One of the most life-changing things that I ever learned how to do was engage in honest conversation with God – i.e., “Real Talk.” I would use the word “prayer,” but if you’re anything like me, by the time you hear or read the word, your mind is already rummaging through a giant suitcase labeled “Religious Stuff” trying to find something to bring to the table for discussion. I’m not going to provide a theological basis or definition here about what prayer is and what it is not. I’m not even going to provide much specific guidance in the way of methodology. Many godly, articulate, and gifted people have already done all that, as evidenced by the fact that if you search for “prayer” under “books” at Amazon.com, it returns 83,630 results. Clearly, this is an activity that we inherently know to be important and worth studying. I’m just going to provide a simple illustration.
Scenario: At work, your boss “Joe” criticizes you somewhat harshly for the quality of your work. It upsets you and you now find yourself being angry with everyone around you after this unpleasant encounter. There are 2 general ways to talk to God about it:
1) Religious way: “Oh Lord, please help me not to be upset about this, to love Joe and receive his criticism with humility instead of defensiveness. And help me also be patient with those around me right now, as I’m just really having a hard time loving anyone. Help me be a good witness for Jesus, since they know that I’m a Christian, and I just want to glorify You.”
2) Real Talk, Gospel-Centered way: “God, I’m so pissed at Joe right now. I feel totally attacked and condemned and I want to hurt him. In fact, I want to punch his face and go slash his tires. How dare he talk to me like that! I deserve to be treated with greater respect! He just made me feel so small, so worthless, so completely unaffirmed. HATE him. [Pause.] Actually, it really hurts. And I can’t stand that he has the power to make me feel so helpless and powerless. [Pause.] I’m trying to remember what your Word says about me, that I’m fearfully and wonderfully made and that I’m worth so much to you that you sent Jesus to die for me. But honestly, right now, those things seem to have no impact on me. At this moment, Joe’s approval feels more important to me than yours. What Joe thinks about me and says about me carries more weight in my heart that what you think about me and say about me. God, I confess that at this moment, Joe’s opinion of me is my idol. I’m obviously worshiping that first instead of you. [Sigh.] I repent. Please forgive me and deliver me from this pit. Help me not be enslaved to it anymore.”
For those of us with much to unlearn, Real Talk with God feels unnatural at first; but eventually, it starts to feel as natural as breathing. It took me at least 15 years of living the Christian life before I started to get a handle on how much my prayer life was taken up by worthless self-management and religious performance. We have the freedom to approach God boldly and transparently because Christ by His blood purchased that right for us. And when we do, we find that the Holy Spirit readily applies the truth of the gospel in transformative ways. He reveals our idols, He empowers us to repent, He releases us from the bondage of sin, and He fills us with the joy of our salvation.