Last week I mentioned that prayer is an important part of faith but is not something we can naturally master. In fact, prayer can be downright difficult, and there are many things that disrupt an effective prayer life.
Guilt, resentment, fear, and sheer laziness can all hamper a wonderful, growing relationship with our Lord. But a deeper, more personal hindrance exists. Sometimes we find it hard to pray because we do not want to face God’s silence.
We get on our knees, close our eyes, shift our weight from bad knee to good, position our hands just right, and finally settle in. And there, at that moment of timeless stillness, despite the occasional ticking of the nearest wrist-watch or the tumbling of clothes in the dryer, is that deafening silence.
Jesus faced God’s silence when he was dying on the cross. There at Golgotha, Jesus prayed the first verse of Psalm 22: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Curious that Jesus chose this prayer, because if you keep reading Psalm 22, you find that the psalm plunged ever deeper into the darkness of unanswered prayer: “Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer.”
All of us have hit the wall of silence in our prayer life. Too often we miss it entirely because we drown out silence with endless chatter of the television, radio, or recitations of our to-do lists. But it is still there.
There are two sides to this coin. Psalm 22 may expose the undercurrents of unanswered prayer, but it must be noted that the author of the psalm (and, by default, Jesus) was still praying. Like the persistent friend in Jesus’ parable in Luke 11:5-13, the author continued to knock on God’s door even though God seemed to sleep in the midst of crisis.
Persistence is a key that turns the tumblers for effective prayer. Continue to read Psalm 22, and the author eventually recognizes God’s presence in his life and in all creation. “For God did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted,” the author writes, “God did not hide His face from me, but heard when I cried to Him” (v. 24).
The second side to this coin is that the author of Psalm 22 was honest. He (or she) did not hold back, and he trusted that God was big enough to handle petition and despair.
A modern prayer of honesty comes from French priest, Michel Quoist, who once prayed:
“Lord, do you hear me? I’ve suffered dreadfully, locked in myself, prisoner of myself. I hear nothing but my own voice; I see nothing but myself. And behind me there is nothing but suffering. Lord, do you hear me?”
For Christians, prayer is a school of honesty, and only when we open up to God in persistent, vulnerable prayer will we slowly recognize God’s mysterious activity in every aspect of our lives.
As a result of persistence and honesty, we remember that Psalm 22 is followed by Psalm 23, which affirms God’s presence with us while we travel in the valley of death’s shadow.
This type of prayer does not come easily. We avoid discussing it in the pulpits of America, where we simplify prayer into cliché equations and acrostic formulas.
Truth is that we all pass through seasons in our prayer life, including seasons of death-filled winter. But no matter where we find ourselves, Jesus tells us to pray all the same: Ask, and you will receive; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened unto you.