If in all the world there is a place that ought to be void of pretense, it is the place of prayer. What value can there be in anything less than complete honesty when speaking to the one who knows our thoughts and hearts and motives far better than we do ourselves? If we are less than honest, we are doing nothing but hindering relationship, we are lying to God, acting as if he cannot see beyond the surface.
In The Hidden Life of Prayer David McIntyre discusses the direction of the mind in prayer and he includes a powerful call to honesty. “In our address to God we like to speak of Him as we think we ought to speak, and there are times when our words far outrun our feelings. But it is best that we should be perfectly frank before Him. He will allow us to say anything we will, so long as we say it to Himself.”
Can we bring even our complaints to God? What would be the purpose? McIntrye answers:
It is possible that some who read these words may have a complaint against God. A controversy of long standing has come between your soul and His grace. If you were to utter the word that is trembling on your lips, you would say to him, “Why hast Thou dealt thus with me?” Then dare to say, with reverence and with boldness, all that is in your heart. “Produce your cause, saith the Lord; bring forth your strong reasons, saith the King of Jacob” (Isa. 41.21). Carry your grievance into the light of His countenance; charge your complaint home. Then listen to His answer. For surely, in gentleness and truth, He will clear Himself of the charge of unkindness that you bring against Him. And in His light you shall see light.
This is not grumbling against God in a sinful way, but simply being respectfully honest, expressing your lack of understanding, your lack of agreement with what God has brought, all the while acknowledging your own lack of understanding. And in prayer the Lord will begin to give you understanding, or at least, to give you himself.
But he also offers an important warning:
Remember, that this is a private matter between you and your Lord, and you must not defame Him to any one. “If I say, I will speak thus; behold, I should offend against the generation of Thy children” (Psa. 73:15). John Livingstone of Ancrum, in a day of darkness, made a most excellent resolution: “Finding myself, as I thought, surely deserted, and somewhat hardly dealt with in my particular state, I made a promise to God not to tell it to any but Himself, lest I should seem to complain or foster misbelief in myself or others.”
That is a warning we ought to heed. Too many people are too willing to make their complaint against God public, to allow their complaint to influence others. McIntyre calls for silence. Be honest with God, but be sure that this remains a private matter.
This has been my reflection on this week’s reading selection from the Reading Classics Together program. I will look forward to hearing what others drew from the text.
For next Thursday please read (or listen to) chapter four.
The purpose of this program is to read these books together. If you have something to say, whether a comment or criticism or question, feel free to use the comment section for that purpose.