The Complaint Prayer: Breathing With God

November 28, 2011
by Diane Eaton

Ephesians 6:18 – And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints. (NIV)

Prayer is one of the most remarkable privileges of the indwelling Spirit. Through prayer, we breathe with the breath of God's Spirit. We exhale impure air — such as our complaints, our honest confessions, and our disturbing thoughts. In prayer, we inhale the fresh breath of God — His revelations, assurance, and promises. We may respond by exploding in praise to God.

One form of breathing prayer is the complaint psalm in Scripture, sometimes called the cursing or imprecatory psalm. We don't hear these much in church, especially words like, "Break the teeth in their mouths, O God" (Psalm 58:6a NIV). These prayers can be disturbing to us. They may sound self-righteous or paranoid, or even vengeful; but really, the psalmists are breathing with God. These are samplings of their private struggles. We can see that even though everything is going badly, the psalmists keep on talking with God. They have not turned their back on God.

The cursing psalms teach an important lesson about prayer: when things get unbearable or injustices assail us, when life is more than we can bear, we can still face our heavenly Father. He can handle our rants. We can vent our pain and process our thoughts in His presence. But we must never turn our backs on God by taking up vengeance ourselves or by suppressing our fear, grief, or rage. We face God because we realize that we are utterly dependent on Him. We know that He will come through for us. He will restore justice.

At the end of Psalm 58, we see that the psalmist has settled down. He says,

Psalm 58:11 – Surely the righteous still are rewarded; surely there is a God who judges the earth. (NIV)

The psalmist comes through with a sense of hope and assurance.

The cursing psalms in Scripture teach us to wrestle through with God. We, too, can breathe out all our disturbed and chaotic thoughts — maybe in journaling, poetry, or art; or we can let Scriptures express for us what we can't. This process, as disordered as it may be, is essential for our wellbeing.

By breathing with God through prayer, we come to know God and ourselves. Our spiritual life is revitalized. After the storm, we become silent in God's presence … breathing quietly with the Spirit … waiting … resting peacefully again.

Prayer: Lord, You invite us to breathe with Your Spirit and to freely express our burdens and our joys in prayer. Give us the courage to pray with such consistent honesty before You. Amen.

About the author:

Diane Eaton <d.eaton@bmts.com>
Paisley, Ontario, Canada

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