It was another one of those nights, the ones when I would watch the sky turn light again, having still not managed to drift off to sleep. It felt like I had all the time in the world, the minutes trickling by slower that I thought they could, and yet, as I tried to turn to God in the sadness I was feeling, I could barely find a single word to pray. I wanted to call out and ask God to lift me out of the weblog self pity that I seemed to have fallen into, but I just couldn’t find the strength of the desire in my heart to do so. I felt guilty, then, for my lack of effort to pray, and that only made things worse.
You might have had the same experience, or maybe not, but I’m guessing that you’ve experienced a number of times in which you felt overwhelmed, and just couldn’t find the words to pray. I struggle with Depression, and this seems to very often make prayer feel like an impossible task. But we all have our own struggles, and I imagine we all have times when our prayers just feel inadequate and somewhat pathetic.
But the truth is that God doesn’t need us to pray long and eloquent prayers, his answering of our prayers does not depend upon how nice our prayers sounded and how many words we used to pray. Instead, God delights to hear us utter even the shortest of prayers, he sees the longing in our hearts, whether or not we are able to communicate our need, and he rejoices when we come to him resting upon the promises that he has made.
The other day, I was reading through a passage in the gospel of Matthew with a friend from church and I was struck by an example of prayer that God gives to us in the person of person. When I read about Jesus praying, I often imagine him stood for hours and hours before his Father, praying endlessly and pausing only for breath. But let me show you the scene in Gethsemane, the very hours before Jesus is taken by the authorities and makes his torturous journey to crucifixion.
Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”
Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”
Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”
In the times of depression and overwhelming sadness that I may often find myself, the times when I have hours to spare but no words to speak, the prayers that I would finally utter are often the shortest prayers that I make. But the answers can be some of the biggest that God has given me. In Gethsemane, Jesus prays a short prayer, and he prays the same prayer three times over. And get it cannot be denied that these are some of the most desperate, heartfelt, dependent and powerful words spoken by Jesus on during his time in this world.
A few times, the only prayer that I managed was ‘Help me!’ But God is gracious and he loves to answer prayers such as this. When we depend upon him desperately, he longs to demonstrate his love to us. God answered these prayers abundantly. He has not made my life free from pain, but that is not what he promises. He has not taken my Depression away, but in a life of ease I can see that I would forget to depend upon Him. He has, however, brought me back to the promises that he has made. He has, again and again, surrounded me with his people, has worked through my church family to lift me out of the pit of self inflicted loneliness. He has, in many ways, brought my outlook on the world back into perspective. And he has given me, as he does all of us, hints and tasters of life as it was made to be and life as it will be in heaven.