How Prayer Quiet and Calms Us

Purple flowers with yellow background and text from post

If God is sovereign, why pray? If He already knows precisely how everything in all the world, my life included, will play out, what’s the purpose in laying my requests before Him? Why not simply bow my head, say, “Thy will be done,” and move on to more productive matters like serving in soup kitchens, orphanages, and nurseries?

I suspect we’ve all wrestled with these questions. I have. I’ve even brought them to God in prayer, as ironic as that may sound. And as I sat in His presence, He met me and showered me with His love and grace. My requests became conversations, my fears and anxieties pathways to certainty, and my unmet earthly desires avenues to becoming filled with something more sustaining and satisfying than anything I might acquire apart from Him.

Yellow background with text pulled from post.Through prayer, God redirects, instructs, and fills my heart while purging it of everything that gets in His way. He reveals hidden motives, undetected sins, and bits of deception that, if not dealt with, hinder my faith, my journey, and my relationship with Him. Often, I begin with a frustration or concern, but as His love reigns over me, it overpowers every angst filled thought with truth.

When I fear financial difficulties, He reminds me He’s my provider and that all the world, a thousand banks included, sit under His command.

When illness steals the health of those I love, He assures me He holds all of eternity, their life included, in His grasp.

When I’m watching someone I care deeply for flounder and fight their way to maturity, He gently directs me to Philippians 1:6, which tells me He is working, at this moment, to grow them in Him. He won’t let go, leave them as orphans, nor will He let up until His will, in their life and mine, has come to pass.

There’s such peace in knowing that. In recognizing that God has a good, loving, and hope-filled plan for each of His children and is fully capable of bringing it to pass. When I pause to reflect on that truth, promised numerous times throughout Scripture, my soul quiets itself like a weaned child resting in the arms of its mother.

You may be familiar with that reference of a content and satiated toddler, and of the story behind the man who wrote it. It’s found in Psalm 131, written by David, Israel’s second king. Anointed as a youth, he endured years of persecution and betrayal before seeing God’s plans unfold. In the waiting, he fled his homeland in fear for his life, hid in the wilderness, caves, and acted like a madman. But though sorrow and fears assaulted him, they never remained. God never allowed them to take root. Instead, as David sat in the presence of the Almighty, loved from the hairs on his head to the tips of his toes, God led him on a gentle but empowering journey to faith.

Psalm 59 is one of my favorite examples, written after David, afraid for his life, flees a murderous king by climbing out his window. His prayer begins with desperate pleas but ends with courage, confidence and peace.

“Rescue me from my enemies, O God. Protect me from those who have come to destroy me. Rescue me from these criminals; save me from these murderers. … I have done nothing wrong, yet they prepare to attack me. Wake up! See what is happening and help me!” (Ps. 59:1-2, 4b).

Can you sense his desperation? It’s as if he’s saying, “Don’t You see? Why have You allowed this?”

But then, in the middle of his turmoil, God draws him deeper into His embrace, and David’s heart overflows with praise. “You are my strength,” he says “O Lord our shield” (vs. 9a, 11b). “My enemies come out at night, snarling like vicious dogs as they prowl the streets” (v. 14). In other words, they’re real and terrifying, but David knew God was greater. “As for me, I will sing about Your power. Each morning I will Psalm 59:17bsing with joy about Your unfailing love. For You” not castle strongholds, weapons of warfare, or armed soldiers “have been my refuge, a place of safety when I am in distress” (v. 16).

I love that last line and the promise it provides. God is our refuge and safety, and we can always rest in His love. As we come to Him with our heartfelt concerns, He quiets the angst within and replaces it with unshakable confidence and peace.

Though He may indeed answer our prayers as we hope, He anchors us in something infinitely deeper, more solid, and more enduring—Himself and His unfailing love.

I don’t know your requests or how God will answer. But I can promise this:

He sees you. (Psalm 34:15)

He hears you. (Psalm 34:6)

He loves you unfailingly. (Psalm 57:3)

He will fulfill His purposes for you. (Psalm 57:2)

He surrounds and defends you. (Psalm 34:7)

When your heart breaks, He holds you close. (Psalm 34:18)

He is faithful, strong, attentive and true. (Deut. 7:9, Ps. 28:7, John 3:33)

Let’s talk about this! Do you have any favorite Psalms, most specifically, those written by ancient Israel’s King David? If so, which ones and why do you treasure that passage? Have you ever used one of David’s prayers as a guide or springboard for your own? Share your thoughts, stories, examples, and questions with us in the comments below, because we can all encourage, challenge, and inspire one another!

Logo image for Wholly Loved's Bible reading appBefore you leave, I have fun news! Wholly Loved Ministries’ Bible will soon have a 30-day Bible reading plan available on YouVersion! I’ll share the link when I have it. In the meantime, I encourage you to join our closed Facebook group. It’s a safe place where women can share their struggles, fears, doubts, and celebrations. to join, click the button below.

Wholly Loved Ministries
Closed group · 457 members
 

Join Group

 

A place for women to come together, share their struggles, celebrations, and insights, and inspire one another to be all God created them to be.

 

Raw Emotions

Emotions are a confusing issue in the evangelical world. It seems we jump to one of two extremes: either we rely heavily on our emotions, sacrificing truth; or we relegate them to the flesh in suppressed denial. Neither extreme is healthy and I wonder if perhaps both lead to the same emotion–bitterness. Tuesday we discussed the problems with allowing wounds to fester. Our wounds fester when we rehash them again and again, working the perceived injustice in our mind until it consumes our every thought. But I believe suppressed denial follows a similar path, the traveler’s journey is just a bit quieter. For a time, anyway, until those swallowed-down, pent-up emotions grow to the point of explosion. Then, watch out! There she blows–only it normally isn’t the inciting incident that leads to explosion. It’s a pen that ran out of ink, a driver going too slow on the freeway, or an unsuspecting spouse who happens to glance right when they should have glanced left.

Because of this, many opt for a get-it-off-your-chest, tell-all approach. When we lived in California, I participated in a Mom’s Club. This was the approach they opted for, and every meeting ended the same–in increased anger and bitterness as each of us fueled one another’s furry. Normally one mom would start us off, launching into the latest injustice performed by her spouse. Before long, everyone joined in the vent-fest, matching one another story-for-story. Only problem, by the time we were done, everyone felt worse, not better. No resolutions had been reached and the venting that was supposed to “get things off our chest” only added kindling to the smoldering fire.

One of my favorite verses is Ephesians 4:29 “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouth, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”

According to this verse, there’s no room for venting…to one another. But we can and should vent to God.

This is the behavior I see demonstrated by David again and again. When you read through 1 Samuel, you’ll notice he didn’t spend his time bashing Saul. He could have, and likely would have found a sympathetic audience. Instead, David spoke well of Saul! Now that’s a tough one to swallow. If it had been me, sadly, I would have thrown a few pity parties, inviting everyone to come! But David didn’t do that. Instead, he turned to the only One who could truly help–God. Then, he held absolutely nothing back. He poured his heart out to God with raw, unhindered, unmasked honesty, openly acknowledging the depths of his pain, asking God to help him, hold him, carry him and strengthen him.

I believe a false notion has crept into Christianity. We believe faith is the absence of fear and praise is the absence of pain.

According to John C. Hutchison, author of Thinking Right When Things Go Wrong, rejoicing in sufferings isn’t celebrating the trial or pain, but instead, celebrating the God who carries you through it: “The biblical teaching of joy or rejoicing has more to do with a confidence in one’s convictions than it does with emotion…When we rejoice in suffering, it is an expression of faith, a conviction that God is in control and that He is doing something constructive and good through this experience. Our en-joy-ment as Christians is in the belief that God is at work in our midst.” (pg 60)

Throughout the psalms, this is what David did. He didn’t celebrate the pain or injustice. His praise centered on who God was, what He’d done in the past, and what David believed He would do in the future. There appears to be an oft repeated pattern to David’s prayers.

1. He openly and honestly vented to God:

Psalm 142:1-4 (NIV)

I cry aloud to the LORD;
I lift up my voice to the LORD for mercy.
2 I pour out before him my complaint;
before him I tell my trouble.

3 When my spirit grows faint within me,
it is you who watch over my way.
In the path where I walk
people have hidden a snare for me.
4 Look and see, there is no one at my right hand;
no one is concerned for me.
I have no refuge;
no one cares for my life.

Psalm 102:3-11

For my days vanish like smoke;
my bones burn like glowing embers.
4 My heart is blighted and withered like grass;
I forget to eat my food.
5 In my distress I groan aloud
and am reduced to skin and bones.
6 I am like a desert owl,
like an owl among the ruins.
7 I lie awake; I have become
like a bird alone on a roof.
8 All day long my enemies taunt me;
those who rail against me use my name as a curse.
9 For I eat ashes as my food
and mingle my drink with tears
10 because of your great wrath,
for you have taken me up and thrown me aside.
11 My days are like the evening shadow;
I wither away like grass.

Psalm 109:1-5

My God, whom I praise,
do not remain silent,
2 for people who are wicked and deceitful
have opened their mouths against me;
they have spoken against me with lying tongues.
3 With words of hatred they surround me;
they attack me without cause.
4 In return for my friendship they accuse me,
but I am a man of prayer.
5 They repay me evil for good,
and hatred for my friendship.

Notice, these are not words of celebration. They are words of deep anguish and depression.

2. Next, David changes his focus, off the problem and placed it on God. This is when his pain turns to praise, not for the situation, but instead, for God’s steadfast, all-powerful, loving character:

Psalm 142:5

I cry to you, LORD;
I say, “You are my refuge,
my portion in the land of the living.”

God is His refuge.

Psalm 102: 12-17

12 But you, LORD, sit enthroned forever;
your renown endures through all generations.
13 You will arise and have compassion on Zion,
for it is time to show favor to her;
the appointed time has come.
14 For her stones are dear to your servants;
her very dust moves them to pity.
15 The nations will fear the name of the LORD,
all the kings of the earth will revere your glory.
16 For the LORD will rebuild Zion
and appear in his glory.
17 He will respond to the prayer of the destitute;
he will not despise their plea.

God is powerful, glorious and sovereign and listens to the prayers of His children.

3. Then he asks God for help. The psalms provide numerous examples of this, but in order to spare you another 1,000 or so words, I’ll let you look them up yourself. Read through the psalms and notice if you don’t see a similar pattern. God recorded David’s prayers for a reason. I believe they serve as models to us.

To recap, when David experienced deep emotional pain he:

1. Refused to vent to others

2. He shared his feelings openly and honestly with God

3. He focused on God’s character (who God is)

4. He asked God for help

I believe these steps allowed him to deal effectively with his emotions, enabling him to heal completely. I believe the same is possible for us, although I don’t think forgiveness is  always, nor a one-time event. I often use the term, “fighting to forgiveness” to describe this continual process. Come back Tuesday to learn the meaning of this phrase, why forgiveness often resembles a determined fight, and how we can stay in the ring until the victory bell chimes.

Freedom in Forgiveness

About four years ago, I was hurt deeply by a member of my church family. Somehow wounds always sting more when they’re inflicted by a believer, perhaps because we expect more of them. So, when our saintly friends act in human ways, it blind-sights us.

I’ve never been good at letting things go. I have one of the strongest defense mechanisms there is. Oh, I don’t fight and scream and hurl nasty insults…I withdraw, and fester.

But the problem with festering is it infects. This wound stayed with me, and grew to bitterness. Praise be to God, He has an infestation magnet and rapidly moved in for a heart-check. During this time, we attended a small group Bible study. First visit, guess what they were talking about? Yep, forgiveness. Or more accurately, getting rid of the root of bitterness. Outside, a small fire burned. Each of us were given a slip of paper and asked to prayerfull consider who we needed to forgive. I didn’t have to pray. One name radiated throughout my brain, and brought tears even then. (Actually, I think I cried the entire study, that’s how deep my wounds were. Rather humiliating. “Hi, sniffle, snort, I’m Jennifer…”)

Scrawling the name came easy, it was releasing this person from my heart I struggled with. But as I approached the blazing fire, paper clutched in my hand, reality settled in, and my pain turned to praise. Yes, God wanted me to forgive this person out of obedience and as an active demonstration of my love for Him and gratitude for all He’d done. But it was so much more than that! Christ paid for my freedom when He died on the cross, but this root of bitterness had infested me, hindered me…enslaved me. Christ wanted me to let it go, because only then would I truly be free.

So I did. I threw the paper in the fire and walked away.

Anger and bitterness are secondary emotions. Most often, they begin with pain. When someone hurts you, you have two choices: hold on to that hurt, and work it until a root of bitterness grows, or pluck it out by turning to God and asking Him to heal your wounds.

As with any roots, the quicker you pluck it out, the easier it will be. The longer the bitterness remains, and the more we feed it, the deeper its roots penetrate, wrapping tighter and tighter around our hearts, extending their reach until they color everything we do. It holds us in bondage.

Ephesians 4:26-27 says, “And don’t sin by letting your anger control you. Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, for anger gives a foothold to the devil.” (NLT)

Let me repeat verse 27: “for anger gives a foothold to the devil.”

This truth is reiterated throughout Scripture, begining with Cain, the world’s first murderer.

Cain was jealous of his brother and his brother’s close relationship with God. Perhaps initially he felt hurt and insignificant, but over time, his pain grew to jealously, which grew to bitterness, which grew to murderous rage. (Genesis 4)

Then there are the sons of Jacob. Their father openly favored their younger brother Joseph. That had to cut deep! But instead of turning to God for comfort and aid, they focused their thinking on their wounds, working each injustice in their mind until it turned to jealousy, which grew to bitterness, which grew to murderous rage. (Genesis 37)

Then there’s Saul, Israel’s first king. He reigned on the throne, but his people loved David, God’s annointed. Perhaps at first his people’s open admiration for David hurt. No one likes to be ignored. No one likes to be outshined, and why was this young shepherd boy receiving such attention? The more he worked it, the more his wounds of injustice grew until they turned to jealousy, which grew to bitterness, which grew to murderous rage…and insanity. (I Samuel 19-27)

Psalm 4:4 says, “Don’t sin by letting your anger control you. Think about it overnight and remain silent.” (NLT)

This verse appears to imply that we have a choice in the matter. Don’t let your anger control you. Be rational. Don’t rehash it again and again, turning every conversation into a venting-fest. Let it go.

We live in a fallen world filled with fallen people and emotional scars are inevitable. But I believe God has provided examples in His Word for deeling with these scars effectively before they fester and infest our hearts and minds.

I’ll leave you today with some questions to consider. As you read this, did a name instantly surface? And a slew of emotions along with it? Think about those emotions. The increased tension, the surge of adrenaline, the knotted stomach. When you hold on to bitterness and unforgiveness, who does it hurt most?

David experienced some deep wounds in his life, yet he managed to remain free of anger and bitterness. Come back Thursday as we examine his life in greater detail in order to apply a few concrete steps to our lives the next time our hearts are sliced.

What Do My Emotions Have to Do With It?

I pause with my hands on the steering wheel to suck in a few breaths of air, then scan the church parking lot. Daphni’s red Toyota sits a few stalls away, glimmering in the early evening sun. A wave of bitterness washes over me as our previous conversation comes to mind. I shake it off.

Forgive and forget. Love, joy, peace, patience.

And if not love, a steady dose of tolerance–or duck tape.

Yeah, I know. Not loving, but Lord, help me out here. You remember what she said. You’ve seen how many times she’s slammed on me, with that painted smile of hers and those narrowed eyes–as if she’s Your gift to the entire congregation.

A familiar passage fills my find, adding a twinge of guilt to my already heightened senses.

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? (Matthew 5:43-46 NIV)

I sigh, jump out and lock my van. Footsteps shuffle behind me. I turn and smile as Yana approaches with her three children.

“Beautiful day, isn’t it?” She smoothes a stray lock of hair in place.

“Absolutely lovely.” I lift my voice to hide the bitterness fermenting within and cast a glance to the metal door leading to the fellowship hall. Forgive and forget. Gentleness, patience…love. Good thing love is an action, not an emotion.

But then there is David from the Old Testament.

*      *      *

Relax, that story was fictional. I’m not secretly seething every time I go to church, but I have struggled with bitterness and unforgiveness on occasion. And in those moments when my blood boils and negative thoughts fill my head, I console myself with the oft quote phrase, “Love is an action, not an emotion.” But then I read 2 Samuel 1.

For years, David served Saul faithfully, but Saul mistreated him again and again. Saul promised David his daughter’s hand in marriage if he killed the Philistine warrior, Goliath, but come time, he gave her to someone else. Even so, David remained faithful, playing music for Saul when agitation set in. Over time, Saul’s anger and jealousy grew, until he began to hunt his trusted servant. David fled, hiding in caves, among the Philistines, and where ever he could to flee Saul’s wrath. Again and again, he had the opportunity to slay Saul, but again and again he refused, vowing to never harm the Lord’s anointed.

Rationally, we can accept this. David doesn’t murder Saul because he’s trusted God to exact revenge. It’s easy to lay down your sword if you think someone else will pick it up. But then we get to 2 Samuel 1 and read about the moment David learns of Saul’s death.

Put yourself in David’s position. You’ve lived on the run for so long, you can’t remember what peace feels like. You’ve been slandered, cheated and mistreated, and now, after countless nights of anguished prayers, your enemy is dead. How would you feel? What would you do? Would you rejoice or mourn?

David mourned. Granted, much of his mourning was for the loss of Jonathan, his dearest friend, who was also killed. But he mourned for Saul as well. In fact, he didn’t just mourn. He composed a song. (You can read it here.)

In the NLT, he calls Saul Israel’s pride and joy. Does that sound like an embittered man?

As I read 2 Samuel 1 this morning, having followed the story from 1 Samuel 16, when David was anointed, to 1 Samuel 17 when David slew Goliath, to 1 Samuel 19 when Saul tried to kill him, and on and on, I was a bit taken aback to see David display such genuine love for his enemy. One question burned: How did he do it? How did he overcome the bitterness I know had to spark at least on one occasion.  What enabled him to forgive so deeply, so completely, that his bitterness turned to love?

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could travel back in time and ask him ourselves? Unfortunately, we can’t. But we can compare and contrast his attitude and responses from other biblical characters, including Saul, who took the opposite approach, and allowed bitterness to consume them. But I’m not going to be able to do that in one post. (Otherwise I’d break the cardinal rule of blogging–never go over 1,000 words.  lol) Over the next week or so, we’ll talk about the effects of bitterness, and steps we can take to move past it.

Emotions are a funny thing. Often it seems they have a mind of their own, and we poor, emotionally-driven humans are helplessly carried along in their unpredictable current. But I don’t think that’s the case, at least, not entirely. Our emotions are largely triggered by our thought processes, and vice versa. As we align our thoughts with the truth of God’s word, and turn to Him in prayer, He begins to align our emotions to match. It’s not a get-happy-quick deal. Quite the contrary. It takes diligence and determination, but I believe bitterness free living is possible.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and questions on this, and make sure to come back next post to discuss the destructiveness of bitterness. When we’re fueled by anger, we feel like we have the upper hand, but in truth, we are enslaved.

But Christ wants so much more for us. He died to set us free!