Can we really say anything to God?

Brad M. Griffin | Apr 1, 2014

Photo by Send me adrift.

Growing up in church culture can leave young people hesitant about being honest with God. I can’t prove that from research, but I find that teenagers who are new to faith are much more willing than church natives to admit anger toward God or to name devastating loss for what it is.

That’s too bad, because it would seem that God can handle our honesty. In fact, the Book of Psalms offers surprising evidence for this. Over a third of the Psalms are laments, cries out to God from places of pain, loss, and confusion.

I love our new E-Journal interview with Fuller’s Dr. John Goldingay, a witty and brilliant Old Testament guru who’s as willing to shoot as straight as the psalmists themselves. According to Goldingay, “As far as I can tell, you can say anything to God!”

When Jesse and Annie asked Goldingay how he might explain to a teenager the differences in the emotional breadth we find in the Psalms, he responded:

Now I would have thought that teenagers are the last people who need the differences explained to them! Teenagers know better than anybody how to move between those kinds of feelings. They are probably less inhibited about doing so than grown-ups. Moving between these emotions is part of being human, both as a teenager and an adult. There will be times when you're joyful, times when you're sad or angry, and times when you're a bit mixed up about things.

The great thing about the Psalms is that they invite us to share those feelings with God. In fact, they set before us several examples of things you might want to say to God along those lines. I sometimes categorize them in three sorts of ways.

1. One is a psalm in which we say to God, "You're great! You're great!”

2. Another in which we say, HEEELP!!!

3. And another in which we say, “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” [read more…]

Goldingay goes on to remind us the Psalms don’t neatly separate out these different kinds of stories, but mix them all up together. In fact, some Psalms take us all the way through this progression (or variations on it).

Last week we also hosted over twenty churches from prior-year Sticky Faith Cohorts back to Fuller for a Next Steps Summit. It was an incredible time of reconnecting and hearing new stories. In the midst of that gathering, our colleague Scott Cormode beautifully connected lament to the task of leadership. Leadership, according to Scott, begins with listening. But the thing is, when we listen to people, often we end up hearing their laments. And sometimes we end up with lament of our own, crying out, “Why God?” or “How long, oh Lord?”

We can say that to God. God can handle our honesty. And God meets us in our lament. Out of that place, eventually things may change—or we may change—and God may lead us to gratitude.

And here’s where it gets beautiful.

Gratitude has a way of leading us to generosity—a generous spirit that flows from having received so much from God. Our mental model shifts from the story of scarcity to the story of abundance. You see, lament is often about not having enough of something. But when we are led to gratitude, generosity flows naturally out of that place.

So eventually, grace looks like generosity. Like abundance. Like enough.

Who would have thought that saying anything to God could lead us to such a rich experience of grace?

I don’t know about you, but I know some teenagers who need to hear that story.

Brad M. Griffin

Brad M. Griffin is the Senior Director of Content for the Fuller Youth Institute, where he develops research-based training for youth workers and parents. A speaker, writer, and volunteer youth pastor, Brad is the coauthor of over a dozen books, including 3 Big Questions That Change Every Teenager, Faith in an Anxious World, Growing Young, several Sticky Faith books, Every Parent’s Guide to Navigating Our Digital World, and Can I Ask That? Brad and his family live in Southern California, where he serves as Pastor of Youth and Family Ministries at Mountainside Communion.

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