Praying Through Emotions

(Olivia Davis) #1

Hi everyone,

Something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is what to do with emotions in our prayer lives. Understanding how prayer and our emotions work together has been tricky for me - how do you identify the difference between blathering on in self-pity and being honest? Or being strong in the Lord and being stoic?

I recently heard the thought that we should be praying through our emotions. The idea, as I understood it, is that while our emotions don’t control us, we don’t ignore them either. We acknowledge them before God and talk through them.

Often, instead of really talking through my emotions, I’ve focused on asking God to fix whatever was causing the bad emotion. Then it would just be gone, right? However, I’ve realized this isn’t the pattern we see in the Bible. For example, in Psalm 22, David spends 18 verses protesting his situation! After this, he spends three verses asking God for deliverance and the last ten praising God. We can see the ratio for ourselves – most of David’s prayer was a protest, a full acknowledgment of his emotions. Then, he gives a short petition to God for deliverance and, finally, praises him. Somehow, praying through his emotions ultimately led to praising God.

I’m really interested in seeing what everything thinks. Here are three questions to help catalyze discussion:

  • How do you understand the phrase “praying through emotions?”
  • How have your thoughts about praying and emotions changed over time?
  • How does knowing that God wants to hear about our grief change how we think of him?
(Carson Weitnauer) #2

Hi Olivia,

This is a great question. I am curious to hear what others will share!

I am inclined to think we need to distinguish different emotions and times.

For instance, let’s say I want to be the richest real estate developer in my city, and someone else gets a deal I wanted, so I become furious and jealous. I could bring this anger to God, and talk it through with him, and he would over time teach me that I should desire his kingdom more than my kingdom. At the same time, I don’t think he would validate my anger. The emotion, in this case, is sinful and needs to be repented of because it is tied to pride and possibly a desire to hurt someone else.

(E.g., Ephesians 4:31, Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.)

To provide another example, let’s say I want to have a good relationship with a family member, but no matter what I do to show love and care, they ignore me. In response, I feel grief and sadness. I can bring these emotions to the Lord, and talk it through with him, and he would over time comfort me, strengthen me, and help me to continue to walk in love. However, I don’t think the emotions of grief and sadness are sinful. They could actually be righteous emotions that the Lord commends me for.

(E.g., Psalm 34:18, The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. Matthew 5:4, Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted).

What are our emotions? What experiences are they connected to? Are we hurting others - or are others hurting us?

Ultimately, if our heart desire is to know and serve the Lord, then I believe one of the ways that he works in our lives is to restore our emotions to full health. I don’t think this happens in perfection in this lifetime (any more than I expect to have a body of perfect physical health).

However, perhaps I was at one point rather prone to complaining, but over time, become more grateful and appreciative. Or perhaps I go through natural and appropriate seasons of mourning, which are totally appropriate given our fallen world, but then through walking with the Lord and his people, enter back into seasons of joy and hope as well.

Some initial thoughts for your consideration… this is a large and multi-faceted subject, so I look forward to learning more.

(SeanO) #3

@CarsonWeitnauer made an excellent point that in part the way we pray depends upon the nature of the emotion - if it is normal or if it is ungodly. I think we can extend this line of thought even further and say that the aim of prayer is different when we are in different emotional states. First, I’ll answer each of your questions and then lay out what I think are some emotions we experience and the form prayer takes.

  1. “Praying through emotions” to me means praying towards worship of and rest in Christ as well as supplication for our brothers and sisters and the world. When we get caught up in what is temporal, we prayer towards what is eternal. When our own griefs seem to much to carry, we remember that we are soldiers at war and instead of surrendering to that emotional weight we leave our burdens at Jesus’ feet and fight the good fight of the faith by praying boldly not only for ourselves, but for all who need the grace of our merciful Lord Jesus!
  2. When I was first serious about my Christian faith, God’s presence in prayer was everything. If it was lacking, I felt almost abandoned - as if prayer was not working. But as I’ve grown, I recognized two things. One, occasionally that presence is missing and those are the most important times that I be faithful in prayer - my God will come - I will wait upon the Lord! Second, sometimes I must fight my way into God’s presence through worship and remembrance. Also, I thought that if my emotions of pain or sadness remained after prayer something was wrong. But now I recognize that as an embodied creature sometimes emotions just overwhelm you and we must both gain wisdom in how to address different emotions (proper sleep, exercise, getting some sunshine) and rest in Christ as we wait. Sorrow may come with the night, but joy comes in the morning!
  3. I think sometimes we view God as being above our concerns, as if He has better things to be doing. But in reality He is our loving Father and He desires that we bring our troubles and griefs to Him. Oh what peace we often forfeit and what needless pain we bear all because we do not carry everything to the Lord in prayer! He wants to carry our burdens and lighten our load.
  • when our emotions are out of line with God’s truth - anger, fear, worry - we pray in order to realign our hearts with Christ through repentance and remembrance of His mercy to us on the cross. The Gospel helps us realign our emotions and trust God / love neighbor.
  • when our emotions are so overwhelming that we feel crushed we pray towards surrender and rest - laying ourselves at the feet of the Good Shepherd and allowing the rest of Christ to reenter our lives. We cry out for the strength and peace we need as we recall His faithful love.
  • when our emotions are absent and our life feels lifeless - we pray as in waiting and in seeking - declaring that we long for Him as the deer longs for water and we will obediently wait upon His presence
  • when our emotions are sadness over the suffering we see around us or in our lives, we take those requests to God in prayer and implore Him - grabbing the hem of His garment - to intervene in the lives of those who so desperately need His love and mercy. He knows the number of hairs on their head and all about their life. May He fill them with His love. Lord, have mercy!
  • when our emotions are of disappointment we pray towards thankfulness by remembering our unworthiness and the splendor of His grace. He clothed us in white when we were blind, poor and naked. Hallelujah!
  • when our emotions are of joy we remember to give God thanks and double our delight by inviting Him into our rejoicing

For me personally, worship and prayer are tightly intertwined. I experience prayer best when I am moving fluidly in between prayer and worship - worship moves me to pray and prayer moves me to worship.

Great question @Olivia_Davis! It was a joy to answer :slight_smile:

(Tara Pauls) #5

Thanks for broaching this great Topic, Olivia! I wonder if by “I recently heard the thought that we should be praying through our emotions” you could be referring to a sermon series by Tim Keller in Feb. and March of 2000? I have been re-listening to 2 of these sermons recently as they touch my heart and encourage me. I was struck anew by the power of processing my emotions with Him through prayer as opposed to stuffing or venting them.

This sermon series: Psalms: The Songs of Jesus (particularly “Praying Through our Fears”) has revolutionized my thoughts concerning praying my emotions.

There are several other sermons in the series: Praying Our Tears, Praying Our Doubts, Praying our Guilt and Praying the Gospel.

Praying_Our_Doubts (2) (1)

I hope these sermons bless you as they have me.:blush:

(for some reason there seems to be a problem with sharing some of these sermons here … Praying Our Fears and Praying Our Tears can be found on YouTube but the rest I had to purchase from the Gospel In Life website (a few dollars each).

(Olivia Davis) #6

@tpauls8 Thanks so much for sharing those! I’m so happy that you posted and I look forward to listening! :slight_smile:

I was referring to two by Tim Mackie. It looks like they are very similar because he and Keller are using the Psalms. It will be really interesting to see how these two Tims come at the subject from different (or not) angles!

Praying Through Our Pain:

Praying Through Our Fears:

(Tara Pauls) #7

:grin:Thank you, too! I was aware Tim Mackie had a similar sermon series and had even listened through one of them a while ago. I will enjoy listening afresh!


(Anthony Costello ) #8


What a great question, and a very hard one to grapple with.

As one who has been struggling through some extremely hard times recently, I have had to think and reflect a lot about the emotional pain I’ve been experiencing for the last few months. To pray through these emotions seems to me on the one hand just obvious, because more than half of the Psalter is just filled with songs and prayers crying out to God from a place of emotional pain. Pain due to injustice, pain due to betrayal, pain due to loss, pain due to illness and death. All of these instances of suffering are lifted up to God in prayer, and they all have similar emotions that attach to them: loneliness, isolation, anger and vengeance, insecurity, fear of the future. Moreover, emotional pain causes physical symptoms: racing heartbeat, lack of energy, panic attacks, chest pains, inability to sleep, inability to concentrate…the list goes on.

I really appreciate what @CarsonWeitnauer has said about emotions that may fail to be ones that are ordered properly toward godly ends, and ones that are ordered to godly ends. That is certainly a key distinction to make; whereby, I think that if one has seriously reflected and prayed deeply about an instance of pain and suffering, and if one truly knows that he is not guilty, or at least that his suffering is not warranted in the amount or degree to which it is being experienced, then the emotional pain is twice as bad, because there is also the sense of injustice that goes along with what is likely already the pain of loss. Recently I watched the movie “Twelve Years a Slave” and my God, could there have been any greater injustice than this! First to be torn away from your family and then to be degraded, violated, and humiliated beyond all reason.

Yet, recently I heard Phil Allen Jr., an African American pastor speak on the issue of race, just to use this as a concrete example of emotional pain. Wow! After hearing Phil speak on the tragic life of his grandfather, a man who faithfully served in WWII only to return home to the South and be murdered in a racist attack, I approached him after the conference. We spoke and Phil reminded me that even amidst the horrors of slavery it is incredible to think that the same Bible that white slave owners were misusing to justify their tyrannical activities, was at the same time taking root in the hearts and minds of their very people who were suffering under that tyranny! It was in the cotton fields and the sugar cane plants that men and women under extreme emotional pain, were creating negro spirituals, songs dedicated to praising, and lamenting, to the Lord of Glory!

So, I think praying through our emotions is exactly what God wants us to do. The slaves not only prayed through their emotions, but sang through them, and generations of Christians have benefitted ever since from that music that emerged out of such deep wells of sorrow and grief.

In conclusion, I think as co-sufferers with Christ we really should consider that it is in the experience of profound emotional pain is where we will most likely become the saints that God has called us to be. Paul prays in my favorite letter, the letter to the Philippians, that he longs to know the power of Christ’s resurrection AND the “sharing of His sufferings by becoming like Him in His death.” (Phil 3:7-11) Emotional pain is where we will either meet our savior and sanctifier, or where the world will destroy us. I pray for all of us that when pain strikes hard we will meet Him there.

Grace and Peace,

(Anthony Costello ) #9

Here is an online series on Grief put out by the Center for Christian Thought at Biola University that might help with processing through our emotions. I’ve found this very helpful so far as it walks us through the experience of pain and suffering within the context of God’s economy and providence. I think anyone is welcome to subscribe.

Hope this helps!


(Tara Pauls) #10

Thank you so much Anthony for your contribution to this conversation. It has touched my heart. I would just like to take a moment to say how sorry I am that you are suffering such pain. Thank you for sharing so vulnerably here. I will be praying for you as well.

I also appreciate you sharing about your conversation with Phil Allen Jr. and for sharing the link to the online series of grief at Biola.

I suspect that all of us who have suffered profound emotional pain would agree with you that it is during these times Christ’s presence seems most tangible as we run to Him. David’s cries from the heart seem to give us a blueprint of how to pray through these difficult emotions, thereby drawing us near to the only one who can ultimately heal us. The so-called easier alternative of running away, hiding from our pain, self-medicating, etc. is always there, of course (speaking from personal experience), trying to lure us, but this is where I find the body of Christ to be so pivotal (as you have already alluded to in referring to participation in the series on grief). Having the experience of “Jesus with skin on” through the presence of other believers who “get it” can make all the difference in the world. I am a firm believer that Jesus never “wastes” my pain, but redeems it by giving me the opportunity of walking with others through their own pain. Just today I was listening to an old ASK AWAY episode (working my way from the early ones to the more current ones again😊) and was struck by Michael Davis’ rendering of what I was trying to say here. He speaks of the “brotherhood of shared suffering”. Only through experiencing something similar, he says, a person earns the right to speak into another person’s life that he would not otherwise have. In this way, my pain can become another person’s blessing. Another mystery of God’s economy which I continue to marvel at.

I know that I have strayed from the original topic here, but decided to share my thoughts because of the comfort, peace and ultimately growth I have experienced through this tangible outworking of praying through my own pain with other believers.

I am including a link here to RZIM’s Ask Away episode I referred to above for anyone who feels they could benefit from listening to Vince and Jo Vitale respond to a grieving father’s heart-wrenching questions surrounding his son’s passing. As always, their gentle and loving treatment of the question and the questioner leaves the listener with a clearer sense of God’s love for us and, in this case, particularly when we are suffering.

May God’s grace and peace surround you brother.

(Heidi Mitchell) #11

@tpauls8 thanks for including the part about others getting to benefit because we can resonate with their pain …bc it’s similar to something we’ve experienced ourselves. We get it.
These emotions of being known by others and even more so known by God. Tauryn Wells song “Known”- speaks to being fully known and loved. I find comfort there…
He gets us. He made us to feel these things- so He can handle us working through how we feel, and bringing us around to truth.
As a mom, when my kids come to me all upset, in tears, full of feeling…it takes a lot of patience and understanding their perspective to help them get at the heart of the problem.
I imagine God does that with us… listens to us as we “get it all out”, then, gently leads us back to the heart of where we need to be.
Great discussion, guys!

(Tara Pauls) #12

Thanks for that reminder Heidi! I love that song “Known”. So powerful.:blush:

1 Like
(Anthony Costello ) #13

Amen and Amen!

Grace and Peace,

(Sieglinde) #14

Beautiful❤️ Thank you so much for sharing this!