Dare to Be Desperate
A Sign of Spiritual Health and Mature Faith
By Cynthia Hyle Bezek
Walking in an orchard in the middle of a violent thunderstorm probably wasn’t the smartest thing I’ve ever done. But I needed to connect with God, and I didn’t know how else to do it. My life was falling apart, it seemed. I had recently moved 1,000 miles from the place that had been home for 35 years. I had not found a church. I had not yet made friends. And, after many months of mysterious, alarming neurological symptoms, my husband had just been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
I had never felt more lonely and scared. And I had never been more desperate for God. But no matter how much I prayed, He seemed silent and far away.
My Bible reading at the time was in the Psalms. I remember being surprised by how raw David’s prayers were when he was hurting.
“How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?” (13:1–2). “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest” (22:1–2). “My life is consumed by anguish and my years by groaning; my strength fails because of my affliction, and my bones grow weak” (31:10).
Yet David was a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22). It surprised and encouraged me to realize that apparently God wasn’t offended by David’s desperate honesty.
So one day, while lightning flashed, thunder cracked, winds howled, and rain fell at three inches per hour, I went outside to have a talk with God.
I honestly don’t remember what I talked to Him about. I just know I was raw. As I poured out my heart to God, my tears mingled with the rain and my shouts were drowned out by the thunder and wind.
I returned to the house 45 minutes or so later—my body drenched, my spirit drained. But to my surprise, I felt peaceful. God didn’t strike me dead for shouting at Him though He easily could have done that since I was walking amongst trees in a severe electrical storm! Instead, I sensed God had heard me and drawn near to me. Oddly and inexplicably, I thought He might have even been pleased that I trusted Him with my deep pain.
That day marked a turning point in my prayer life. Until then, my prayers had seldom involved emotion of any kind, let alone unfiltered dread, angst, or hopelessness. Somehow to me, that had seemed inappropriate for prayer. I had come to believe that prayer was supposed to be nice, polite, and controlled. But I have since come to realize that’s not what the Bible teaches.
After that day, I started noticing what God says about praying from a place of desperation. I learned that rather than disapproving of desperate prayers, God encourages them!
Desperation in Bible Heroes
Some of the greatest heroes of faith prayed almost embarrassingly desperate prayers. I already mentioned David. But consider also Jacob, Moses, Hannah, and Job (to name a few).
Jacob was so desperate for God’s blessing that he literally wrestled with Him (Gen. 32:22–32). Moses prayed numerous desperate prayers as he struggled to lead the complaining, idolatry-prone Israelites. But perhaps the most poignant of his prayers took place after God told Moses that He would not accompany His people to the Promised Land. Moses wouldn’t hear of such a thing: “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us?” (Ex. 33:15–16). In other words, “God, if You don’t go with us, I’m not going. I cannot—in fact, I will not—do this without You!”
Hannah prayed with such deep anguish and bitter weeping that Eli accused her of being drunk (1 Sam. 1). But God heard her prayer and gave her the son she asked Him for. And that son, Samuel, become one of Israel’s great prophets.
Job prayed some of the most desperate prayers I’ve ever heard of. But his prayers are not likely to make it into the Bible’s top-ten “Scripture Prayers.” After all, can you imagine praying like this?
“I loathe my very life; therefore I will give free rein to my complaint and speak out in the bitterness of my soul. I say to God: Do not declare me guilty, but tell me what charges you have against me. Does it please you to oppress me, to spurn the work of your hands, while you smile on the plans of the wicked? Do you have eyes of flesh? Do you see as a mortal sees? Are your days like those of a mortal or your years like those of a strong man, that you must search out my faults and probe after my sin—though you know that I am not guilty and that no one can rescue me from your hand? . . . Why then did you bring me out of the womb? I wish I had died before any eye saw me. If only I had never come into being, or had been carried straight from the womb to the grave! Are not my few days almost over? Turn away from me so I can have a moment’s joy before I go to the place of no return, to the land of gloom and utter darkness” (Job 10:1–7, 18–21).
Yet the New Testament affirms Job, praising him for his endurance and patience (James 5:11).
Undoubtedly the most convincing example of all, however, is Jesus. Jesus didn’t pray only tidy, polite prayers. Consider His anguished prayers in the garden of Gethsemane. Reflect on what the writer of Hebrews says about the way He prayed: “While Jesus was here on earth, he offered prayers and pleadings, with a loud cry and tears, to the one who could rescue him from death. And God heard his prayers because of his deep reverence for God” (Heb. 5:7, NLT).
Note also that even the Holy Spirit intercedes with strong emotion. According to Romans 8:26, He intercedes with “groanings too deep for words” (ESV).
Desperation Receives God’s Affirmation
It was desperate prayers that Jesus most frequently commented on. To the Canaanite woman who kept crying out after Him, begging Him to heal her demon-possessed daughter, Jesus said, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted” (Matt. 15:28). When the centurion pleaded with Jesus to heal his servant, Jesus said in amazement, “I tell you the truth, I haven’t seen faith like this in all Israel!” (Matt. 8:10, NLT). And Jesus praised the tax collector who beat his breast and cried out to God for mercy. “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Luke 18:14).
But none of this should be surprising. Scripture says, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Ps. 34:18). He doesn’t want us to hide our troubles from Him or to pretend all is well when it isn’t.
On the contrary, God invites us to draw near to Him so He can draw near to us (James 4:8). After all, His names are Savior, Deliverer, Redeemer, and Healer. His very character moves Him to respond to the cries of His hurting children.
Desperation Indicates God-Reliance
I’ve come to realize that if I do not pray desperately when life hurts, that is probably a bad sign. It might mean that I am self-sufficient, focused on fixing things myself. Or I may have resigned myself to my pain and may have lost hope that God will come to my side. Or perhaps my heart has shut down, hardening itself to the disappointment and fear. I may have concluded that God does not care or that He cannot or will not meet my need.
Any of these responses to the hard stuff of life indicate spiritual trouble. Rather than being a sign of weakness or immaturity, desperate prayer is a sign of spiritual health and mature faith.
When I pray desperately, I am humble and willing to admit my helplessness. I demonstrate faith because I know God can meet my need. I show dependence on God because I candidly admit I need Him. My prayers are fervent (“I really need You to come through, Lord!”), and they usually persevere (“I won’t give up until You show up, God!”).
The great evangelist Leonard Ravenhill went so far as to suggest that desperate prayers are the most powerful kinds of prayer. “Now I say very often—and people don’t like it—that God doesn’t answer prayer. He answers desperate prayer! Your prayer life denotes how much you depend on your own ability. . . . The more self-confidence you have, the less you pray. The less self-confidence you have, the more you have to pray.”
Desperation Can Lead to Deeper Intimacy
Desperate prayer can result in a deeper knowledge of God. It inspires worship and dependence upon Him. This is often what happened to David. Frequently he would begin his prayers (psalms) in desperation and end them in praise and God-confidence. In Psalm 71, he pleaded with God this way:
In your righteousness, rescue me and deliver me; turn your ear to me and save me. . . . Deliver me, my God, from the hand of the wicked, from the grasp of those who are evil and cruel. . . . For my enemies speak against me; those who wait to kill me conspire together. They say, “God has forsaken him; pursue him and seize him, for no one will rescue him.” Do not be far from me, my God; come quickly, God, to help me (vv. 2, 4, 10–12).
By the end of the psalm, though, he was praising God and placing strong confidence in Him:
As for me, I will always have hope; I will praise you more and more. My mouth will tell of your righteous deeds, of your saving acts all day long—though I know not how to relate them all. I will come and proclaim your mighty acts, Sovereign Lord; I will proclaim your righteous deeds, yours alone (vv. 14–16).
For me, personally, the shift from desperation to eventual patient trust took a lot more than one desperate prayer. It took many such prayers. I haven’t arrived yet, but the more I prayed my gritty, honest, and desperate prayers about my husband’s illness and my fear, the more I experienced God’s presence and understanding.
God didn’t heal my husband. In fact, my husband eventually died from his illness. But through that painful journey, I came to know God more deeply than I ever would have known Him otherwise. And I believe that relationship came through my honest, desperate prayers—and God’s faithful, comforting responses.
May deeper trust and closer relationship be the goals of our desperate prayers. Then God-directed desperation can bring greater dependence on Him, more fervent worship of Him, and more intimate relationship with Him.
Those things don’t happen automatically, of course. Jonah is a fine example of someone who prayed desperately, yet he had no apparent heart change (see Jonah 2, 4). If our desperate prayers are to result in closer relationship with God and deeper confidence in Him, then we need to ask Him to examine our hearts. Here are some good questions to ask:
- What is behind my desperate prayers?
- Why do I want what I want so badly?
- If God were to answer my most desperate prayers, would I cherish the answers more than I cherish Him?
If we find that we seek His gifts more than we seek Him, then it’s time to confess that and ask Him to change our hearts.
Until we reach heaven, we will never pray with absolutely unselfish motives. Our prayers may be tinged with fear, doubt, or self-centeredness. However, that’s no reason not to pray. God can purify our motives in the process of our desperate praying. The important thing is for us to pray—honestly, humbly, and desperately.
CYNTHIA HYLE BEZEK is the former editor of Pray! magazine. She is the editorial director for Community Bible Study and the author of Prayer Begins with Relationship and Come Away with Me, both published by NavPress. She blogs regularly on prayer at cynthiaprayblog.wordpress.com.
(C) 2014 Prayer Connect magazine.