). He willingly admitted to God that he just wanted to run away because what he was experiencing was too much for him; that he would be much happier if he could leave it all behind (Psalm 55:4–7).
For David, no emotion was off limits. The extremes of his prayers drifted from contempt for the wicked to a sinking sadness (Psalm 6:6, 12:2). He would beg, “Do not hide your face from me” (Psalm 27:9 NIV). “Show me your unfailing love . . . Guard me . . . Hide me” (Psalm 17:7–8 NLT). David simply expressed every bit of his confusion, rejection, transgression, and adoration . . . but to what end?
I believe this was done so we could see that David knew it wasn’t the power of his prayer, but the power of the One who hears it. He put trust and faith in God who lifted him out of the pit of despair and steadied him on solid ground (Psalm 40:2). This simple gesture of casting his burden on the Lord not only sustained him, but removed pressure, pain, and self-pity. It caused him to trust and look beyond himself to behold his God. And that’s what God asks us to do . . . to keep focused on Him, because it is only in Him that we can experience perfect peace (Isaiah 26:3).
In his book, Prayer: Does It Make any Difference?, author Philip Yancey writes, “Prayer allows me to admit my failures, weaknesses, and limitations to the One who responds to human vulnerability with infinite mercy.” Exactly! I think prayers can become stifled and less authentic when we feel unable to admit failures, weaknesses, and limitations . . . when we feel uncomfortable bearing our souls before Him because we’re afraid God will be mad or we’ll appear weak.
But, think about it: God already knows what you are thinking and feeling. He’s just waiting for you to extend an invitation into any situation so He can rescue you. Why? Because He delights in you (Psalm 18:19 NIV)! This is the same delight we share with His Son Jesus, who also enjoyed an unfiltered prayer life with God.
While Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords, fully God, He is also fully man. This title is worth noting, because even though Jesus ascribed to Himself the title of Messiah as seen in John 4:25–26 (this is His divinity), He identified Himself more often as the Son of Man (denoting His humanity). So, the prayer life of Jesus stemmed from oneness with God, but also a separateness that required faith and a total submission to God’s timing and will when real fear crept in.
This real fear surfaced in the Garden of Gethsemane, where we see the ultimate example of unfiltered, raw, genuine prayer. You see, Jesus was a man facing a cruel and calculated crucifixion. And being fully aware of what awaited Him, our Lord was in such agony that Luke tells us, “His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44 NKJV). And He felt no shame in asking God three times, “Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me” (Luke 22:42 NKJV).
Genuine fear and burden was cast out to God. “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will” (Matthew 26:39 NKJV). Jesus looked beyond Himself and to His God. Then God ministered and strengthened Him through an angel who appeared to Him.
In His book Breakthrough Prayer, Jim Cymbala offers this: “If Jesus Christ Himself prayed with ‘loud cries and tears’ at times then I can certainly feel free and unashamed in pouring out my own soul to God. And so can you.”
How? It’s simple: trust the character of God enough to honestly express yourself. Just like my son wrote on the front of his card “I know you will understand,” prayer can be freely expressed when we know God understands. It’s a deeper discourse when we invite Him in and simply rest in His delight.
Sometimes, it will be full of praise and thankfulness, other times it will be confusion, sadness, anger, fear, and doubt . . . and that’s okay! God wants to hear it all because He wants all of you, not just the highlight reel. Your prayer life shouldn’t be like your Instagram feed.
There will also be times when you simply won’t have the words; you won’t know what to say or do, you won’t know how to feel or react. That’s okay, too, because “the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God” (Romans 8:26–27 NKJV).
And keep in mind, Jesus invites us to come to Him when we are weary, to take on His yoke because He will give us rest (Matthew 11:28–29). By accepting this invitation, we enter into a discipleship of trust that says, Here is my mess, please help me see the message you have for me, and make my mess into your glory.
For me, authentic prayer comes in the form of a prayer journal. Each morning I write to God my rawest, most personal thoughts and feelings. Sometimes my words are colored with adoration, but other times they look rather grey and obscure. Like the heart on the front of my son’s card, my heart is smudged. But when I go to the Lord in this way, with my smudged heart on my sleeve and ask for His help, there has never been a time when He hasn’t ministered to me or strengthened me. Such devotion has deepened my faith.
That is one page of my journal. The page that follows it is always titled God’s Response. On that page I reflect and record how God has responded to me. Sometimes the response from Him is immediate; sometimes there is more of a waiting. But even in the waiting, I trust He is working (Habakkuk 2:3).
The Bible is often referred to as God’s love letter to His people. Within the pages resides the unveiled love of a Father inviting response. Go ahead and write Him back— or just speak frankly—and watch as your colorful words birth deeper discourse and deeper faith.
Lisa Supp lives in Utah and has served within the CCFL Web and Prayer Ministry since 2011. She also volunteers as an editor on the CCFL Prayer Wall and is a writer on the Communications Team. Retired from teaching, Lisa and her husband Ron volunteer at their local Calvary Chapel and share a passion for Scripture, apologetics, and education.