When we have such a relationship, prayer simply cannot be a trite formality, it is honest conversation about the things that matter the most to us. Above all, the conversation must be honest, or it isn’t real friendship after all. Suppose there’s a Brother Jones working near you who is irritating you to death and that night you kneel and say, “Oh Lord, do bless Brother Jones. Thou knowest how I love him.” If you listen closely you might hear God say, “That’s very sweet. But, why don’t you tell me the truth? You hate the ground he walks on. And if you would only just admit it, maybe I could begin to help you. But so long as you pretend, there is not much I can do.”
When King David was depressed, he said so:
Will the Lord spurn forever, and never again be favorable? Has his steadfast love for ever [sic] ceased? Are his promises at an end for all time? Has God forgotten to be gracious? . . . And I say, “It is my grief that the right hand of the Most High has changed” (Psa 77:7-10, RSV).
David said that to God in prayer. Of course, that is only the first half of the psalm. You will find at the end of the seventy-seventh Psalm how David resolved his depression (Psa 77:11-20). But if David wanted vengeance, he wouldn’t say, “Lord, thou knowest how I love Brother Isaac and I hope his crops will flourish this year,” when really David wished that the blood of Brother Isaac would flow down the street and would water the furrows of his field and the locusts would consume his crops! So David would kneel and say something like, “Lord, thou knowest my thoughts anyway, so why should I pretend?” Based on Psalm 139:1-12. Then he would continue:
O that thou wouldst slay the wicked, O God. . . . Do I not hate them that hate thee, O Lord? And do I not loathe them that rise up against thee? I hate them with perfect hatred; I count them my enemies. Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting (Psalm 139:19, 21-24, RSV).
In this passage David invited healing. He knew he needed a new heart and a right spirit, truth in the inner man. So first he presented himself honestly to God. He said, “You know all my thoughts anyway. So, why should I hide? You know how I feel. So search me and may my thoughts and the meditations and the words of my mouth be acceptable to you.”
If you should watch a loved one die, and you should cry, “Why God? Why?” would God be offended? Or would the God you know reach down and put an arm around your shoulder and say, “I understand how you feel. You wouldn’t be human if you didn’t feel that way. Someday I’ll make it plain to you. I wish I could right now. But please trust Me, and trust Me enough to be willing to wait.” But, you see, we have to know God well before those emergencies arise, so that we can trust Him and pray to Him like this.
Paul assures us that the Holy Spirit will help us pray: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought. . . .” Rom 8:26, RSV. And so the Holy Spirit brings the truth about God to us. He helps us to see that truth and to be convinced about it. He helps us see the truth about ourselves, and learn how to tell that truth to our gracious heavenly Father. And then God can do good things for us. Paul even said we should pray without ceasing: “Never stop praying.” 1 Thess 5:17, Norlie. Or as Goodspeed translates it: “Never give up praying.” But if we should spend all our time on our knees, we would never get anything else done. So how can one pray without ceasing and still be effective in this life? To put it simply, prayer in its very essence is thinking toward God. It means that God is at the very center of our thoughts. Eventually it becomes a habit that God should be at the very center of all our plans, always.
When we see God face to face one day, will that be the end of prayer? Could prayer be yet another of the emergency measures that keep the channels of communication open between God and His children, until the time comes when there will be no need for emergency measures anymore? What do we mean when we sing, “Farewell, farewell, sweet hour of prayer?” Do we mean “Farewell, farewell, I will never talk to you again, God?” No, if prayer is conversation with a friend, then when we meet God face to face, the hour of prayer will have just begun.