Summary: Even in our complaints, God is faithful. He hears them and answers them.
How’s your prayer life? That might seem like a tough question to answer at first glance unless, of course, we get to the heart of the matter. There’s more to your prayer life than just folded hands or closed eyes. There’s more to your prayer life than just the right sounding words.
In theory, we’re taught that our prayers should start off on a high note: praising and adoring God. That’s right and proper. But in practice we often see something else. Take Jeremiah’s prayer for instance. In theory, Jeremiah should have started with some note of praise. But in practicality, and in truth, the most praise he could muster was to call upon God as the LORD, and give his grievance. Let’s take a look at Jeremiah’s prayer. We’ll consider it under the theme: PRAY REALISTICALLY. Realistic prayer often begins with 1) complaint. Yet, the Lord moves It moves into 2) confidence.
1) Often With Complaining
O LORD, you deceived me, and I was deceived; you overpowered me and prevailed. I am ridiculed all day long; everyone mocks me. That’s the opening line of Jeremiah’s prayer. Jeremiah calls upon the faithful God, but he says that he was duped, as if God pulled the wool over his eyes. He thought God had promised him a “rose garden” ministry. And Jeremiah complains that he bought into it. He complains that he had ever said, “Yes, Lord, send me!” Well, in a manner of speaking, serving the LORD in the ministry is a rose garden: to have a lovely bed of roses, you end up taking more than your share of pricks from the thorns.
Jeremiah had many weeds to pull: he would be preaching much of God’s Holy Law to expose sin, and to condemn it. He had just gotten out of jail, after being flogged for proclaiming the truth: God was sending Judah into captivity for seventy years because of their sins. And so, the result was that he was ridiculed all day long. Everyone mocked him.
He was not exaggerating, as many do when they have a bad day. His enemies were whispering about him: I hear many whispering, “Terror on every side! Report him! Let’s report him!” His so-called friends were just waiting for him to fail. All my friends are waiting for me to slip, saying, “Perhaps he will be deceived; then we will prevail over him and take our revenge on him.”
Why this mockery? He was proclaiming God’s word. He was denouncing the evil deeds of his people: their violence. He was proclaiming what the results of their sins would be, unless they would repent: destruction. Even when he tried holding back, he could not. Because it was God’s word, not his. Whenever I speak, I cry out proclaiming violence and destruction. So the word of the LORD has brought me insult and reproach all day long. But if I say, “I will not mention him or speak any more in his name,” his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.
Let’s take a moment now, to learn from these words. Think back on your prayer life. None of us are Jeremiah: but as Christians, it shouldn’t be too hard for us to find a few things in common with this prophet. How many of your prayers, how many of my prayers, start out with something like “Lord, what happened to your promises? Where are you, in all of this? How is THIS working for ‘my good’”? How many of our prayers, start out with a hot complaint against God and against what he has done in our lives?
Did you happen to catch some of the faulty thinking on Jeremiah’s part? Jeremiah complains to God, as if it’s God’s fault that his message was not being listened to, and that Jeremiah was being mocked for preaching God’s Word. The cause for all the trouble was the hard as stone hearts of those to whom Jeremiah preached. The hardest of them were the very priests at the temple, and the kings and nobles who shepherded God’s people. That’s where the strongest persecution came. But that’s why God sent Jeremiah to them: to break their hard hearts! Jeremiah was complaining as if things WERE NOT working out right; but according to God’s schedule, everything was going as planned.
Point being: most of the complaints in our prayers are aimed against the wrong parties. This happens because we don’t know exactly how God’s plan is SUPPOSED to work. Sometimes, we pray with complaints against God, sometimes against ourselves, sometimes against others. The blessed thing about prayer, even our faulty prayers and complaints, is that we take them to God. He often answers our prayers just to correct our faulty thinking, so that we see things in the right way: that we realize we have no real reason to worry in the first place.