Pray Offensively

How to Pray When We Don’t Feel Gratitude.

Editor’s note: This article is part of an ongoing conversation at The King’s University about gratitude. We want to know, what are you thankful for?

I’ve lost a lot of friends to COVID the last 18 months. Many people I love have become widows and widowers. Others have become single parents. I’ve given the eulogy at a disappointingly large number of funerals and memorials in the last 400 days. To be transparent, I face a melancholy when considering the challenges of the recent months.

Now arrives the holiday season—that time of the year when I’m to be grateful for all the Lord has granted. But sometimes a season in life offers me an unusually large wave of disappointment. I struggle to find God’s presence amidst the darkness. I battle for each breath; I’m fighting to survive; I’m hoping for light. What happens if my losses are so deep and traumatic, I can’t find my “thank you”? What should I do if my wounds are gaping, and I’m plagued by depression and anger? What happens if I just don’t have the strength for gratitude?

In the Psalms, King David shows us his human emotions. Though he was described as “a man after God’s own heart,” he was only a man. The trials of his life were deep and difficult. He was unashamed to paint those emotions with poetry. In the process, he offers a way forward when gratitude becomes elusive. Allow me to offer two actions I see in the Psalms which you might find helpful during this season of thankfulness.

Pray Offensively

Psalm 35 shows King David undertaking a kind of prayer we modern Christians don’t often utilize: the offensive rather than defensive prayer. Normally, we ask the Lord to “deliver us” or “protect us” from trying circumstances. These are defensive words. When we pray these, we’re hunkering down trying to avoid the storm and asking God to get us out of the roiling mess. 

In the offensive prayer, we rise and stare at the evil one who causes the storm. Then, like King David, we ask the Lord to “contend with those who contend with me (vs 1).” We invite the Lord to let them be “turned back and disappointed (vs 4),” and to “let the net that he hid ensnare him (vs 8).” We go on the offensive, standing behind the authority of Christ. Through the advancing prayer, we’re able to take ground not by fleeing the battlefield, but by inviting the Lord to turn the battle on the enemy. 

We must, however, recognize our real enemy is not a person. Our real enemy is Satan. So, our offensive prayer is not used on people, but against the hordes of hell.

Praise Out Loud

Psalm 35 then presents the second action when gratitude seems far off. As a worshiper, King David knew the significance of praising God. We should be unsurprised when worship becomes an act of liberation. David invites his very bones to speak. At the strength of his structure praise bubbles forth; his skeleton declares the glory of God, “who is like you (vs 10)!? ” His praise will not be hidden for he will worship amidst “the mighty throng (vs 18)” of people. And here we see the hope of gratitude in the face of sure destruction, for it is in the congregation, visible among God’s people, and living within their secure community that David can say, “I will thank you (vs 18).” He describes the power of his “tongue…tell[ing] of [God’s] righteousness (vs 28)” and doing so all day long. And he invites all who delight in righteousness (and for us, that is only attainable through the work of Christ) to shout for joy, to be glad, and to say out loud till the end of their days, “Great is the Lord (vs 27)!”

A sure action to making the holiday season filled with gratitude is to bridge the divide between your head and your heart by filling your mouth with the praises of God. While your heart grieves and your soul is wounded, let your will advance and tell your tongue to testify. As it does, the very words that seem meaningless in your throat will become life in your belly and peace in your core. 

These two actions, Praying Offensively and Praising Out Loud, are key actions when our souls are so tired and wounded. Typically, we want the Lord to deliver us from our obstacles; but, most often He desires to walk us through them. The journey becomes the tool which the Holy Spirit uses to shape our soul. The path to wholeness is found walking through your challenge, not escaping around it. So, this holiday season, I invite you to journey through your grief, your sadness, your emptiness and your despair through praise and prayer. You can do this. It’s not too hard. The Lord has already granted you all that is necessary for victory amidst defeat. Take a deep breath, rise up, and press forward through praise and prayer. I’m taking the journey too.

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Dr. Robb Brewer
Dr. Robb Brewer
Dr. Robb Brewer is the Executive Dean for Academics at The King's University.