When We Go to God Last Instead of First with Our Hearts

“They do not cry to me from the heart, but they wail upon their beds; for grain and wine they gash themselves; they rebel against me” (Hosea 7:14).

Our church is studying the emotional honesty of the Psalms. The psalmists frequently cry out to God in anger, in despair, in anguish. What our pastors have emphasized is that when we feel pain, when we suffer, we can and must engage our Father in Heaven knowing that what Paul Tripp says is the truth: “suffering is not a failure of God’s plan.”

The Heart’s Significance

This series was inspired by a common refrain church leaders and counselors hear — we can only talk to God when we have nice things to say. Never mind the fact that the Lord is omniscient: he doesn’t only hear our prayers; he reads our minds and our unacknowledged feelings.

Another issue is that we often think we are praying when all we are doing is talking to ourselves. We rehash events of the day and imagine how they could have gone better. Or we mentally replay situations in the hope they will end differently than they did. Or we berate ourselves without confessing, repenting, and rejoicing.

Yet these activities do not comfort us. God is not glorified. All we do is “wail upon our beds” instead of talking to the Lord. We look inward, into the black hole of self. I’m talking about Christians here, not just atheists or deists. I’m talking about myself too.

Our Hearts’ Wake-Up Call

My recent devotions have come from the Book of Hosea. It’s graphic, at times bleak, and so hard to look at. Gomer is “us.” Hosea is Jesus. We are prostitutes, selling and sometimes giving ourselves away for the price of a short-term reprieve from suffering.

A little bit of pleasure does not go a long way, and yet we regularly pay for a pleasurable substance, an activity, sometimes with money, sometimes with a piece of our dignity. We distract ourselves from the brokenness of our world, whether the sins of others or our own sins.

“They do not cry to me from the heart.” God is telling us, telling me, to cry directly to him first, not as a last resort. He isn’t saying “you can do this” but “you must do this.” If I am confused, angry, sad, despairing, embarrassed, going to the Lord is the only good choice because only he can give me freedom from the weight of my sin or someone else’s sin. In fact, he already has.

This is not to say that he will fix my problems if I go to him, but that he will be with me. He is not an alternative to the longing of my sinful flesh; he alone is the best desire: always available, always close.

I must go to him in a posture of humble repentance. The Lord desires “steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6). Israel had turned to Pagan gods and their futile rituals such as cutting themselves.

Such rituals were designed to manipulate non-existent gods into doing what they wanted, and when they didn’t get what they wanted, they cried on their beds. But they cried like toddlers who want pink sparkly shoes that will deform their toes but receive the black ones that are good for their feet.

We often become anxious or angry when our desires are not being fulfilled, but they are not the desires God will place on our hearts if we obediently ask; if we trust him to know what will glorify him and what is good for us.

Crying, Gashing, and Rebellion

This image of people who “wail upon their beds…and… gash themselves” is so powerful. And makes me wonder: how do I try to manipulate God into doing what I want? What is my figurative “gashing” and what do I want that is not in God’s will for me? I can think of something everyone in our province has desired for weeks, even months: rain.

This is a good desire, but the Lord has permitted us to experience drought and high temperatures. What would we have been willing to do in order to get rain from God? I imagine many individuals have fasted from food, alcohol, or sex, some of them sincerely drawing close to their Father in Heaven, others not so much.

Asking God for rain is fine, he isn’t angry when we ask for relief from the devastation of fire. But what is the posture of our hearts when we ask for something? We are invited to be close to him and the reality of his closeness is the immediate benefit of prayer. He desires the kind of love which says, “If this is all I have, it is the most awesome thing.”

He is good even when the rain does not come, but do we trust this to be true? Do we know that he is truly there, hearing us, even if the fires continue to burn? Who are we to demand anything of the Lord? Prayer is not one part of a cosmic transaction, but a chance to enter into conversation with our very Creator. It’s one part speaking, many parts listening.

When the Rain Falls

As I said, our province has needed a lot of rain these many weeks and months. Finally, yesterday, a real deluge came down. It was a storm, a soaking downpour. Our air smells smoky still, but my eyes don’t hurt when I walk outdoors. My sinuses didn’t sting.

I think, sometimes, I don’t expect God to answer my prayers with a “yes.” Even the rain he sent might have seemed inevitable to a lot of people, a kind of statistical likelihood. After all, nature tends to balance itself out. If we are dry for months, we are suddenly deluged.

What a terrible confession — I don’t expect God to come through. Even when the desire of my heart is good, I think “no, God won’t give his green light to this prayer. The gospel is yesterday’s news. It’s for the past, not for right now in my life.” I have been calling to a God who doesn’t really care or even hear

Huh. And what does the Lord say to us? “I am with you, even to the end of the age.” Cry out to that God. Hold out everything in an open hand, including your desire. If that desire is not correct, let him change it. If he does not change your heart (my heart), hang on to hope, knowing for certain that the Lord loves you and also that his glory is at stake. He won’t let his glory be eclipsed by anything.

Paul Tripp wrote that we are familiar with the past and future work of God in Christ, but “we have a muddy, unclear understanding of the nowism, the right here, right now, present benefits, present reality of the person and work and presence of the Lord Jesus Christ.” Even though Israel had not met Jesus, the Lord expected his people to know what sort of Father he is.

Pray for Authentic Prayer

Strange as it sounds, Lord, I am praying for you to inform my prayers. Show my heart what it should long for. Make it clear when my prayers line up with your desires and when they do not. Help me to yearn for nothing except you, and to rest in the fact that this desire is already fulfilled. Amen.

For further reading:

Does God Cry with Us?

What Does it Mean That the Pure in Heart Will See God?

3 Practical Ways to Transfer God’s Word from Your Bible to Your Heart

How Can I Guard My Heart?

Can God Heal a Broken Heart?

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/Relentless_one

Candice Lucey is a freelance writer from British Columbia, Canada, where she lives with her family. Find out more about her here.

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