What does a healthy prayer life look like?

When do you pray more, when life is going well or when it is going poorly? Many of us swing in one direction or the other.

We may be good at expressing frustration. When life is not going our way, we cry out to God to fix it. We question why He has abandoned us. In some ways, the difficulty enhances our prayer life, as we beat on God’s chest over and over again.

But when life shifts, when things are no longer so difficult, we pray a little less. We begin to live in our own strength. We give ourselves credit for getting to where we are in life.

Or, we may be good at expressing gratitude. Every night, we thank God for things that happened during the day. We make lists of all that is good in our life. Whenever we are asked about how we have gotten to where we are, we give the credit to God.

But, when life shifts, when things are no longer so wonderful, we pray a little less. We can’t find reasons to be grateful. And we don’t know how to pray to God with any other terms. Somehow the anger we feel seems irreverent to speak.

A prayer life that is truly anchored in trust should express both appreciation and frustration. Because life is full of pendulum swings, one day grateful, another angry, one season content, another miserable.

A healthy prayer life is an honest prayer life.

It reminds me of all these athletes I see giving God the credit for helping them win. I wonder if they would still be talking about God if they came in last place.

Gratitude can so easily feel inauthentic.

If I came across Psalm 21, without having been immersed in Psalms 1-20 beforehand, I would perhaps question its authenticity. Psalm 21 is overflowing with gratitude to God. Without context, I might be cynical about the thankfulness expressed.

Yet, I know that the same person who prayed this in Psalm 21

The king rejoices in your strength, Lord. How great is his joy in the victories you give! – Psalm 21:1

Prayed this in Psalm 6

All night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears. My eyes grow weak with sorrow; they fail because of all my foes. – Psalm 6:6-7

The same person who prayed this in Psalm 21

You have granted him his heart’s desire and have not withheld the request of his lips. You came to greet him with rich blessings and placed a crown of pure gold on his head. He asked you for life, and you gave it to him— length of days, for ever and ever.  – Psalm 21:2-4

Prayed this in Psalm 10

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

David’s prayers of gratitude seem all the more beautiful to me when I read them alongside his prayers of frustration and sadness. It shows me his authenticity. I believe that when David prayed Psalm 21, he meant it.

And I wonder if this is what God meant when he called David “a man after His own heart.” Because David seems to never cease in His praying. David expresses his heart freely to a God in whose love he is secure.

Maybe that’s why, even though he makes mistakes, even though he sometimes wins and sometimes loses, David can pray with confidence this statement

 For the king trusts in the Lord; through the unfailing love of the Most High he will not be shaken. – Psalm 21:7

That is the cry of my heart. That I will trust in the unfailing love of God and not be shaken.

Walk through the Psalms is a series reflecting on the beautiful and timeless poetry found in the middle of the Bible. It is an intentional study of God’s Word, grounded in the belief that God gave us the Bible so we could meditate on it, whether that takes us through inspiring or frustrating territory.