This week I prayed an honest prayer in front of my staff. It was a little unnerving for me and I think uncomfortable for them. In that prayer, I was wrestling with God over an issue (without coming to a definite resolution) and wrestling with my emotions in a rather raw way that might not have sounded very “Christian.” Normally, I would save those “darker” prayers for private, but to be honest, I’m kind of tired of what seems like an only “positive” (and hence somewhat superficial or one-sided) Christianity in public.
Perhaps in fact, we have become quite ineffective and irrelevant to much of our culture and generation because we seem to struggle with being “real” in public. I confess, I am normally equally as guilty, as I know how to put on my “Christian smile” and project a certain “respectable Christian” image. I can fake it with the best of them.
But here is a question: is that truly Biblical? Is it genuine spirituality? And could it be excluding those who genuinely need space and grace to wrestle with God until they experience His transforming touch? Could we even be creating a distance between us and God by fearing to face our fears and acknowledge our own struggles and emotions?
Let me share with you some of my recent wrestling’s. But fair warning: it might make you uncomfortable. It might sound rather “whiny.” It might even offend you. But others might be able to relate. Some might see in this the freedom to be real, to wrestle, and instead of suppressing and being enslaved by their emotions, find freedom where these emotions and wrestling’s can be channeled into positive action and change. If you read to the end of part two, you will see that this is where this all is going…
1). Frustration with God (or maybe more so God’s people) over the inability to serve more refugees around the world.
This might be the area of my deepest wrestling with God right now.
Before you become concerned about my “faith” let me explain that I am actually not afraid to wrestle with the deep and painful realities of life and suffering anymore. I find it strengthens my faith, not weakens it. I find that it draws me closer to God not away from God. I think the reason is because I have decided I am going to go to God rather than turn on God; and seek Him in these things, acknowledging I am human and therefore don’t see things from His perfect perspective, rather than arrogantly claim I know better than him or am more “good” than He is.
I travel to many of the poorest places in the world. I am surrounded by need and requests for help all the time. For example, I was just in Uganda. I was teaching at a pastors conference, and there were twenty pastors from a refugee camp in Sudan. At this refugee camp there are one million people who have been forced to flee all the violence in Sudan. For an overwhelming number of people, their husbands, wives, parents, children…have been killed. These pastors stood on the stage the last night of the conference and as we prayed for them, many had tears streaming down their faces. The pain is raw and the need is real. I’ve been communicating with one of the leaders and he gave me a whole list of the needs in this camp. Not only is it overwhelming, but it is frustrating (no, it makes me angry) that we can’t do more right now to help them.
But that is just one example. I cry out to God so often to enable me/ServeNow to be able to help other refugees in other parts of the world too. But then my wrestling with God turns more into a wrestling with so many that call themselves “God’s people” but seem to be doing nothing or don’t even care to want to anything or see the reality of all the suffering in the world. How can we live so comfortably when so many are suffering? How can we live with ourselves for being more “afraid” of refugees than having God’s heart for them? How can we turn a blind eye and deaf ear to the poor while living in prosperity and plenty? How can we justify, make excuses and live within our own little cultural bubble, maybe giving a gift here or there, but only to appease our semi-guilty conscience rather than devote our lives to serving those in need out of Christ’s compassion?
I don’t think “lack of awareness” is a good enough excuse in today’s global world. Perhaps we don’t want to know, rather than truly being ignorant of not knowing.
2). Bitterness with those I thought were friends, but have wounded me by their accusations and actions, without seeming to want to repair relationship or acknowledge where they might have hurt me.
This is probably were I made my staff uncomfortable today while praying. I prayed honestly the way I was feeling; that God would “smite” or at least “slap” those I thought were friends but were not acting like friends. Before you “gasp” at how awful I am, consider two things. First, have you ever read many of the Psalms of David (that were actually put to worship songs in his day)? There are quite a few where he (a man after God’s own heart) doesn’t seem to hold back his prayers (that were made into songs) for God’s vengeance (See Psalm 69 as just one example)!
Second, I was quick to pray that I didn’t really mean it in the sense of actually wanting God to do that, but that is the way I felt emotionally because I’ve been deeply hurt. We all know the reality that those we love the most often hurt us the deepest (and those we love the most we often hurt the deepest). My wife and I have said some deeply hurtful things to each other. Why? Well, without justifying any of those words, I can tell you it comes out of a place of feeling deeply hurt by the other. And because we care or love each other so much, it hurts more and therefore human tendency is to hurt back even worse!
I think honesty comes before healing. I think we have to acknowledge our real feelings, in real prayers, before we can overcome and rise above, rather than be overcome and sink beneath our emotions. I think we have to give those raw emotions to God in order to not act out on those emotions. Perhaps we take out our bitterness on others because we aren’t really being honest about our bitterness with God. Perhaps because we don’t wrestle with Him, we fight with each other.
When was the last time you heard a sermon however on that? Are we afraid God can’t handle honesty? How silly is that when He already knows our hearts and all our thoughts! Is it that we feel we can’t really trust Him to be God so we take matters into our own hands as if we were god? Are we afraid He won’t love us anymore if we are truly honest? But how can that be when He loved us while we were still sinners? He loves us the same in our best moments…and worst moments.
3). Feeling unnoticed or that people don’t care…about my life, insights, views, articles, video’s, efforts, ministry.
I’ll be honest. I am currently struggling with this especially in the realm of social media. People seem to notice or care more about cute dog and cat pictures than human beings in real need around the world. People seem to notice and care more about sports and politics than anything spiritual or of actual substance that will make a difference in the world. People like “trite” sayings more than truth. And very few will take time to read this because it’s “too long.”
But what is social media really all about? What “need” is it supposed to be meeting? Isn’t it a place to be noticed? A place for community? A place to share what matters to us? But what happens when you seem to go unnoticed and feel no one really cares? In that space, it might be even more painful because it’s the place where being noticed and feeling a part of community is supposed to happen.
This isn’t a pity party. This isn’t to say anyone owes “me” anything. In fact, in my more “mature” moments, it creates in me a deeper compassion and desire to be someone who notices others. Someone who values others. But this is an article where I am being real. And in being real, I struggle with what to me seems like a very superficial social media culture.
In Part two, (You can read it here: An Honest Wrestling Part 2) I will express a couple more recent areas of honest wrestling, but I will also tie this together in positive action to bring about change. Complaining or seeing problems is easy. However, that doesn’t bring real or positive change. Allowing ourselves space to wrestle with God should result in working towards positive solutions and modeling something different. Our pain and disappointments, if handled well, can be recycled by God into something that can bring healing into the lives of others!