We have a tiny herb garden. It’s just a couple of plants each of a few different herbs– basil, rosemary, parsley, chives, etc., in small planters on our back stoop. Just enough to have fresh herbs for cooking. They smell really good when I go out to water them, or clip some to add to chicken stew or spaghetti sauce or noodles and butter.
They add flavor and color, too, but it is the smell that grabs the attention and brings immediate joy.
Our prayers are supposed to be like that, too. The Bible compares our prayers to incense with a pleasing aroma. God delights in the fragrance of our prayers.
That seems reasonable for prayers of praise, but what about prayers of pain? How can such prayers bring joy to God?
When I water my herbs, they give off a pleasing aroma. But when I chop and crush the herbs to use them, the scent is stronger, the flavor richer, as the plants give all they have to the dish. Left in their planters, they will grow tall, but they will not be useful. They will smell good, but they won’t fulfill their greater purpose.
God wants our praise– certainly. And He is worthy of it–completely. But God also wants our chopped, crushed, bruised, torn, and painful prayers of need and brokenness. He wants us to trust Him to make even our groans and cries for help into fragrant offerings.
In “Pursuing Prayer”, I want to explore ways to develop my prayers; to become “better” at praying– more confident, more Christlike. But along the way, I have found that “better” doesn’t always mean what I think it ought to mean. Sometimes, becoming “better” requires becoming broken.
I don’t like being broken. I don’t want to be shattered, ruined, like a broken vase. I don’t want to pray like a broken record– sending up the same failures, the same weaknesses, the same painful memories. I don’t want to be pinched, and cracked, and mangled. I don’t want to be stretched and molded and squeezed. I want to have comforting chats with God, not drawn-out confessions, or rebukes, or unanswered questions.
It is tempting to avoid brokenness–cover it up, pretend, deny, ignore its existence. I don’t want to bring God my questions, my fears, my hurts. I don’t want to open up the dark places of my soul. I want to wear a smile and make small talk with God–“How are you today?” “Just lovely, Father, and how are you?” “Fine weather we’re having.” “Yes, thank you for the breezes yesterday. And could I just put in a plug for my neighbor’s gall bladder surgery? I told her I would pray for her, so could you just give her a speedy healing? That’d be great. Well, gotta run. Talk to you soon…Oh, and I’m sorry for the way I blew up at the kids the other day. I don’t know WHAT got into me. You know I’m just not that way, right? So I’m just asking for grace to kinda cover that up and make it ok again. Thanks.”
God is not fooled. God is not impressed or amused at our shallow righteousness. He’s not impressed or overcome by our brokenness, either. But He wants it, anyway. He wants all of it. Because He wants to build honesty, intimacy, and most of all, restoration. God doesn’t want us to wallow in our failures, any more than He wants us to gloat in our false perfection. He wants to break the bondage they have over us. He doesn’t get tired of hearing our voices, even in guilt or shame, rage or despair…if they are raised to Him. He doesn’t want us to stay shattered and ruined. But He needs us to be redirected, refreshed, rebuilt, rekindled, and renewed.
There are many things that need to be “broken” to become better– we “break” in shoes, we “break” ground to create a new field or prepare for a new building. We “break bread” to eat it and share it with others. We “break” horses in order to prepare them to run or work more effectively. We “break” bad habits. We even “break” the ice in a new friendship. The point is not to stay broken, but to “break through” whatever is keeping us oppressed and held down.
When I am feeling broken, and I cry out to God, He doesn’t deny my brokenness; He doesn’t turn away in disgust; He doesn’t stick a hasty bandage on my wounds. God acknowledges my pain, He listens to my questions. He loves me enough to come and stay with me through the worst moments–even when others have gone; even when I deny His presence and turn my face to the wall–and He begins the process of turning even those scars and cracks and tears into treasures.
Brokenness is inevitable in our fallen and broken world– God is not out to break us; people and time, circumstances, and even our own good intentions will cause us to fall and fail–am I willing to uncover my brokenness and need, and allow God to reshape my shattered dreams?