Many 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.
As I continue reading through John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion this summer, here is Calvin reflecting on the significance of the Lord’s Supper for our encouragement as believers. Notice Calvin’s powerful series of contrasts at the end of this quotation.
Godly souls can gather great assurance and delight from this Sacrament; in it they have a witness of our growth into one body with Christ such that whatever is his may be called ours. As a consequence, we may dare assure ourselves that eternal life, of which he is the heir, is ours; and that the Kingdom of Heaven, into which he has already entered, can no more be cut off from us than from him; again, that we cannot be condemned for our sins, from whose guilt he has absolved us, since he willed to take them upon himself as if they were his own. This is the wonderful exchange which, out of his measureless benevolence, he has made with us; that, becoming Son of man with us, he has made us sons of God with him; that, by his descent to earth, he has prepared an ascent to heaven for us; that, by taking on our mortality, he has conferred his immortality upon us; that, accepting our weak-poverty unto himself, he has transferred his wealth to us; that, taking the weight of our iniquity upon himself (which oppressed us), he has clothed us with his righteousness.
[From John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, edited by John T. McNeill (Philadelphias, PA: The Westminster Press, 1960), 1361-62.]