Each Lent, we accompany Christ on the way of the cross via prayer, fasting, and almsgiving but still skim the surface. Why not go deep and get real with the Lord? Sometimes, we just don’t know how. So, let’s learn from Jesus crucified how to be vulnerable before the Lord, which gives Him access to our hearts for our transformation and His glory. Neither a Scripture study nor a theological treatise, this simple reflection may facilitate a deeper relationship with the Lord. Since Jesus was like us in all things but sin (Heb. 4:15), He models prayer that is spiritually and psychologically healthy. In His darkest moment, when He is near death on the cross, He cries to His Father, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt. 27:46). Here, Jesus teaches four elements of “honest prayer.”
1. He Articulates. Jesus says what He thinks, which beats dancing around an issue as if the Lord can’t handle our honesty. In fact, Jesus confronted His Father with His perception of reality. Transparency is safe because what happens in our lives really matters to the Lord. The Lord eagerly waits for us to accept and articulate our thoughts, feelings, and circumstances. While it can be difficult to figure out what is going on inside of us, the Lord loves it when we pray the truth of our lives. Facing our sin, fears, pain, and brokenness allows Him to meet us where we are at in order to lift us up. Isn’t this exactly where the enemy would like believers to be – in a shallow, pseudo relationship as if the Lord doesn’t care, listen, or respond? Yes, Jesus bothers His Father with what is on His mind and in His heart, without trying to impress Him.
2. He Feels. Jesus recognizes what He feels and includes this in His prayer.
Rather than repress or unleash, Jesus teaches us to channel (constructively manage) our feelings. (a) Feelings are part of a normal psychology, every human existence, and a good indicator of how deeply something affects us. It’s healthy to be aware of, accept, and label feelings. (b) Feelings are neutral: positive if leading to fullness of life with God and others and negative if dragging us down. Awareness and reflection bring understanding. What is going on in and around us? Where is this coming from? Is this taking us to or away from the Lord? (c) At this point, feelings are handled with right action. We accept (go along with) feelings that correspond to reality/truth and reject (let go of) feelings that correspond to lies/illusions. Indeed, Jesus models a healthy integration of feelings in His prayer and life.
3. He Questions. This painful question indicates that Jesus talked with and listened to His Father regularly. If God is real and prayer is heartfelt dialogue, then why not? This interactive prayer is not just for great saints with fantastic missions, but for each of us in our daily lives. Yet, to question is to risk. The Lord may respond with: silence, inviting us to wait; unanswered prayer, because “no” is really best; or with a “yes,” offering affirmation and instruction. While He communicates uniquely with each of us (through Scripture, our spouse, our circumstances, nature, an image, etc.), we all recognize His Word in the depths of our being. The Lord is not abstract and distant but we often keep Him at arm’s length by failing to ask. Like us, Jesus questions His Father because He needs individual direction and reassurance.
4. He Surrenders. This cry of Jesus, while expressing His thoughts, feelings, and questions of abandonment, is the beginning of Psalm 22, which ends with words of trust! For Jesus, the night was dark, the mystery was incomprehensible, and death was looming. Yet, He knew that He had to pass through to the other side. While there are times to fix things, there are also times to accept what is. Honestly, we aren’t God – so, right relationship with Him means attentive listening, radical trust, and patient obedience when it matters most. Paraphrased, this sounds like, “OK, Lord, I know you see the big picture and have this under control. It doesn’t make sense to me and feels like a ‘dying’ right now, but You are my God and I trust you to work through this.” Isn’t resistance often a great source of pain itself? Jesus’ final teaching on honest prayer is that of surrender in the moment, resting in the Lord Whose ways are superior to our own in every way.
This Lent, let’s learn from Jesus how to pray - deeply and honestly about our reality. After all, a superficial, sterile, vague, and avoidant relationship isn’t much of a relationship. Honest prayer knits us to the Lord - just as clean communication bonds us with our spouse or close friend. Thankfully, Jesus showed us how to be vulnerable and nervy in dark moments – trusting that the Lord loves us unconditionally! These heartaches we are afraid to share with God or admit to ourselves may be the ticket to freedom and healing if we just stay in the game - by going again and again to Him in prayer. Thankfully, we already know the ending for those who walk with the Lord to the end - after the cross comes the resurrection!