Wilderness prayers are a little different than foxhole prayers, at least to me.
Some of you may have heard the term foxhole prayer—the type of prayer you pray when you’re in a desperate situation, a crisis like a scary health diagnosis, the possible end of a marriage or relationship, a sick loved one, etc. This is the type of prayer you pray in utter desperation for God to intervene. There’s often bargaining involved too—“Lord, if you do this, I will do this for you.”
Wilderness prayers are desperate too, but they’re quieter. And you’ve been there a while. And there’s almost a sense of defeat to them, as if you know that you don’t have the resolve to do something for God if He answers you. The wilderness prayer is a prayer that you can’t quite come out and say for fear that He’ll answer it, and you’re not quite sure you can handle Him answering it. It’s the type of prayer that comes from deep down in your soul. The gut part. The soul part. The part that knows you want better. That knows you want God’s will for your life. The part that is too scared to admit it.
Wilderness prayers are the kind of prayers prayed in the middle of the night or right smack in the middle of a situation you don’t know how to get out of.
There’s usually sin involved; there’s always hurt involved.
There’s also love involved.
Love for the sin. Love for the person(s) involved in the sin.
Because sin is never just yucky, at least at first, and even up to the end, it tries to deceive you that there is good.
Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.
—James 1:15 (NIV)
And relational sin, it involves love. Emotion for another person. Your heart.
I have SO much empathy for those involved in relational sin because it is not an easy sin to turn away from. There is a person involved. And you love this person. They are not something to be thrown away, as a substance could. Or a behavior could.
So you pray these wilderness prayers in the middle of the night. If you’re like me, you have prayed these prayers while the person is next to you, sleeping. You know this person is not God’s best for you and is influencing your life in an unhealthy way. You look at their sleeping frame, their handsome face, their beautiful face, and you have absolutely no idea how you will leave.
You feel too weak to make the right choice.
You feel like the wilderness is too dark, and you’re in too deep.
You don’t know how to get out.
So you wait, darkness all around, calling to God deep down in your heart, wanting to be found. Wanting to be rescued.
But you’re terrified to be rescued.
These, to me, are wilderness prayers.
In my life, though, God has rescued me from each of these wilderness prayers. I know I am lucky that there weren’t more consequences. Still, the circumstances He used to rescue me have not always been easy, and there are scars—but He gave me a way out of each of these situations. As He says in His word:
No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.
—1 Corinthians 10:13 (NIV)
In my case, He gave me the resolve to finally end these relationships—even if, for some, it took months or years to finally take the step out of denial—or He let them end in the most painful of ways. But still, He rescued me.
Admittedly, each ending was VERY painful. But each led to BETTER on the way to BEST. (I have, perhaps selfishly, always wanted God’s best for my life.) And He’s woven each of these situations into my life for my benefit and, I hope, for the benefit of others. He also provided support in the way of friends or family during each of these difficult times.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
—Romans 8:28 (NIV)
I don’t ache over these relationships anymore. I am content. When I hear things about these folks through the grapevine, I am happy for them. I want their best as well!
But they were not God’s best for me, and they did not influence me toward godliness or even, on a more basic level, toward my best and the true desires of my heart.
Are you in the wilderness in an area of your life, not knowing how to get out?
First of all, get real with God. Share your heart with Him. He can hear you. You are not too far away. Ask Him to give you clarity and strength to take the next right step. When I was in the wilderness of depression (not a sin but also a dark wilderness), I found myself lashing out verbally at someone close to me (yes, sin). I lost control. This action, which, sadly, had become more and more commonplace, led me to my knees in prayer and an admittance that my life had become unmanageable; this dark place of depression and isolation had taken over my emotions and ability to function. This is the first step in recovery programs, the admission that life has become unmanageable, or that you are powerless to control your life or to stop doing the things you are doing that are not good for you. The next step in Christian recovery is to “believe that God exists” and that He can help you recover. The third step is to turn your will over to “Christ’s care and control.” (1)
The truth is, any step away from sin involves giving God some room to work in our lives. It’s like we release some of our grip on the blanket we’ve been holding so tightly, as God reassures us that He will show us the way. Take my hand. Trust me. I will lead you out of this wilderness …
God sees our hearts.
In all the sinful places I have been, my heart came to a place of wanting out. I just didn’t know how. And that is where our God comes in. This is where we discover we are unconditionally loved, despite the mess others may see in us. Others see the outside—the mess, the screwups, the disappointment—but our God sees a heart that still beats after Him. After what is good and right and true. He hears that tiny heartbeat in the wilderness, and He comes to you. He has always been there. He has been there waiting for you to ask Him for help. To mean it. And to take His hand, even if tentatively.
As my pastor friend says, “He is a gentleman.”
Take the first step. Admit to Jesus that you don’t know how to get out, that your life has become unmanageable. That night I cried out to Jesus in my depression, He put Celebrate Recovery on my heart, and the next day I attended a meeting. There I found a supportive group of women to encourage me in my weakness. This led to another meeting with a doctor, which led to the discovery that my vitamin levels were off. Each step led to another healthy step on a path out of the wilderness. Our Papa may direct you differently. But take the first step. Give Him some room. Just be honest.
Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;
you taught me wisdom in that secret place.
—Psalm 51:6 (NIV)
Do you want to learn more about prayer? About this amazing privilege we have to talk to the Creator of the universe? Do you have a sense that prayer is powerful and want to understand it in all its facets? Admittedly, while I’ve seen the benefits of prayer in my life, for me it’s been a cross between A) wielding prayer like a Nerf sword, slicing the spiritual air with my wobbly prayers but not really understanding what I’m doing and B) trying not to think of God as my personal ATM machine: here is my request God; now please answer it!
So I was excited when I was given the chance to review one of three Bible studies, and one of them was a 12-lesson study on prayer (PERFECT TIMING!!!) titled Praying with Power by Christa Kinde with a foreword by Patsy Clairmont. I have only just begun this study, but I can say in all honesty (not being paid for this review!) that this Bible study is perfect for a beginning Bible studier, Nerf-wielding pray-er like me.
Each chapter focuses on a different aspect of prayer (for example, “Two-Way Conversations,” “Journaling Prayers,” “Prayer Through [Bible] Passages,” and, as Clairmont says, “how to pray our way through a desert or valley”—or wilderness!), and the reflection questions in each chapter are SO manageable. Most take you to a short Bible piece, with such directed questions that you truly get the meaning out of each Bible passage. The lessons don’t take long, perhaps 30 minutes for each chapter, yet your understanding of prayer is coming directly from God’s word in a way that is easy to follow and easy to remember in morsels that are easy to put in your pocket and keep for later … (Hansel and Gretel? Sorry, I love fairy tale references.) Each chapter is also packed with quotes and thoughts on prayer from some really awesome people of the faith and ends with a trinket, a main takeaway on prayer that is easy to put in your mental pocket.
I’ll be giving away this book and two others—Building Your Strengths and Giving God Your Future—on Tuesday February 14.
To enter the giveaway for these three books, do any of the following. The more you participate, the more chances you have to win:
- Comment below with your own story of prayer—for example, what prayer means to you, ways you connect with God, how God answered your prayer, etc. (ONE ENTRY)
- Share this post on social media, and let me know where you shared it in the comments below. (TWO ENTRIES)
- Follow this blog or Dating with Jesus on Instagram (dating_with_jesus) or Twitter (@DatingwithJesus). Let me know you’re a new follower in the comments so I can welcome you! (TWO ENTRIES)
- Pastor Rick Warren, “The Road to Recovery: Based on the Beatitudes,” Celebrate Recovery Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007).