Surprising Times to Pray (According to the Bible)
Raise your hand if you would call yourself a good pray-er.
If we were in an actual room together, it’s likely that very few hands would be in the air. Prayer is tough. It doesn’t feel like it comes naturally. We are a people who often major in church attendance (or the live stream), or we major in Bible study, or we major in podcast listening. But we often minor in prayer. Prayer kind of takes the backseat of our spiritual lives.
But why? Prayer is just talking to God. If we have a relationship with God, then why is it so dang hard to just talk to him? There are so many common barriers: Busyness. Shame. Apathy. Our sin. Pride. It’s hard to focus. Sometimes, I feel like I need to have it all together to come to him. And the list goes on, right?
There are hundreds of prayers in the Bible. A quick scan over just some of them gives us a huge range of the times that people prayed. It wasn’t just hour-long quiet times over and over, someone sitting down with a nice cup of coffee and lit candle with their journal and Bible. Don’t get me wrong: that’s a great way to pray. But the Bible doesn’t actually mention praying this way. It often looks messy or noisy or just plain raw.
So when did people in the Bible pray? What did that actually look like?
3 Surprising Times To Pray (According to the Bible)
- When You’re Overwhelmed with Anger
When was the last time you were so angry that you demanded God pour his out wrath upon your enemies?
The Psalms go there: “Pour out your indignation upon [my enemies], and let your burning anger overtake them” (Psalm 69:24). Yes, someone in the Bible actually prayed a curse upon an enemy—that God’s fury would be poured out on them, that their lives would be devasted.
We could have a long conversation about if we should pray the same kind of thing, but here’s the main point: the psalmist didn’t hold back. In the midst of his deep anger and hurt, he cried out to God.
- When You’re Doubting
In Psalm 73, the psalmist is honest with God about his questions. The wicked people surrounding him are living in comfort and getting richer, even though their words oppose God. Meanwhile, the psalmist has “kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence” (Psalm 73:13). These people aren’t living for you and their lives look great, but me?? I’m trying to follow you and it’s all in vain! Obeying God is useless, the psalmist concludes in verse 13.
I love this psalm because this guy doesn’t just gloss over pain or downplay a seeming injustice. God, what is going on?, he asks in confusion. He takes his honest struggle to God. He doesn’t keep it inside.
- When You’re Drowning in Depression or Suffering
Ever felt a depth of sadness that just lingers like a heavy fog? Consider the way the psalmist in Psalm 42 describes his feelings: “My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all the day long,‘Where is your God?’” (v. 3). He goes on, “My soul is cast down within me…all your breakers and your waves have gone over me” (v. 5, 7). He feels like he’s drowning, crushed by wave after wave and no longer has legs to stand on.
He speaks to God what we often think but don’t always voice: “Why have you forgotten me?” (v. 9).
The psalmist says that to God! In his tears. And God can handle it.
It doesn’t always feel like it, but God is perfectly comfortable sitting with you in your anger, or in your sadness, or in your suffering. He isn’t scared away by it.
I have four kids, and I love nothing more than when one of them opens up to me about how they’re feeling. That’s because if they never told me anything, I would be so bummed. I want to be in it with them. I don’t want them to have to feel things alone. I want them to know that I am safe for all their junk. That’s what God is for us. He wants to hear all your stuff, and he wants to walk with you in it.
What if we were a people who believed that? I think our prayer lives would change.
Maybe we would “pray continually” as we’re taught in 1 Thess. 5:17, thinking and feeling with God, and taking our inward lives and laying them down before him. There is a great mystery in how prayer “works,” but we do now that prayer like this shapes us. In God’s presence, our perspectives are lifted from the temporal and immediate to the eternal and infinite.
And God will lead us. The psalmist says in Psalm 73:21-24,
When my soul was embittered,
when I was pricked in heart,
I was brutish and ignorant;
I was like a beast toward you.
Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
you hold my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will receive me to glory.
It was God who led him through the valley. And it is God himself who keeps our fingers gripping – sometimes loosely, but still gripping – the boat of faith. God himself keeps that boat from capsizing, and while he walks with us, he keeps us, hears us, and draws us closer to himself. So don’t hold back. Speak to him.