Praying from Where You Are: Letting Our Experiences and Emotions Fuel Our Prayers

2014-11-13 13.14.09Many of us struggle with prayer. We struggle with what to say, how to say it, when to say it, and so much more. One of the most common concerns we face with prayer is whether it is okay to simply bring who we are from right where we are to God. Another way to say it is: can I be real with God in prayer?

The answer to this question is definitive: yes.

In prayer, it is always good to take our cues from what we find in Scripture. With this question, I would encourage us to take our cues from the Psalms and from Jesus. The Psalms are filled with expressions of the full range of emotions and human experience. Consider just a few examples of this:

  • agony (Psalm 22)
  • isolation (27:10)
  • joy (28:7)
  • repentance (51)
  • suffering (55:3)
  • yearning (63:1)
  • rejection (85:5)
  • abounding praise (150)

All 150 psalms reflect the range of human emotion and experience in ways that are both affirming and instructive.

Jesus also reflects a range of emotions in prayer. Whether it is his angst before Lazarus’ tomb (John 11:35) or his agony in the Garden of Gethsemane before the Cross (Luke 22:39-44), Jesus prays from the reality of His experience.

While we can argue that both writers of the Psalms and Jesus do not let their emotions or experiences control them, at the same time they allow their emotions and experiences to be a valid starting point and fuel for their prayers.

As I often like to say, there is nothing you can throw at God that He cannot handle. So, let us bring our real selves in the real presence of God in prayer. Do not hold back, but allow your emotions and experiences to lead you beyond yourself and into the transforming presence of the God who is there.

Praying Ourselves Toward Unity

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Whenever I think about the unity that we are called to as brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ under the Fatherhood of God,  I often wonder how we actually can move into that reality? If you’re like me, you can look back at the history of the church and see divisions: between Eastern and Western churches in the great divide of the 11th century; the Protestant reformation and the division from Rome in the 16th century; the radical reformation of the Anabaptist movement within Protestantism in the 16-17th century; the breaking of the Wesleys with Anglicanism, which lead to the Methodist church in the 18th century; etc. Although the list could go on, you probably get the point.

Now, we can certainly talk about the unity of the church, but how do we attain it with such a checkered past?

Alongside all the apparently practical advice about dealing with our pride, learning to love one another, and so on, I’d like to suggest that there is one essential element that we must put into practice if we want greater unity in the church. It is something Jesus modeled for us. In fact, the only time that the word “unity” appears in the gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – is when Jesus is doing this one critical activity. What is that critical activity? Prayer.

Over the next few days, I want to approach the topic of unity through the lens of prayer. In John 17, where Jesus enters into prayer before going to the Cross, He asks for God’s glory to be displayed in Him, for His current disciples, and future disciples. Specifically, when we turn our attention to verses 20-26, we see that Jesus prays for His future disciples to be unified.

What I am after in this series of reflections is this: if we want to be One Church – if we want to experience unity with other believers and with other churches for God’s glory – then we must pursue prayer.

To put it more simply: Prayer is the pathway to unity. Conversely, without prayer we cannot experience unity in the church.

[This is the first in a series of posts on unity through prayer from John 17.]

Let Your Will Be Done [30 Days of Prayer]

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“Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10)

Following the first petition that God’s name be hallowed and the second that God’s kingdom would come, the third petition of the Lord’s Prayer asks that God’s will would be done upon the earth. This summarizes the first half of the Lord’s Prayer, which focuses upon God and His ways before turning to human beings and our ways. The primary focus – the first place of attention – in prayer is upon God and not upon ourselves.

Jesus makes this clear through His request that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Heaven is the sphere in which God lives and in which His rule and reign is perfectly done, but earth is the place touched by sin, evil and death in which God’s will is imperfectly done. That is true in us and in the world around us.

Jesus provides us not only teaching on this aspect of prayer, but a model for it as well. Approaching His Father in agonized prayer while in the Garden of Gethsemane, just before His arrest and crucifixion, Jesus asks that the cup of suffering before Him might pass by, if there is any other way. Yet the summary statement of His desire in prayer is found in these words: “Yet not my will, but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42). We see this same attitude in prayer modeled by Mary, the mother of Jesus, when the angel Gabriel approached her with the message that she would bear the Messiah in her womb miraculously. Her response was: “I am the Lord’s servant. May your words to me be fulfilled” (1:38).

This is holy submission to the will of God. If we did not know God as perfectly holy and truly our Father, then such submission might seem risky. Yet as we grow to know the One whom we approach in prayer, we learn again and again just how good it is to yield in our lives to the will of God. Such humble surrender to God in our own lives quickly leads us to intercede before God on behalf of the world that “His good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2) may be done here on earth as it is in heaven.

So, the major preoccupation of children who come into their Father’s presence in prayer is not that we may receive what we need but that He may receive what He deserves – which is honor to His name, the spread of His kingdom, the doing of His will.[1]

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed by Your Name.
May Your kingdom come
and Your will be done
here on earth
as it is in heaven.
Shape and mold my life according to
Your good, pleasing and perfect will.
Even so, bring Your will to fruition
upon every square inch of this world
that You might receive the greatest glory
in the greatest number of lives
around the globe.


[1] John R. W. Stott, “Growth in the Prayer Life,” sermon given on August 20, 1989.

[This post is part of the “30 Days of Prayer” devotional. Read other posts here.]