I never cuss in public. I seldom cuss in private. I often cuss in prayer.
I’m not trying to be controversial or sensational – just truthful. Prayer is about the only time I ever allow myself to cuss. For me, outside of prayer, cussing feels crude, uncreative, and inappropriate. Within the context of prayer, though, it feels real, raw, and is sometimes the most genuine way to express what I am truly feeling, at an emotional and experiential level.
I do a bunch of other unreligious stuff in prayer, too. I’m not bragging in or exalting the negative; I’m just trying to be honest:
- I beat myself up in prayer.
- I make fun of people who are acting stupid.
- I question God’s reasoning and purposes.
- I tell Him I don’t like certain things that He has done (or not done).
- I pout. I fear. I worry. I throw temper tantrums.
Sometimes I’m a whiny 3-year-old; sometimes an attitude-ridden 15-year-old; sometimes an angry, cursing, stubborn, mule of a man.
But all these unfiltered, unreligious things I do with God. In prayer.
Is this right? Is this Biblical? Why would I admit to such an unreligious prayer life on a discipleship site that claims to help people in their followership of Jesus?
Here’s why: Jesus taught us to pray this way. In fact, He specifically instructed us not to babble on like the polytheists who think their gods will respond in direct proportion to the amount of words they use in prayer. Jesus commanded us not to stand on the street corner and try to impress people with our theological-sounding vocabulary in prayer.
Instead, He said go into your closet, close the door behind you, and tell God what you really think and feel. Don’t try to impress Him. Just be your real, honest self with Him. According to Jesus, it is the short, unreligious-sounding prayers that God truly desires from us.
At night, when my 8-year-old daughter climbs out of her bed, comes to me, and says, “I can’t fall asleep,” I always give her one prescription: pray. There is no better way to fall asleep than in the Presence of your Father, communicating freely together with Him.
You probably know the statement that comes next: “But I don’t know what to pray for…” This is when I get to share one of my favorite teachings on what prayer is: “Whatever you are thinking – whatever you are feeling – just think your thoughts to God. Just feel your feelings to God. He already knows them all anyway, but He wants to spend time with you; He wants to hear your thoughts and feelings from you.”
When we pray, we are not informing God of anything. Prayer is a relationship builder, not an information-sharing mechanism. He already knows the content of our prayers; He already knows our emotions and what we are experiencing. What He is longing for is to spend time with us, freely sharing back and forth our deepest, rawest thoughts and feelings. Together. As Father and child.
For me, that often translates into very unreligious-sounding prayers. If I cannot be raw and real with my Maker – with my adoptive heavenly Daddy who loves me unconditionally, just as I am – then where can I truly express myself? And why try to pretty it up with religious-sounding words when He already knows the depths of my heart anyway?
And I’m not doing anything new or unBiblical here. I’m just following the example of King David. If you ever read any of David’s journal of prayers and songs (about half of the Book of Psalms is David’s published personal journal of interacting with God), you will find that David speaks very candidly with the Almighty. David doesn’t pull any punches or try to disguise his thoughts and feelings with a bunch of fake, churchy language. Instead, he lets it all out there, exactly as he is thinking and feeling it.
David curses, complains, whines, accuses, insults, wishes his enemies dead, uses sarcasm, and does many other very unreligious-sounding things in his Psalms. But he does them all with God. In prayer.
God can handle that, and He invites it. God doesn’t want a show; He’s not looking for a performance. He wants us, unedited and unfiltered. In that space of realness and rawness, we can encounter Him genuinely. And what follows is often real, pure, beautiful, incomparable back-and-forth communication. Where He hears us, and responds. With impressions or words from the His Spirit alive within us.
When we leave the script of religious-sounding prayers behind, we begin to find we are finally engaging in real, honest, two-way conversations with God.
Nick, this is a poignant, heartfelt treatise on ‘real’ prayer and something that very much needed to be said – both to encourage the practice and to bring freedom to those who may have felt shame because they do pray this way but thought it wasn’t ‘right’.
Thank you, Peter. I appreciate your feedback, both for it’s affirmational quality, and because it comes from a man whose relationship with God is real and genuine. Thank you for the example you set for me and so many others!