On Sunday we proclaimed the good news that God’s healing justice is flowing straight into our desperate needs and overwhelming problems, a raging torrent of love that can’t help itself from responding to our cries for mercy. I encourage you to listen to the sermon if you haven’t had a chance.
This good news is aligned with one of the “axioms” we talk about in our DNA Groups, that God cares about (all of) it more than we do. However, when we come to God with our desperate needs and don’t receive the answer we hoped for, it can be difficult to really believe that God cares more than we do.
This is why I find it comforting to see that God’s people have a long history of telling God off when God doesn’t fulfill their expectations. Remarkably, God doesn’t seem to mind this kind of behavior. The Psalms are full of angry prayers demanding to know why God doesn’t seem to be acting according to his promises, and these angry prayers are given to us as faithful ways to pray (the last half of Psalm 44 is a good example).
We also see Jesus welcoming this kind of angry prayer in the story of the raising of Lazarus (John 11). When Lazarus falls ill, Mary and Martha send for Jesus to come and heal him, but Jesus doesn’t leave right away. When Jesus finally arrives in Bethany, Lazarus has already died, and both Mary and Martha level the same accusation against Jesus: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
Jesus doesn’t scold either of them. Instead, he listens to them, speaks words of hope about the resurrection of the dead, and shares intimately in their grief, allowing himself to be moved emotionally by their pain. Jesus shows us that, when God doesn’t act in the ways we expect or desire, 1) God welcomes our angry questions about this, and 2) God still really does care about all of it more than we do.
Keeping all this in mind, here’s an imaginative prayer practice that will help us participate in the truth of God’s care even when we don’t get what we want. Find a space you can be alone, quiet, and comfortable for 15-20 minutes or so. You may want to have a notebook or journal handy to write down what comes to mind.
- Take several deep breaths and become present to your body and how you feel right now, setting aside any anxiety, frustration, or hurry.
- Bring to mind a situation in your life that you care about a lot but are unsure if or how God cares about it. It can be something ongoing in the present, or something that happened to you or loved ones in the past.
- Name this situation in God’s presence, seeing the people involved, feeling the emotions involved. Tell God why you care about this situation.
- Now bring your complaint to God. Name what you want God to do in this situation. Tell God what you wish was happening. Tell God why it’s hard to believe that he cares more about this than you do. “God, if you care so much about this situation, why don’t you _____?”
- Stay here for as long as you need to, until your heart is “poured out” to God about this situation.
- When you’re ready, imagine Jesus standing in front of you, looking directly at you with a steady attuned presence, receiving your emotions and your questions just as they are, without any blame or shame. Imagine Jesus mirroring the state of your heart back to you. See his face change to resonate with how you feel right now. Imagine him becoming “greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved” (John 11:33) and going with you to your “tomb,” the place of your pain. Imagine him weeping with you about this situation. Allow yourself to soak in his care for you and for what you care about right now. What is Jesus saying to you? What is he doing?
- Now allow yourself to set aside whatever it is you hope Jesus will do about your situation, and shift your prayer from “Why aren’t you doing something?” to “Jesus, I trust that you care about this more than I do. Show me how you’re at work in this situation.” Wait a few moments to see if anything shifts in your awareness or your soul. Make a note of anything that changes, but if nothing happens, that’s okay, too.
- Try persisting in that prayer every time this situation comes to mind over the next days and weeks: “Jesus, I trust that you care about this more than I do. Show me how you’re at work in this situation.”
If you find that you are still angry (you never really left step 4 above), that’s okay. God can handle your anger, sadness, pain, etc. Don’t rush through this or feel like you have to complete the whole thing right now if you aren’t ready. Feel free to return to this exercise as you wish, intending to simply meet God right where you are each time.