by Gina Lynnes
At 5:30 this morning when I was getting ready for our morning prayer meeting here, I was not planning to write this letter today. I didn’t think I had a letter in me. In fact, I didn’t even think I had a prayer meeting in me.
As I read my Bible and tried to prepare, the words I read didn’t seem to leap off the page and into my heart like they usually do. They just sat there. They didn’t speak. They didn’t breathe life into me.
They were just words. Words I’ve read hundreds of times. Words that have blessed me in times past. (I knew they had because I had underlined them in my Bible and made exclamatory notes beside them.) But this morning my heart felt wooden and unmoved as I read them. Still, there was something about them that caught my attention.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ…For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of our trouble which came to us in Asia: that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life. (2 Cor. 1:3-8)
Okay, whatever… I thought. And, closing my Bible, I walked out the door.
They Need You to Be Real
As I drove toward the church I knew that if I was going to be any good to anybody in prayer this morning, I’d have to get honest with God—fast.
“Lord, I don’t want to lead prayer today,” I said. “I’ve taken too many emotional hits lately. Granted, they’re nothing compared to what the Apostle Paul went through. But still, my heart hurts. I’m tired inside and I need to be alone with You. I know the people waiting for me are eager to pray but I can’t be what they need me to be today.”
“Yes, you can,” the Lord answered. “They need you to be real. They don’t need you to pretend you’re a superhero. They don’t need you to act like the devil’s fiery darts never hit you. They need to see how you handle it when they do.”
I’d Rather Do That Alone, Thank You
I knew what He meant. He wasn’t telling me to go in and share all the dull details of my recent spiritual battles. He was asking me to show by example what He has taught me over the years about drawing near to Him when the fighting gets fierce so He can heal and refresh my battle-weary heart.
Frankly, I wasn’t excited about doing that. Some things I’d rather do when I’m alone with the Lord.
Why? Because that part of prayer is rarely pretty. The tears fall. The nose runs. The eyes get red and puffy. Little tufts of Kleenex end up stuck all over my face. And instead of sounding like the devil-stomping, sword-of-faith wielding, faith hero everybody tells us we’re supposed to be (100% of the time), I sound like a five year-old boo-hooing over a skinned knee and asking God to kiss my “owie.”
My prideful flesh prefers to do that kind of thing in private, thank you very much.
But that’s part of the problem, these days. Those of us who have by the mercy and grace of God been able to mature somewhat in Christ and become leaders in the church keep too much of the messy, real part of following Jesus hidden from people. We handle all our real, gut-wrenching interactions with the Lord behind closed doors. Then we come out all shiny and happy and talk about how we should shout our way to victory and confess our way to triumph and never have a blue moment.
First, You Cry
“But aren’t we supposed to shout our way to victory?” you may ask. “Shouldn’t we confess our way to triumph?”
Yes, sometimes we should. And, shocking as it may seem, sometimes we absolutely should not.
The Bible says there’s a time for everything, a season for every purpose under heaven. There’s a time to weep…and a time to laugh. There’s a time to mourn…and a time to dance. (Eccl. 3:4)
To laugh or shout faith confessions when your heart has just been pierced by some painful circumstance or cruel treatment is (in most instances) untimely. It jars the soul. That’s why, if you follow the leading of the Spirit, you’ll often do something else first.
First, you’ll cry.
You won’t cry like those who have no hope. You won’t cry alone with your face buried in your pillow like no one cares and no one can help you. You’ll cry with uplifted face to your heavenly Father—to the One who cares as much (or more) about your pain than you do yourself, the One who has the power to comfort your heart and take the pain away.
When you cry to God like that, you cry believing that He loves you and that He is still anointed to heal the brokenhearted. You lift your heart before Him and say, “Father, I’m hurting so much. What happened to me was wrong. I hate it. The pain of it is tearing me up inside. And nobody in the world knows how I feel but You.”
Some people might say that’s a wimpy prayer. They might say that’s just emotions and there’s no faith in it. But they would be mistaken.
That is a cry of faith and it opens the door to the comfort of the Holy Spirit.
Getting Honest with God
I’ll never forget the first time I really understood the incredible power of that kind of prayer. It was a couple of years after my father died. He and I were always close and when he slipped suddenly and unexpectedly away to heaven, his absence hurt badly.
What’s more, it made me mad. He left too early. He went without saying goodbye. And now I couldn’t talk to him anymore. I couldn’t watch the Kentucky Derby with him. I couldn’t hear his delightfully ridiculous jokes.
Oh, I did okay for a while. I talked about how he went to heaven and we’d all see him soon. I pointed out all the mercies and grace of God that surrounded his homegoing. (And all that was true.) I prayed and thanked God for His goodness.
But that didn’t make the anger and hurt go away. So I did what most of us do. I shoved it out of my conscious mind and ignored it.
Until one day I was driving down the road pondering a situation in my life and I absently-mindedly thought, I’d like to get Dad’s perspective on that. With that one thought, something in me just snapped. And finally—finally—I got honest with God about it.
“Father,” I said half apologetically, half angrily, “I know what the Bible says about heaven and glory and all that. I know I’m supposed to be glad he’s in a better place. But I’m tired of playing church with You about this. I miss my Dad. I miss him more than anybody on this planet will ever know. And as far as I’m concerned, death stinks. Did You hear me? It stinks and I hate it. I hate it. I HATE IT!”
No Lightning Bolts
Even as I said that, I think I was bracing for a lightning bolt of a rebuke from God. Or, barring that, total silence as punishment for my infantile, emotional outburst.
So you can imagine my shock when His voice came reverberating through my spirit with a rich compassion I’ll never forget and He said, “I know exactly how you feel. I hate it too.”
Dear God! (And I mean that literally. Dear, dear, kind, wonderful Father God!) The comfort that flooded my soul in that moment has been with me ever since. It was real. It was tangible. And it healed a broken place in my heart.
And, just like Paul said, that same comfort with which God comforted me that day and many times since has flowed through me to others again and again.
Oops…Bad Ministerial Protocol
I remember one time in particular when I was preaching a memorial service for the wife of a very dear friend of mine. I walked into the chapel, saw him waiting for me and even though he was many years my senior, he looked to me like a young boy who’d been terribly hurt and was trying his best to be brave.
In that instant, the Lord Himself opened the door to my heart and the pain my friend was feeling came flooding in. The hurt was so severe it literally took my breath away and I realized I was not going to be able to control my tears. I was going to burst out sobbing and there was nothing I could do to stop it.
Then my ministerial training kicked in and I panicked. This is not what I’m supposed to do. I thought. I’m supposed to be strong…to be stable…to talk about heaven and smile. But trying to stem the floodtide of emotion with the logic of funeral protocol was like trying to dam the Mississippi with a pack of toothpicks. The logic snapped and the tears came cascading forth.
I had no words at all. But he and I locked eyes for a moment—and he suddenly knew I felt what he felt. And we put our arms around each other and cried…and cried…and cried.
Then, suddenly, the pain lifted for both of us and we had the most beautiful memorial service I’ve ever been a part of. God was there. Not just in word but in power.
Later, my friend told me that the tears we shed that day together were a source of supernatural comfort for him. “I felt so alone until then,” he said, “as if no one in the universe could understand just how much I’d lost. But when I saw you cry, I knew God had helped you understand and that gave me the strength I needed.”
Thinking back now, I wonder where we got the idea that such a thing would be inappropriate. After all the Bible clearly says, “Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep,” (Rom 12:15).
Why does God tell us to weep with each othert? Because we’re supposed to imitate Him. We’re supposed to treat each other like He treats us. And that’s the way God is. When He sees us weeping, He weeps too. (John 11:35)
Strong Men Do Cry
“Yeah, well. I don’t cry like that in prayer,” somebody might say, “because I’m strong in the Lord and strong men don’t cry.”
Yes, they do.
The story passage in 1 Samuel 30 about David and his experience at Ziklag proves it. You probably remember what happened there. David and his fighting men had been out dealing with the Philistines for three days. When they returned to their camp at Ziklag, they found the Amalekites had attacked, burned the place down and kidnapped everyone. Wives, children, aunts, nieces and nephews—they were all gone.
Usually when we study this story, we highlight the fact that the Lord told David to go after the Amalekites and get his stuff back. We love to whoop and holler over the directive God gave David: Pursue, for you shall surely overtake them and without fail recover all. (And that is definitely a verse worth whooping it up about.)
But read the story again and you’ll see that’s not the first thing that happened. David did not ride into camp, see the loss and devastation, and say, “I will not be defeated! God is on my side! I will pursue, overtake and recover all!”
Nope. The first thing David, the greatest man of war Israel had ever known, did was lift up his voice (noticed he lifted it up—not down) and weep until he had no more power to weep.
First, he cried.
According to the Psalms that wasn’t a one-time event either. David very often began his prayers to God in times of trouble with a heart-wrenching cry. A cry of pain. A cry of desperation. A cry for help.
Why? Because David was a real man who had a real relationship with a real God. He wasn’t trying to use spiritual principles to escape the human condition (which sometimes includes emotional pain). He wasn’t just trying to implement spiritual formulas to get a particular result.
He was pouring out His heart to His Covenant Friend. A Friend who loved him and cared about his pain. A Friend who could provide him with a comfort that no human counselor could ever give.
Guard Your Heart Above All
Once he had received that comfort, David was able to move on to what you might call phase two on his prayer path of victory at Ziklag. In phase two, “David strengthened himself in the Lord his God” (verse 6).
Then he went on to phase three. He “inquired of the Lord” (verse 8).
Finally, he moved to phrase four where he went in pursuit of the enemy. In that phase, this tender-hearted man of tears, attacked his enemy for 24 straight hours, conquered completely and recovered all that had been stolen—and more. (verse 9)
There’s a lot to learn from each of these phases but for now, suffice it to say that each phase was necessary and that the Holy Spirit led David through each one in order—the crying, the strengthening, the inquiring, and the battle—because He understands the divine construction of the human heart.
He understands that our hearts are designed to hold and express the mighty power and presence of God Himself…yet they are intricately and delicately made. He knows that if they are hurt and left unattended, if they are not allowed to cry and receive the comforting grace of the heavenly Father, they will be damaged.
Once our hearts are damaged, our relationship with God is impaired because our hearts are our connection with Him. He dwells in our hearts. He speaks to our hearts. Our hearts are the Holy of Holies where our fellowship with Him takes place
No wonder Proverbs 4:23 says, “Keep and guard your heart with all vigilance and above all that you guard, for out of it flow the springs of life.”
The Dangers of a Damaged Heart
If you doubt that your heart or your inner man can be damaged, read Prov. 15:13, 17:22, and 18:14. These scriptures clearly say the human spirit can be wounded or broken and a wounded spirit is a very dangerous thing.
Here’s why. When a wounded heart is left unattended, the devil (who understands the importance of the heart far better than we do) sends demonic spirits like the flies to infect the injury. If those devilish flies are resisted, they will flee. But unless the wound is lifted to the Father, unless God himself is given opportunity to wash it with His comforting Spirit and speak words that bring healing to it, the flies will keep returning again and again.
In some cases, the wounded person will be strong enough in spirit to continue resisting the flies and keep himself free of the bitterness, anger and sin they carry, and time will eventually cover and ease the pain of the unattended wound. But even so, without the proper divine care, the person’s heart will end up scarred by the experience.
“Is a heart scar so bad?” you may ask
Yes, it’s an awful thing. Scar tissue is tough. Scar tissue has no feeling in it. It feels neither pain nor pleasure. It is alive…yet it seems dead.
That’s the way our hearts become if we don’t learn to cry to the Lord. One scar after another begins to cover the places that were once so tender to the touch of the Holy Spirit. Little by little, we lose that overwhelming joy we used to sense in His presence. We don’t hear His voice in prayer quite the way we used to.
Oh, sure when He speaks real loud we can hear it, but at other times it seems He’s much farther away than He used to be. We still love Him…but as B.B. King used to sing, “The thrill is gone.”
“I’m a faith person,” you might say. “I don’t need a thrill. I don’t need feelings.”
Sure you do. Everybody needs feelings. People without feelings are walking dead men. Granted, we’re not supposed to seek feelings. We’re not to be led by feelings. We’re supposed to seek and be led by God—by His Spirit and His Word. And when our flesh tries to run away with our feelings and use them to push us into disobedience to the Word of God, we have to take dominion over them and put them in their place.
But with that said, let me assure you that when a healthy, unbroken heart comes in contact with God…it feels, my friend, it feels!
It feels love. It feels hope. It feels joy. It feels awe. It feels wonder. It feels things beyond our ability to describe. It feels totally, fabulously alive! Not just once in a while but day after day.
A Lousy Substitute
Even more important, an unscarred soul receives revelation from God that the battle-scarred soul cannot. It hears His slightest whisper. It responds to His gentlest nudge. It is easily led by God because it’s sensitive enough to detect even the most subtle tug of the Master’s hand.
Maybe it’s our battle scars that forced us to come up with so many spiritual steps and formulas for success in the past few years. Maybe our unattended wounds toughened our hearts so much we couldn’t just follow the Holy Spirit anymore. We wanted to obey God but our hearts were too damaged to sense His leadings and hear his voice.
So we pushed buttons and pulled levers and did all the stuff everybody said you had to do to get all the stuff everybody said God wants us to have.
Sure enough, some of those buttons and levers worked. We got some of the stuff we heard you could get (not nearly all but some). But it was a lousy substitute for walking and talking every day with God. It left us spiritually poor and deeply dissatisfied because what we really needed was not a formula but a Father, a Big Brother and a Covenant Friend.
What we really needed was an all-powerful Someone who cares about our hurts. We needed the God of all Comfort to whom we could lift our heart when it was broken and say with tears, “Daddy, would You please fix this?”
It’s Okay—We’re All Family
Thank God, that’s the kind of Father we have. So today when I went to prayer that’s the kind of Father I drew near to. And as always, He drew near to me in return.
Sure enough, the tears flowed. The eyes got puffy and red. The Kleenex disintegrated all over my face. Right there. With everybody around. But it was okay. Because we’re all family, after all.
Unbeknownst to me, there were other folks in the group who needed to do the same thing. So we all cried together and before we knew it, we were so full of joy and love that we began to pray for the whole church. We wanted everybody to experience God’s love the way that we were experiencing it right then.
All the way through the prayer meeting, I pushed aside my self-consciousness and reminded myself that everyone there knew me. I could be real without being afraid. But when I opened my eyes, sitting right in front of me was a man who had come for the first time. He looked like a line-backer for a pro football team—as masculine as they come.
Brushing the tissue from my streaked face, I put out my hand sheepishly and introduced myself thinking, of course, he must assume I’m a total nut case.
“Thank you for this,” he said. “I needed it. I’ll definitely come back again.”
Apparently, David is not the only mighty man who knows that sometimes if you’re going to whip the enemy and recover what’s been stolen…first, you have to cry.