We all wear so many masks. In order to survive and safeguard our hearts, we pretend to be people we are not in order to gain acceptance as the people we think we ought to be.
Prayer is the one place on earth my masks can completely come off. Prayer is the one place on earth I can go, shut the door, leave behind all the masks, roles, and responsibilities and show my real self to a very real and waiting God.
But this un-masking of myself has been a long and painful process. It has taken a long time to learn that I can trust the God who is really there and really listening. My un-masking has come gradually; it has been a slow stripping of my outer layers of self-protection, layers that include performance, fear, anger, unforgiveness, envy, self-pity, and of course, pride.
This is why my favorite quote about prayer comes from C.S. Lewis: “The prayer that precedes all prayers is may the real me meet the real you.”
Otherwise, what’s the point? What’s the point of praying to God as a dressed up version of ourselves? Doesn’t He know the depths of the hurt and wickedness and sadness and hopes and dreams and loneliness of our hearts anyway?
So if prayer isn’t about being honest, then what’s it about? It’s more like hypocrisy than true spirituality. And this world doesn’t need anymore hypocrites. What it needs, perhaps now more than ever, is very real sinners praying in very real humility, need, and grace, before a very real God.
But as strange as it sounds, praying honestly and transparently before God is really hard work. More times than not, I find myself dressing up my words and phrases before God, trying to make myself sound good, right, holy, acceptable, or at least phrase my prayers in something that sounds like “Christianese.” Many times, I have to stop, scratch out the pretense I have been praying, pause, expose my heart, and pray the emotions, feelings, and words that make up real praying. And that’s when the real relationship and heart change with God really begins. He can’t do anything with a heart that’s dressed up, playing pretend. But He can do incredible things with a heart that comes raw, naked, vulnerable, real, hurting, sad, angry, transparent, but ready and waiting to let Him in.
So how do we get there? How do we get to the place where we are consistently praying real words and not just pretend ones?
Like I said, it’s not something I’ve mastered or that’s easy to do. But here are a few things I do to help my real words come out instead of the pretend ones:
- Set a timer and spend the first five minutes of your prayer time putting pen to paper and letting all the words come out. Don’t start your prayer time saying the things you think God wants to hear. Say the things you want Him to hear; say the things you really need to say. I’ve found the best way to do this is I set a timer for five minutes, I pick up my pen and my journal, and I just start writing. I tell Him exactly where I am in those moments. Sometimes I don’t even pick up my pen from the paper. I just write a long stream of thoughts and words and let it all flow out: “LordIamtiredthismorningandwanttogobacktobedIdon’tknowifIcandothisdayornotandIamgoingtoneedYourhelpPleasehelpmeGod.” Or, “I’mreallytickedoffatmychildrenandIdontwantanyonetotouchmetodaypleasehelpmewanttobearoundthemOGod.” If I’m angry, I tell Him I’m angry. If I’m sad, I tell Him I’m sad. If I’m thankful and content and excited to face the day, I tell Him I’m thankful. But I start those first five minutes by telling Him exactly where I am, not where I think I ought to be. If I don’t do this, I find the rest of my prayer time I am distracted, angry, worried, unable to focus on the task at hand. But if I can show up to God and tell Him where I really am, then I am able to fully present to the real Him and His very real Word for the rest of our time together.
- Write a Lament. A lament is simply this: a complaint. And this might sound strange, but many times the best way to put your trust in God is to complain to God. Sixty-seven of the psalms are laments, more than any other type of psalm. God knows that while we are on this earth, we will have trouble. We will experience great heartache. And our complaints and suffering are not off-limits to God; in fact, they are welcomed. Far better to complain and pour out your heart to God than to anyone else about your spouse, child, neighbor, friend, or co-worker, for He is the only one who can actually do anything about it. He alone holds access to all human hearts and has the power not only change them but to change you. So pour out your words to Him, the good, the bad, and the ugly, and then once you do, leave them there. I find that when I lament and complain to God, by the end, I have left the whole matter in His good, capable Hands. I am not only reminded of my troubles but of the power and capabilities of the One I am complaining to. But if I do not take the time or effort to put my lament into words, I end up processing it to other people or letting it affect my mood the rest of the day. So when you go to God, lament. Complain. And then leave it in God’s capable hands. And if you need an example of a lament to follow, Psalm 42, 43, or 143 are all great places to start.
- Confess your sin. Real prayer to a real God is hindered by our very real sin. If you lack the desire to pray or be in God’s presence, perhaps it is because there is sin in your life you need to confess. If you have sin that you know is wrong, but you don’t want to confess it as wrong – unforgiveness, envy, self-pity, discontentment – then start by saying, “Lord, I know it’s wrong to not forgive my friend, but to be honest, I hate him in my heart. He’s really hard to love. Forgive me for not wanting to forgive, and help my unbelief.” Many times with sin that I know is wrong but I have no desire to let go of, I start with the prayer, “Lord, I want to believe, I want to confess; help my unbelief” (see Mark 9:24). And the amazing thing is, He always does. He gets my heart to the place He knows it needs to be. But it starts with me being honest about where I really am, not where I think I should be, and being willing to ask for help.
- Pray your real desires, not the pretend ones. So many times, I have found I hold back from praying my real desires to God because they seem foolish or vain. Or, if I am really honest, instead of praying my desires, I bury my desires. Better to have a desire that is dead, buried underground, than to have it on the surface with God, vulnerable, naked, exposed, at risk to His “No” or “Not right now.” One of the most painful parts of prayer for me has been unearthing the desires of my heart I have kept buried for years and bringing them up and out into the light, holding them before God, asking Him to do something about them. But what I have discovered is that while God rarely answers my requests in the way I was hoping or wanting Him to, He answers in a way that gives me more of Himself – more trust, more faith, more hope, more awe, more wonder, more dependency on my brothers and sisters in the body of Christ.
- If you don’t know where to start or what to pray, use the Psalms as your template. God knew we would need a template to follow, a song book sung through the ages by His people, including His very own Son, to give us words when we needed them the most. He knew we would need permission to know it is ok to cry, to complain, to grieve, to question, to wonder, to doubt, and to sit in the dark. When life happens and we don’t know what to say or how to pray, turn to the psalms. Let their words shape your own, and use them to not only be encouraged by the stories of the people of God, but learn to insert your own stories into their phrases as well.
Perhaps more than any other time in our lives, we need to be people of prayer. God is not looking for perfect prayers, but He is looking for real people who are willing to be honest about where they really are, what they really need, and the God they are expecting to really show up and move. Let’s commit to learning how to pray to this very real and good God together.
And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Matthew 6:5-8
To listen to more on the importance of prayer and why we pray, you can listen here on YouTube.
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