What God Says About Prayer

Written By: Sierra Okoniewski


July 10, 2024

“Dear God, I cannot love Thee the way I want to.”

In my wanderings on the internet, I stumbled across an article on the prayers of a twentieth-century American novelist whom I’d rather keep unnamed due to their disregard for the dignity of men and women created in the image of God. But something in “Dear God, I cannot love Thee the way I want to” stops me in my tracks. Maybe because I’m a deeply flawed individual who struggles with loving God the way I truly want to. Maybe because also someone had the guts to square up to the Creator of all things and tell Him exactly what they felt about their faith.

Historically, I’ve had a complicated relationship with prayer. After a falling out with the Church in college, I went from long, everyday conversations with God to a period of several years where I refused even to look at my Bible. I felt a massive wall between myself and the Lord, and when I finally wanted to talk to Him again, I didn’t know how anymore. I realized later that this was because I didn’t trust God enough to be utterly (devastatingly) honest with my prayers.

If I’d been upfront with God at the time, I would have prayed things like, “I don’t want anything to do with you, God. But everything inside of me feels like it’s dying.” Or “I’m furious at the way you allow evil people to do evil things. Aren’t you supposed to be a God of justice? Aren’t you supposed to protect your people?” You get the gist. But I didn’t say these things to Him because I thought prayer was always supposed to be heavy with reverence and gratitude. Nothing in me felt reverent or grateful at all, so of course, I didn’t pray.

Since then, God has opened my eyes to what prayer really looks like. Authentic prayer is certainly praise-filled, yes. But I’ve learned that it’s also angry, broken, desperate, confused, and vulnerable. As the Lord has brought healing into my relationship with Him, here’s a peek at how He’s taught me to pray again:

1️⃣ Prayer is honest.

Sometimes, we can get the idea that it’s wrong to wrestle with God in prayer, but Scripture portrays the opposite. Take King David, for example — a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14), who wrote this in the Psalms:

“How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? Consider and answer me, O Lord my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death, lest my enemy say, ‘I have prevailed over him,’ lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.” — Psalm 13:1–4

Or consider Mary, the sister of Jesus’ close friend, Lazurus. When the Lord came to them after the death of her brother, she fell at His feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:32b). I’m struck by the rawness of this. In her heartbreak, there’s an accusatory edge to Mary’s prayer: Lord, where were you? You could have done something to save him, but you didn’t. Jesus, in response, isn’t angry. Instead, deeply moved, He weeps with her (John 11:33, 35).

As I’ve learned to pray vulnerable prayers, I’ve become less inclined to present some shiny, proper version of myself to God. Instead, I’m growing accustomed to sitting with Him in the grit of my life. He’s taught me that I can trust Him with the tension of my humanity that often screams, ‘God, if you’re good, then why is the rest of the world so bad?’ Every time, He shows me that I can believe in His character — not in spite of the bitter things, but in the midst of them. He’s proven to me that He hates death, pain, and injustice as much as I do and more. It’s the same understanding of God that leads King David to conclude his heartfelt cry of lament like this:

“But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me.” — Psalm 13:5–6

2️⃣ Prayer is uncomplicated.

In his first New Testament letter to the church in Thessalonica, Paul urges believers to “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, [and] give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16–18).

I used to be intimidated by the idea of “ceaseless prayer.” I’m not great at multitasking, so for a long time, the thought that I should be smushing conversations with God into the crevices of my daily schedule didn’t seem attainable. But eventually, I realized what Paul actually meant: not that I’m obligated to be in prayer every single second, but that a relationship with the Lord means that He’s graciously given me access to Himself everywhere, all the time.

In this way, prayer is delightfully uncomplicated. Setting aside committed time with the Lord is important, but if I want to talk to Him about something, I don’t have to dedicate an hour to my journal to do it. I can be in conversation with a friend while simultaneously asking God to hold them close. If I’m confused, anxious, or overwhelmed, I can ask God to lead and steady me in the moment. Funnily enough, the more I pray like this, the more I also find myself “rejoicing always” throughout my day — marveling at the Father in the small moments for things ranging from the tremendous comfort of His presence to the simple goodness of a cup of coffee.

As the Lord has directed my life, I’ve come to realize that I’ll always be learning things about Him, which means that I’ll always be learning things about prayer. And that’s one of the beautiful things about talking to God: it’s really not about doing it perfectly. Instead, the Father invites us to wrestle with Him — honestly, constantly — so that He can teach us that He’s worthy of our trust, devotion, and praise. I’m amazed at the way He loves us so much in our humanness. I’ve never been even remotely close to deserving it. And maybe that’s the point.

“The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” — Philippians 4:5b-6