Devotional Text: Lamentations 2:19
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Hi, this is Brent White. It’s Wednesday, January 10, and today begins my new series of devotional podcasts, which I hope to bring to you two or three times each week. You’re listening to Phil Keaggy’s song, “Let Everything Else Go,” from his 1981 album, Town to Town.
During the final year of my father’s life, in 1995, when Dad was dying of terminal cancer, he experienced—praise God!—a reawakening of his Christian faith. For the first time in his life, perhaps, he was reading the Bible daily and was praying often. Or at least he was trying to pray often; he didn’t always accomplish it. He told me that because of all the medication he was on, he found it very difficult to concentrate. He said, “I begin to pray, and I lose focus. My mind wanders. What I do about that?”
I wasn’t a pastor at the time, but I reassured him with Paul’s words in Romans chapter 8:26: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.”
If no less a saint, I said, than the apostle Paul himself admitted that he didn’t know how to pray properly, then, well… it’s no wonder prayer can be hard… for all of us—even for those of us whose brains aren’t foggy from chemotherapy and other cancer-related drugs!
I find prayer difficult most of the time. And you probably do too.
I was listening to a sermon by a favorite pastor of mine whose church is very large and whose sermons are more intellectually demanding than my own. Unlike me, this preacher seems happily indifferent to using humor, or being “relevant,” or entertaining his audience in any way in his sermons—he just dives right into scripture week after week. So, rightly or wrongly, I perceive that his church must be more advanced in prayer and Bible study than the typical Methodist churches of which I’ve been part.
I was surprised, then, when he said that his church had recently conducted a survey on prayer in his congregation. Over half the congregation, he said, admitted that they did not pray regularly—all his theologically rich sermons on the subject notwithstanding.
The pastor said that when he read the results of the survey, he was tempted to resign on the spot.
I’m sympathetic. But prayer, as I know from painful experience, is hard. Of course, if you run in the same Christian circles that I run in, you may not know it’s hard. In my particular circles, for example, I have clergy colleagues and others who talk about praying almost all the time. They frequently post about their prayer lives on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram… One clergy colleague, when addressing the challenges facing by my particular denomination said that she recently prayed for hours about our denomination’s problems—in anguish, in tears… And I thought, hours? How do you do that? It would take me months or more to accumulate “hours” of prayer about problems facing the institution known as the United Methodist Church.
Besides, why pray for hours about it when you can just be angry and bitter about it—like me?
But seriously, I get discouraged when I compare any aspect of my life to the lives of friends and acquaintances on social media—my prayer life included. Everyone puts their best foot forward online; everyone presents themselves in the most favorable light possible. What did someone say? On social media, we compare our insides to everyone else’s outside. It’s not a fair comparison. So let’s not do that. Let’s not worry about how we “measure up” to others when it comes to prayer. We only have one judge to worry about, as Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 4:4. Let’s just worry about ourselves only, and see if we can’t become more faithful pray-ers than we are today.
And to that end, I want to share with you something that has helped me recently: Lamentations 2:19. The prophet Jeremiah is urging his fellow Jews, who have watched the Babylonians destroy their capital city, their temple, their way of life, to repent and pray to God. He says,
Arise, cry out in the night, at the beginning of the night watches! Pour out your heart like water before the presence of the Lord! Lift your hands to him for the lives of your children, who faint for hunger at the head of every street.
I find the 19th-century British preacher Charles Spurgeon’s words on this verse very helpful here. He writes:
[W]e cannot pray too simply. Just hear how Jeremiah put it: “Pour out your heart like water before the Lord’s presence.” How does water pour out? The quickest way it can—that’s all; it never thinks much about how it runs. That is the way the Lord loves to have our prayers pour out before him.
Pour out your heart like water.
Prayer—at least Christian prayer—is always a matter of the heart. When prayer becomes disconnected from our heart, that’s when it becomes boring and routine. It becomes a duty we have to perform. It becomes an empty ritual. It becomes drudgery—something to check off our list each day.
Has that happened to you?
If so, reengage your heart. Do what Jeremiah says: Pour your heart out like water.
Consider this: You’ve got something on your heart right now that is waiting to be poured out. What is it? Start your prayers today with that… And maybe you think, “Yes, but God doesn’t want to hear this trivial stuff—or this petty stuff—or this sinful stuff.” Are you kidding? He already knows all about everything that you’re thinking and feeling. Better than you do! Don’t censor yourself. Like Spurgeon says, “Water never thinks much about how it runs.”
So tell God what’s on your heart: What is worrying you today? What is making you feel afraid today? Who or what is angering you today? Why are you hurting? Who or what is causing the pain? What temptations are you facing? What sins are you struggling with? What’s making you feel guilty?
Whatever is in your heart, pour it out like water!
And then ask God for help.
Start there. Start with what’s on your heart! Our heavenly Father wants to hear from you. He wants you to pray today more than he wants you to do so “correctly,” by following a proper form or pattern of prayer.
Will you pour out your heart to him like water this week?
Almighty God, please make it so. Amen.
1. Charles Spurgeon, The Spurgeon Study Bible CSB (Nashville: Holman, 2017), 1073.