Pray Your Uncensored Thoughts
Too often, we want to have the “right” thoughts before we go to God—thoughts that are true, reasonable, and figured out. But often this isn’t possible. We can’t always change what we’re thinking in an instant just because we want to.
What’s more, I don’t believe this is what God asks of us. God invites us into his presence where he can transform even our uncensored thoughts.
Pour Out Your Heart
Psalm 62:8 extends an invitation: “Pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us.” Pouring out your heart before God is like pouring Legos out of a huge container. A mix of plastic colors and shapes crash into an unsorted pile on the floor. When you pour out your heart before God, unfiltered thoughts and emotions rush out and collect in a pile at his feet. All our thoughts are brought out into the open: True and untrue thoughts. Beautiful and sinful thoughts. Helpful and unhelpful thoughts.
When you pour out your heart before God, unfiltered thoughts and emotions rush out and collect in a pile at his feet.
Before God changes our thoughts, he gives us the opportunity to speak what we’re thinking out loud to him, even though we aren’t thinking rightly. Praying such uncensored thoughts is important because when we try to edit unwanted thoughts prematurely, they haven’t really changed. We’ve just pretended to change them. Only when we speak aloud the thoughts we actually have—not the thoughts we want to have—can we work through them and get to a place where we’re seeing clearly and believing rightly.
What better place for thoughts to be transformed than in prayer? When we pray, God is present to help us. We see this in the psalms, which demonstrate what Tim Keller has called “pre-reflective outbursts from the depths of your being in the presence of God.” Psalm 77 is an example. Reading this psalm, we observe the pre-reflective thought life of someone who is struggling with difficult questions about God. The psalmist wrestles with what is true. Has God rejected me? (v. 7). Is God even loving? Can I trust him to keep his promises? (v. 8).
The psalmist has a purpose for speaking his doubts out loud and processing his incorrect thinking. As the psalm continues, we see that his questions and expression of lament lead him to remember how God has shown up in the past (vv. 10–11). He then proceeds to meditate on God’s past works, reminding himself that God is holy and great (v. 13). It’s likely the psalmist never would have progressed to this new line of thinking if he had pushed his initial, untrue thoughts away.
Pray in God’s Presence
God transforms our thoughts as we process what we’re thinking while consciously aware of his presence. The book of Job is an example of how this happens. Throughout the book, Job suffers terribly, and his suffering understandably leads him to think inaccurate thoughts about God and the world: Death would be better (Job 3:11). God is my adversary (16:9). Prayer is pointless (21:15).
It isn’t until Job requests a meeting with God and experiences God’s presence that he’s struck by the error of his thinking. Hearing about God didn’t make a dent in Job’s thinking. But seeing God with his own eyes? Entering God’s presence? Experiencing relationship with him? Encountering his holiness? Read Job 42 and see how his untrue thoughts about God change in an instant.
Through prayer we come face-to-face with God and do a work of self-examination. In God’s presence, we look at our thoughts, look at God, and consider how God looks back at us.
God transforms our thoughts as we process what we’re thinking while consciously aware of his presence.
When you pray your thoughts, how do you imagine God looks back at you? Psalm 139:23 offers us a picture. As we approach God, he searches and knows our hearts, tests and knows our anxious thoughts. He sees the offensive ways that are in us, yet still he chooses to lead us in the way everlasting (v. 24). In other words, God sees our true selves and loves us anyway.
As you pray your thoughts to God, he looks at you with love, mercy, and compassion. His love does not materialize because you just had a true, honorable, praiseworthy, or pure thought. It does not disappear because you sinned with your thoughts or can’t seem to escape thoughts filled with suffering. God’s love for you is present amid your unwanted thoughts. It’s not a reward for changing them.
Look at your unwanted thoughts, and you’ll likely see your suffering and sin. Look at God with faith, and you’ll see his love and acceptance. Look at how God looks at you in Christ, and you’ll see in yourself the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21). It’s when we see God accurately and see ourselves as God sees us that we find the power we need to change.
Our thoughts are transformed not through force and willpower but through relationship and connection. God’s presence is powerful because in it we encounter his character. We see who he is and what that means for our lives.
Encountering God’s holiness and grace is the motivation we need to move away from thoughts filled with error and sin. The stillness we find in his faithful presence calms our racing thoughts and worry. His compassion and love help us to believe the truth when it doesn’t seem to match our present reality. We leave behind thoughts of regret as we receive his forgiveness. We find help for thoughts of hopelessness as we meditate on his goodness. Telling ourselves to think something different is inadequate. Encountering God and experiencing who he is in our lives has the power to change everything.