This morning’s entry from The Mockingbird Devotional is another gem from David Zahl.

I called on your name, O Lord, from the depths of the pit. You heard my plea: “Do not close your ears to my cry for help!” You came near when I called you and you said, “Do not fear!” (Lamentations 3:55-57, NIV)

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Prayer can be confusing. Jesus teaches us to pray, “Thy will be done” (Matt 6:10). But he also tells us, “Ask and it will be given to you” (Matt 7:7). Should we be correct or should we be honest? Those two things often seem diametrically opposed.

When we are honest, our prayers frequently devolve into wishes. The great doo-wop singer Dion gave us a powerful example of this phenomenon in 1975, when he and legendary producer Phil Spector recorded “Make The Woman Love Me”:

Lord, I know I haven’t asked for much/In such a long, long time/Not since that brand new pair of Levi’s/Back when I was eight or nine/And I know, the world’s in such a state/And you’ve got a lot to do/But if you ever find yourself with a minute or two/Won’t you please make the woman love me?

Both the childhood prayer for jeans and the adulthood prayer for romance are sincere. Yet they sound more like a job for Santa Claus than God. I want, I want, I want!

Then there are the “correct” prayers, typified by the Lord’s prayer of “Thy will be done.” Or even more daunting, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me”—when you consider the outcome of that particular prayer, it becomes difficult to follow suit. These may be the right words, but they rarely come from the heart. At the least, the motives behind them are often mixed: “If I just pray the right way, God will do my bidding.” “If I can just figure out the right formula…” In other words, I want, I want, I want!

In this passage from Lamentations, these two types of prayer meet. We hear the cry of a person in despair, begging for relief from the only place it can come from: on High. It is a prayer that says, “My will has failed me—your will is my only hope, please let it be done.” It is honest, and it is right. It says, I need, I need, I need! The answer comes back: “Do not fear.” This is not only the answer we want; it is the answer we need and the answer we have been given.