Lots of times what happens is good. It makes you giggle for gladness. Your heart feels light and the world glows with the sort of feathery light that comes with early spring mornings.
Lots of times what happens is bad. It makes you weep for sadness. Your heart feels heavy and the world glowers with the sort of dark clouds that gather before a summer thunderstorm.
It’s fairly easy to pray when life is good. Praise and thanksgiving roll off the tongue with ease. God’s goodness is so real.
On the other hand, it’s often not easy to pray when life is bad. No matter our theology of God’s sovereignty, praise can get stuck in our throat. God’s goodness seems like a wispy memory of another time.
How do I pray with a broken heart? Well, obviously I can’t go with my immediate emotional reaction, because, quite honestly, being upset with God is not a great basis for effective prayer. Neither is self-pity or self-righteousness. I know, because I’ve tried all of them.
How do I pray with a broken heart?
+ I remember the cross. No matter my circumstances, this fact remains: “God demonstrates His love for us in this: while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom. 5:8) The cross stands tall over all the mess of my life to assure me that God loves me – me!-in Jesus.
+ I pray somebody else’s words. When there are no words for my pain, confusion, hurt, despair, I borrow some-from the Psalms. I think that’s why God inspired and preserved them. “Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am languishing…my soul is also greatly troubled. But You, O Lord-how long?….Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge….When I am afraid, I will trust in You. In God, whose word I praise….I am continually with you; you hold my right hand…He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust….Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His steadfast love endures forever…With my voice I cry out to the Lord; with my voice I plead for mercy….Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him, my salvation and my God….(Ps. 6:2, 16:1, 56:3, 73:23, 103:14, 118:1, 142:1, 42:5)
+ I trust the Spirit’s groans are better than my words. There are moments for which there are no words, but “the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” (Rom.8:26) Those groans are rich with the Father’s hope.
+ I hold onto the unseen hand of my Father’s providence. He is actively working “all things together for good to those (like me) who are called according to His purpose.” (Rom. 8:28). Somehow, in and through this beautiful mess, my Father is displaying His glory, pursuing and redeeming sinners, spreading Jesus’ good news, expanding the borders of His kingdom-and shaping my life and character to be like Jesus.
These things don’t make praying in bad times any easier. But they help me pray…anyway.