Chapter 3

Be Honest About Your Complaints

God loves honest talk. Realism is at the heart of His own character. He hates darkness and deception. Darkness is the domain of His enemy. Therefore, a second essential to confidence in prayer is to learn to be honest about what is in our hearts. He can handle our complaints, our foolishness, our fears, and our failures. He won’t be surprised or threatened by our anger, our confusion, or our childlike pleadings.

What does not please God are the cheap lies of flattery, ritual praise, insincere words repeated over and over without regret for what is really happening in our own soul. We need to put away our practices of fearful coverup, our sophisticated deceit, and our formal language, and instead lay the foundation of truth as the basis for prayer.

Prayers filled with pious lies are unacceptable to God, and they do not reflect the true spirit of our own hearts. That is why, in order to enter the throne room of grace and begin to pray with confidence, we must learn to be truthful when we pray. To do this, we have to spend time in selfevaluation and confession of sin. We must tell God how we really feel about Him, about ourselves, about our problems with people, and about our needs, frustrations, desires, and painful memories. We must also be honest about our desire to know His will and make it our own. If we don’t want to do His will, then that too must be brought to the light so that we can ask God to help us overcome our rebellion and foolishness.

Confidence In God’s Ability To Help Us Understand Ourselves. When we want to know the truth about ourselves, the Lord who knows our hearts will help us to see what is happening in us. The psalmist wrote, “O LORD, You have searched me and known me” (Ps. 139:1). David said to Solomon, “The LORD searches all hearts and understands all the intent of the thoughts” (1 Chr. 28:9).

The prayer of self-examination, when combined with the Scriptures, enables us to see what’s really going on inside. The Bible shows us our deepseated feelings and true motives. It takes us into the nooks and crannies where we hide old grudges and secret hatreds and bitter resentments. Through honest prayer we can bring these things to the surface, see them for what they really are, and ask God to help us deal with them.

“We need to put away our formal language of prayer and lay the foundation of truth.”

Of this we can be confident: If we ask God to show us our hearts, He will do it. Perhaps not immediately. But over time and in His own way, the Lord will pull back the curtains of denial and repression and show us ourselves. And He will take good care of us while He’s doing it.

• He might bring an old hurt to mind for us to deal with and forget.

• He might remind us of a promise we have not kept or a debt we have not paid.

• He might let us feel the hurt we gave to someone else, perhaps many years ago, and tell us to make it right.

• He might direct us to straighten out a misunderstanding or forgive someone.

Heart knowledge is a wonderful, liberating gift, and it comes through being honest with the Lord in prayer.

Self-examination can also reveal the positive blessings in our lives. God is working in us and doing things for us all the time. He shows us His goodness, fills us with grace, helps us grow through adversity, sustains us through difficult circumstances, gives us ways to escape temptation, and grants us His peace. But when we’re caught up in the details of life and distracted by responsibilities, we are sometimes oblivious to these things.

Confidence In God’s Willingness To Forgive An Honest Heart. It was the bottom of the 9th inning and the score was tied. The opposing team had the bases loaded with two outs. A hard grounder was hit a little to the right of the rookie shortstop. It bounced off his glove. The run scored and the game was lost. He had made that play a thousand times before—but not that time.

That ballplayer could have done what a lot of us do. He could have claimed that the ball hit a rock and took a bad bounce. He could have blamed the sun or the wet grass. But he didn’t. “I blew it,” he said after the game. “I take responsibility. It was my fault.”

We need that attitude toward God. When the Lord convicts us of sin, we need to admit it, confess it, and then believe in God’s willingness to forgive us.

Remember the story of David and Nathan? Corrupted by power, David turned the war over to his generals and stayed at home. He looked lustfully at a bathing Bathsheba, had her brought to the palace, committed adultery, then had her husband killed to cover up his sin. It appeared that he would get away with it—until he was confronted by Nathan the prophet with those undeniable words of condemnation, “You are the man!” (2 Sam. 12:7).

Finally, after days and probably many months of living in self-imposed darkness, David acknowledged his sin. His moving prayer of repentance is recorded in Psalm 51. “I acknowledge my transgressions,” he confessed to the Lord, “and my sin is always before me. Against You, You only, have I sinned” (vv.3-4). David pleaded for a restoration to the joy he once had, and his prayer was answered by the forgiveness of God. The Bible, the Holy Spirit, and God’s people serve as our Nathans today.

We live in a calloused world of hardened hearts and desensitized consciences. Lawyers can argue cases with skill and apparent sincerity even when they know the defendant is guilty. Sentences for horrible crimes are received without a sign of guilt or remorse. We are experts at denial and rationalization and finding someone else to blame.

How can we soften our hearts? We’re so accustomed to an iron-shelled coldness. How do we get “a broken and a contrite heart” (Ps. 51:17) that is always accepted by the Lord? Ask for it. “Create in me a clean heart,” we must plead. “Renew a steadfast spirit within me” (v.10). God will honor that prayer. He doesn’t turn away when we pray, “God, be merciful to me a sinner!” (Lk. 18:13).

“To be immediately right, say from your heart the truth about your wrongs.”

Confidence In God’s Ability To Handle Our Complaints. Our human relationships are cluttered with disagreements, struggles, and conflict. If there are none, someone is just suppressing it and postponing a confrontation until the future. Friends and lovers talk about their negative feelings openly and work through their differences. That should also be true in our relationship with God. We are free to respectfully and reverently disagree, question, and even argue with Him in prayer.

Rabbi Joseph Telushkin writes of the need for honest confrontations with God as being a legacy of the Jewish people. In his book Jewish Literacy he writes, “[The] first instance of a human being arguing with God becomes a characteristic feature of the Hebrew Bible, and of Judaism in general. Hundreds of years after Abraham, the psalmist called out to God in anger and anguish: ‘Awake! Why do You sleep, O Lord? . . . Why do You hide Your face, and forget our affliction and our oppression?’ (Ps. 44:23-24; see Habakkuk 1:2 and the entire book of Job for other examples of prophets or righteous men questioning God’s ways). The willingness to confront the Almighty stems from the belief that God, like man, has responsibilities, and deserves criticism when He fails to fulfill them. Elie Wiesel, a Jew who stands in this tradition, has declared: ‘The Jew may love God, or he may fight with God, but he may not ignore God.’ ”

This seems to have been Abraham’s attitude. God was about to destroy the wicked city of Sodom. Abraham interceded with the Lord, asking that the city be spared if 50 righteous people could be found. They could not. So, step by step, Abraham pleaded with God to reduce the number to 10. But when 10 could not be found, Sodom was destroyed (Gen. 18:23-33).

Moses also disagreed with God. The Lord had performed miracle after miracle to deliver Israel from Egyptian bondage and provide for them in the wilderness. But while Moses was in the heights of Mount Sinai receiving the Law from the hand of the Lord, his countrymen were getting ready to give up on the One who had delivered them from Egypt. In violation of the first commandments God had given Moses, they made an idol of gold and used it as an excuse to indulge in the sexual abandon of pagan fertility worship. “Now therefore, let Me alone,” God said to Moses, “that My wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them” (Ex. 32:10). God even said He would start over again and make a great nation out of Moses.

Moses didn’t want to give in. He pleaded with the Lord to spare Israel, “Why should the Egyptians speak, and say, ‘He brought them out to harm them, to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from Your fierce wrath, and relent from this harm to Your people” (v.12). God relented, and the Jews were spared (v.14).

Abraham and Moses are good examples for us. We too can clear the air with God. While still fearing God, and remembering to reverence Him, we can:

• Ask Him why He’s waiting so long to save our loved one.

• Express our anger and disappointment because our child was not spared.

• Pour out our frustration to Him because we haven’t found a job yet.

• Cry out to Him because we are still childless.

Such complaints do not threaten God. He knows we will never find a moral weakness in Him. He encourages us to be honest with Him so that we can discover the thoughts and feelings light, we can ask God to help us deal with them.

Why are we so hesitant to be honest with God? Perhaps we’re the kind of people who avoid all conflict. We won’t even tell our loved ones or friends any of our negative feelings. Or we may think it would be a lack of faith to challenge God.

Many of us have accepted society’s idea that struggle and love do not go together. We assume that a relationship is good only as long as there is peace and harmony. The fact remains that we struggle in relationships because we really do care. And finding the courage to struggle and take risks and confront is what strengthens and deepens all relationships. The same is true in our relationship with God. Like Jacob at Bethel, we do well to wrestle with God once in a while. It can bring us His blessing (Gen. 32:24-32).

“The point of prayer is not to get answers from God; the goal of prayer is perfect and complete oneness with God.

Confidence In What God Wants For Us. The goal of the believer in Jesus Christ is to become one (in heart and agreement) with God. When we come to Him in prayer, we need to be honest with ourselves about whether our desires are His desires, whether our will is His will, whether our requests would be His requests.

How do we grow in this “oneness” with God? Certainly we can never share in His complete understanding of all things. Yet, as we pray for the daily needs of life, for our spouse and children and friends, for healing or employment or guidance, we can do so with the same attitude of heart Jesus had in mind when He taught His disciples to pray to the Father, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Mt. 6:10).

Jesus Himself expressed that same attitude a few hours before His death. He concluded an agonizing prayer session in Gethsemane—a time when He even asked the Father to let Him avoid the cross—with these words: “Nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done” (Lk. 22:42). This surrender, after an intense, honest struggle, kept Him in a spirit of oneness with His Father.

We may have questions about praying, “Your will be done.” Does that mean we are secretly giving up on what we just prayed for? Are we not saying that our prayer was offered without the true conviction that it was right and that God should answer it? Are we not falsely humble in trying not to bother God with our little wishes, and saying, “That’s okay. I understand,” if He does not grant our requests? If so, we’ve got it all wrong!

Helmut Thielicke wrote, “This is just what the words ‘Thy will be done’ do not mean. They mean, ‘Thou understandest my prayer better than I understand it myself (Rom. 8:26). Thou knowest most whether I need hunger or bread. Whatever may come, I will still say, “Yes, dear Lord” (Mt. 15:27). For I know that in everything, no matter what it may be, Thy will gives me fulfillment—beyond my asking and my comprehension.’ ”

When we pray “Your will be done,” we are choosing to agree with God. We are saying to Him what Jesus said to His disciples, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me” (Jn. 4:34). And we are echoing the Lord’s prayer in Gethsemane. Whether or not He gives us bread or a job or a mate or a child, His will done His way is best.

We will not discover the confidence of being in agreement with God, however, if we have not first been honest about the thoughts and emotions of our own hearts. Integrity of soul is basic to overcoming disappointment with God and developing confidence in prayer.