When the storms of life are bigger than we are, our only recourse as the people of God is to pray. But how often are we really praying?
I've been fighting one of those battles lately. Nothing life-shattering, but just one of those things that's bigger than my best devices. And I have to admit that I've tried every unfaithful thing to win this fight. (Meaning, of course, that I've done everything I can think to do apart from God to defeat this dragon on my own.) And the weird thing is that the more I tried to win on my own, the angrier I got...with God.
It wasn't long until I found myself cursing at God for not letting me win. Literally cursing at Him. I would cry out His name in absolute frustration and anger, not understanding why God would not give me the victory I was so diligently seeking. At times, I found myself mumbling idle threats, knowing I'd never follow through on them at all but feeling like God needed to know how upset I was with still losing. Sometimes, I'd just scream. Just all-out scream, thinking God might at least hear my screams and do something about them.
After all, the Spirit groans for us when we cannot find the words, right? When I'm screaming, surely God knows exactly what that means.
And then...and then when the heavens remained silent and the shadows of the dragon stretched further over my life, I got mad. Absolutely mad. Does God not hear my cursing Him? Does He not care about my threats? Does He not hear my screaming? I have screamed His name, for God's sakes, and still nothing. Is there nothing in my arsenal that can get God to pay attention here? What about this God who supposedly fights for me?
This God, He does fight for me. But there's a second part to that verse: I need only to be still.
And when I finally stilled myself, angry thoughts settling down in my head and coming to rest on a bed of seething frustration, I heard it.
You have cursed. You have cried. You have yelled. You have screamed. You have held it against Me, as though I'm doing this horrible thing to you. But...have you asked? Have you prayed?
See, prayer is more than just saying God's name; it's having a conversation with Him. And as much as I kept coming back to God in anger and frustration, I had never come in open dialogue. I had never even come in expectation. I had always come demanding, never asking.
I think we all get stuck in this from time to time, this idea that any interaction we have with God is somehow prayer. This idea that just because we're thinking about Him, we're thinking of Him. And it's just not the case. It's just not true. To pray is to intentionally engage with God. It's to come not shouting, but speaking. And listening.
I'm not saying there's not a place for ranting and raving, for showing our frustration, for shouting and screaming and yelling His name. I'm not saying there's not a place for our real human emotion to show before God. I'm not saying He doesn't honor that; He does. But our most honest, our most real, our most raw beseeching of God does not come from this stressed-out place; it comes from a stilled place. It comes from a place where we're able to calm down and faithfully, reasonably, reassuredly say, This is what I desire, Lord. Fight for me.
If you're a parent, you know this. Your kid is throwing a tantrum, crying, screaming. Red face, tears everywhere, choking on their own snot. Through agonized breaths, they're cursing you in their own way. Their frustration is showing. If you listen carefully, you can almost make it out. And I'm not a parent, but I was a kid once, and in these moments, what I always heard was, You need to calm down so I can understand you, then tell me what it is you're trying to say.
It's the same thing with God. He sees our tantrum. His heart aches to see us in such distress. But He's waiting for us to calm down so He can understand, calm down so we can understand, and tell Him exactly what it is we're trying to say. This is prayer.
And when I finally caught my breath enough to pray, the rest of me stilled. I simply said, God. I...don't want to do this any more. But it's bigger than me. I can't win.
I know, He answered. But I can.
So now, I pray a lot more. Not just because it feels like the faithful thing to do but because...because when I'm screaming, I don't care what I get. I just want something. But when I still myself to pray, when I catch my breath, when I put into words what I'm trying to say, I know exactly what I want.
I want God.