Related Verses: Nm 11:10-15; Ps 88, 137; Jr 18:29-23; Mk 9:24; 15:34; Rm 8:26-27
Leading Question: What kind of prayers would you publish if you were God?
The emphasis in the official study guide for this week is praying the right kinds of prayers. There is evidence in Scripture, however, that almost any kind of prayer will pass muster if we are serious in our efforts to get through to God. And here we have the promise of the Holy Spirit to help “translate” our prayers, so to speak, so that we can know that we will really be heard:
Romans 8:26-27 (NRSV): 26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. 27 And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
The prayer of the struggling saint is much more prominent in the Old Testament than in the new, though there are some choice New Testament prayers we should not overlook:
Desperate father: Mark 9:24. “Immediately the father of the child cried out, ‘I believe; help my unbelief!’” (NRSV)
Godforsaken Jesus: Mark 15:34. “At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (NRSV)
Exasperated Moses: Numbers 11:10-15: 10 “The Israelites stood around their tents complaining. Moses heard them and was upset that they had made the Lord angry. 11 He prayed: ‘I am your servant, Lord, so why are you doing this to me? What have I done to deserve this? You’ve made me responsible for all these people, 12 but they’re not my children. You told me to nurse them along and to carry them to the land you promised their ancestors. 13 They keep whining for meat, but where can I get meat for them? 14 This job is too much for me. How can I take care of all these people by myself? 15 If this is the way you’re going to treat me, just kill me now and end my miserable life!’” (CEV)
Depressed Psalmist: Ps. 88:13-18: “Each morning I pray to you, Lord. 14 Why do you reject me? Why do you turn from me? 15 Ever since I was a child, I have been sick and close to death. You have terrified me and made me helpless. 16 Your anger is like a flood! And I am shattered by your furious attacks 17 that strike each day and from every side. 18 My friends and neighbors have turned against me because of you, and now darkness is my only companion.” (CEV)
Vengeful Psalmist: Ps. 137:7-9: 7 “Our Lord, punish the Edomites! Because the day Jerusalem fell, they shouted, ‘Completely destroy the city! Tear down every building!’ 8 Babylon, you are doomed! I pray the Lord’s blessings on anyone who punishes you for what you did to us. 9 May the Lord bless everyone who beats your children against the rocks!” (CEV)
Vengeful Jeremiah: Jer. 18:19-23: 19 “Please, Lord, answer my prayer. Make my enemies stop accusing me of evil. 20 I tried to help them, but they are paying me back by digging a pit to trap me. I even begged you not to punish them. 21 But now I am asking you to let their children starve or be killed in war. Let women lose their husbands and sons to disease and violence. 22 These people have dug pits and set traps for me, Lord. Make them scream in fear when you send enemy troops to attack their homes. 23 You know they plan to kill me. So get angry and punish them! Don’t ever forgive their terrible crimes.” (CEV)
Romans 8:26-27 assures us that the Spirit can translate those prayers so that they will be acceptable in the presence of God. The great truth here is that if our emotions are beyond our control, that is the time to turn to God. In the words of Ellen White, “the moment of greatest discouragement is the time when divine help is nearest” (DA 529). Scripture assures us that the one place we can take our anger, our complaints, our sorrow, is to the great God of the universe.
C. S. Lewis has suggested that what seem to us to be our worst prayers, may, in fact, be the best in God’s eyes:
I have a notion that what seem our worst prayers may really be, in God’s eyes, our best. Those, I mean, which are least supported by devotional feeling and contend with the greatest disinclination. For these, perhaps, being nearly all will, come from a deeper level than feeling. In feeling there is so much that is really not ours – so much that comes from weather and health or from the last book read. One thing seems certain. It is no good angling for the rich moments. God sometimes seems to speak to us most intimately when He catches us, as it were, off our guard. Our preparations to receive Him sometimes have the opposite effect. – C. S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm, 116-117
Final question: What role does the Holy Spirit play in those prayers that fall short of the ideal?