On the Difference Between Worrying Our Prayers and Praying Our Anxieties

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June 22, 2018

Exodus 5:22-23

22 Moses returned to the Lord and said, “Why, Lord, why have you brought trouble on this people? Is this why you sent me? 23 Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble on this people, and you have not rescued your people at all.”

CONSIDER THIS

Despite God’s bold intervention and Moses’ reluctant obedience, the plan does not seem to be working. Pharaoh is not getting on board. In the midst of it all, note these five key words:

Moses returned to the Lord

This is prayer. I don’t want to steal New Testament thunder, but Jesus told stories about a neighbor relentlessly knocking on a friend’s door at midnight to get help for someone in need and about a widow who would not stop pestering an unjust judge for justice. He clearly associated prevailing faith with travailing prayer whose chief characteristic was “always praying and never giving up.” (See Luke 18).

“Why, Lord, why have you brought trouble on this people? Is this why you sent me? 23 Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble on this people, and you have not rescued your people at all.”

Remember, in the realm of prayer and faith, apparent failure is par for the course. Success can’t be tied to any particular outcome but to persistence itself. Remember also, the journey of maturing into a rich and wise faith is the process of growing from seeking particular answers to prayers to embracing Jesus as THE answer.

Second, note the nature and tone of Moses response to God:

Note the blaming here. “Why, Lord, why have you brought trouble on this people?”  And this feels like sarcasm: Is this why you sent me?” 

Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble on this people, and you have not rescued your people at all.” Translation: “O.K., I know Pharaoh is creating the problem here, but you aren’t doing anything about it.” Let’s not let the effect of “at all,” be lost on us either. It is as though Moses is throwing up his arms in protest.

I point this out to say God can handle the full brunt of our emotional volatility. In fact, I believe God welcomes it. Disappointed with God? Don’t hold back. In fact, to the extent you do hold back, chances are your inner angst will be visited either on some undeserving soul around you or on yourself. I love the way the Apostle Peter, who carried his fair share of anxiety, instructs us, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:7. There is a big difference between “worrying our prayers” and “praying our anxieties.” The former skirts the real honest truth. The latter trusts enough to keep it real.

The final observation I would make from today’s text has to do with Moses’ posture in this prayer. He still seems to be standing outside of the situation. Did you notice how he referred to the suffering Israelites?

“Why, Lord, why have you brought trouble on this people?”

He didn’t claim them as “my people,” did he?

Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble on this people, and you have not rescued your people at all.”

Note the “I” and “your” separation. Then he does it again, “this people.” Finally he closes with “your people.” It appears Moses, despite his reluctant involvement, still sees himself somewhere in a role somewhere between consultant and independent contractor. Far from an owner of “this people” and “this mission” he remains a bit of a hireling.

Let’s be generous with Moses and with ourselves. In my judgment, Moses’ audacity to bring the mess of his frustrated emotions before God prepares the way for his shift from disengaged messenger to sold out martyr (which in the New Testament sense means not one who is willing to die for God but one who wills to die to themself.) God is not looking for impressive witnesses who will tell people about God but for humble witnesses who will will “bear” God’s presence to others—be they powerful Pharaohs or poor beggars.

A wise person once said to me, “Conflict is the price of deepening intimacy.” This holds true in our walk with God as well. One of my favorite movies of all time is The Apostle, starring one of the great Arkansans, Robert Duval. He plays the part of Eulis “Sonny” Dewey, a Pentecostal preacher. There’s a scene where he is up in the middle of the night pacing around his room praying aloud. To call it intense would be an understatement.  At one point in the prayer he yells at God, “I’m confused! I’m mad! I love you Lord. I love you, but I’m mad at you! I am mad at YOU!”

If you’ve got an extra two minutes today, it’s worth watching. You can see it on Youtube here. (And if you are listening and want to see the clip, just Google or search Youtube for “The Apostle Yelling at the Lord.”

Sometimes, maybe more often than not, the most sanctified prayers are the most unfiltered, unsanctimonious prayers.

THE PRAYER

Lord Jesus, you are right here, right now. Thank you for inviting me to pray as I am and not as I should be. Give me the courage to be my unfiltered self in your presence. Open me up to my own raw emotions in the sanctuary of your presence. I am willing. Right here, Jesus. Right now, Jesus. Amen.

THE QUESTIONS

  1. Have you ever expressed your anxiety in unfiltered and even what felt like risky ways before Jesus? What was that like? What is your level of access to your emotional life? How could bringing this before Jesus open you up?
  2. What do you make of this distinction between praying from the pain and struggle on the inside of a situation vs. praying from the outside of it?
  3. Where are you in your Spirit empowered sense of persistence and perseverance in prayer? Do you give up easily? Do you see the difference between will power and the power of the Holy Spirit to help you?

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J.D. Walt, is a Bond Slave of the Lord Jesus Christ. jd.walt@seedbed.com.

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