Prayer as Rebellion

To clasp the hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world.” ― Karl Barth

What, then, is the nature of petitionary prayer? It is, in essence, rebellion—rebellion against the world in its fallenness, the absolute and undying refusal to accept as normal what is pervasively abnormal. ― David Wells

If asked how your prayer life is doing how many of you would begin to flagellate yourself internally while admitting that it is cold or, even worse, absent? Do you find it difficult to stir yourself to attend corporate prayer meetings? I want to suggest that it may not be a lack of discipline or love for the Lord that is the problem (as your self-flagellation may suggest), but a basic misunderstanding of prayer and what it is.

What is prayer? The two quotes above capture well the essence of prayer; at least a large portion of the prayers of Scripture. But in order to understand prayer this way, we have to rid ourselves of the far too sanitized version of prayer we frequently envision. To grasp the raw nature of prayer as rebellion against the world and its fallenness, as an uprising against the disorder of the world, consider the following prayers given to the people of God in Scripture.

2 Have mercy on me, LORD, for I am faint; heal me, LORD, for my bones are in agony. 3 My soul is in deep anguish. How long, LORD, how long? 4 Turn, LORD, and deliver me; save me because of your unfailing love. 5 Among the dead no one proclaims your name. Who praises you from the grave? (Psalm 6:2-5)

Why, LORD, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? (Psalm 10:1)

How long, LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? 2 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? 3 Look on me and answer, LORD my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death, 4 and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,” and my foes will rejoice when I fall. (Psalm 13:1-4)

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? 2 My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest. 3 Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the one Israel praises. 4 In you our ancestors put their trust; they trusted and you delivered them. 5 To you they cried out and were saved; in you they trusted and were not put to shame. 6 But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by everyone, despised by the people. 7 All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads. 8 “He trusts in the LORD,” they say, “let the LORD rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.” (Psalm 22:1-8)

These are not sanitized prayers; they are raw and unfiltered. The fact that they are given to God’s people as examples for prayer tells us that God invites us to come and plead our case with Him. Like the widow in the story of the unjust judge, we are invited to come and plead before our Father about the injustices which we experience and see in the world around us. We are told to pray this way and never cease to do so (Luke 18:1-8). It may well be that when we understand that we can pray this way, indeed we are invited to pray this way continually, that we will more gladly come to the Lord in prayer.

What are the injustices you experience? What are the very broken things in this world that you see? Prayer is an invitation to come before the Father with these things and to cry out before Him until you are satisfied. It is an invitation to cry, “Your Kingdom come and free us from the reign and tyranny of sin and death.” The Psalms are a magnificent place to learn how to pray this way. They give us words to lead us honestly to God and walk us through our prayers to a place of trust in the midst of a faith that refuses to be okay with a world stuck in the chains of its fallenness. Walter Brueggemann writes in His book, Praying the Psalms,

The Psalms are an assurance to us that when we pray and worship, we are not expected to censure or deny the deepness of our own human pilgrimage. Rather, we are expected to submit it openly and trustingly so that it can be brought to eloquent and passionate speech addressed to the Holy One.

When we gather together for corporate prayer times, or when you are praying in private, do not denounce or deny your feelings of discontent with what is wrong in the world. Go ahead and rebel against what is wrong in the world by crying out to the Lord for Him to do something about it. He gladly hears our prayers and will answer. We may need to cry out for a long time, but He never tires of hearing us, and He too yearns to bring about the answer. He will hear and He will answer.

Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,


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  • Nancy says:

    You make some excellent points here. We sometimes focus so much on being reverent that we secret away our raw emotions. Reverence is necessary, of course; but God already knows our hearts so why not honestly display the thoughts they generate? At times, I need to remind myself that God hears every word; the fact that situations do not change or that circumstances do not alter does not change that. It just means that God sometimes either says, “No,” or that He has a better plan, a more opportune time, a higher purpose. It is good to be reminded that it’s ‘okay’ to speak up.
    Thank you!


  • Ann Mansfield says:

    I found this blog very comforting, because I constantly am confronted by the fallen and broken condition of the world in which we live and the people who share it. When I see tapes of Moslem men throwing donated water and food onto the train tracks, denying this aide to the hungry and thirsty people around them because it was donated by the Red Cross, because they see even that red cross as a symbol of the faith and people whom they hate, I am filled with grief. When I read of laws against giving food and water to the homeless people in our own cities, I am filled with anger toward a system that despises the efforts of those who want to do good deeds. When I hear of Christians angrily judging and creating divisions among their own family members instead of seeking understanding and reconciliation, I am filled with despair. My only forum is before the throne of God, who alone can change the hearts and minds of humankind. What court can we turn to, besides Almighty God? These times are in His hands, and nothing escapes His view. When I pray “Thy Kingdom come and Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”, I am comforted, because I know that someday He will set all that is senseless in order.

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