Monday, August 15, 2016

Praying In Bitterness

"I sank beneath the waves,
    and the waters closed over me.
    Seaweed wrapped itself around my head.
I sank down to the very roots of the mountains.
    I was imprisoned in the earth,
    whose gates lock shut forever.
But you, O Lord my God,
    snatched me from the jaws of death!
As my life was slipping away,
    I remembered the Lord.
And my earnest prayer went out to you
    in your holy Temple."
~ Jonah 2:5-7, NLT ~

Praying is hard. 

Sometimes, we don't have the words to express our deepest needs, our hurts, our desires. 
Sometimes, we don't have the energy for thankfulness.
Sometimes, our attitudes are bitter, or hurt, or angry. 

God always knows our needs, but He wants us to ask anyway. 
God always knows how we feel inside, but He wants us to tell Him what's happening in our heart. 
God always knows our thoughts, our hurts, our prejudices, our rebelliousness, our inconsistencies.
God always listens anyway. 

Do you know the story of Jonah and the whale? You know the one - where God tells Jonah to go and preach to the city of Ninevah. But Jonah wants nothing to do with those pagan people, so he tries to run far far away from God and hops on a boat to sail to the ends of the world. A great big storm comes along, and Jonah asks the endangered crew to throw him overboard. The crew acquiesces, the storm stills, and Jonah is saved from a drowning death by being swallowed up by a giant whale. At God's command, the whale vomits Jonah right up on the beach. It seems the whale is more obedient than the prophet, doesn't it? Jonah goes on to Ninevah, preaches a one sentence sermon and sparks the greatest revival in all of human history. 

There's a lot more to Jonah's story than the miraculous whale ride. We might miss how Jonah was angry at God for not enacting judgment on that city of Ninevah, how he prayed a prayer of thanksgiving in the whale belly, but that prayer was tainted with self-righteousness and prejudice. How Jonah technically obeyed God by going to Ninevah and preaching, but did so with a bad attitude and a one sentence sermon.  We usually think of prophets as superheros of biblical proportions, but Jonah's story doesn't paint a very attractive picture. Instead, we see a portrait of a pouting prophet with a self-protective complex. And guess what? God worked through that pouting prophet anyway.  

But the story of Jonah is much less about Jonah himself, and more about the grace that God gives us when we pray. Jonah shows us that we don't have to be perfect super-Christians to be heard by God. God hears us all - believer and non-believer. Jonah shows us that God hears us in our deepest despair even when we've tried to run away from Him. Jonah demonstrates so adequately that God has our best interest in mind even when we go to him with crummy attitudes and a self-righteous sense of justice. 

And that's just what we need. Because after weeks of waiting for IEP's, and hours of haggling with insurance issues, and when I'm seething over scheduling and tattered after timeouts and tantrums, my attitude isn't so Christian. And the self-righteous anger swells up inside of me when I'm exhausted because I've spent my energies on meeting my children's needs instead of simply meeting my children where they are. And I need to know that God still hears my cries, my prayers, my needs, my wants even when my actions and attitudes aren't what they should be or even what I want them to be. 
God shoulders my anger, my weakness, my pride, He bottles up my tears, carries my sorrows, binds up my hurts, and most of all, He hears and attends all of my prayers and all of yours. 

God gives grace to the prophet and the pagan. He hears the prayers of everyone who calls on His name. Whether you are drowning and in despair or hopeful in your rescue, perfectly at peace or turbulent and bitter, God hears you when you call His name. There is no ocean too deep to drown out your prayers and you cannot sail so far from Him that He cannot tow you back. 

Dear God in Heaven, 
There is no ocean so deep or emotion so strong that will prevent You from hearing my cry. Thank you God for hearing my prayers and for listening to me even when I am happy, or sad, or resentful, or bitter, or joyful.  Please rescue me from the murky depths of my difficulties, save me from my shameful attitudes, and draw me always closer to You, 

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