How to Pray When You're Frustrated with God
by Courtney Jacob
Being frustrated with God happens.
Like many people, I subconsciously expected I’d go to college, graduate, and get married. Yet five years after graduation, I still longed for a husband; it was the desire of my heart to be married and start a family. It just wasn’t happening. I distinctly remember crying in my closet as I expressed my frustration to God. I know other wonderful people who continue to wait, some much longer than I did. I know couples who long to be parents, yet struggle with infertility, or wait for that adoption phone call. I know there are individuals who work hard for a job or promotion and watch as racism or nepotism delays their opportunities yet again. Or folks who work hard to manage their finances but still encounter financial struggles. When our circumstances are not what we want them to be, when they’re beyond our control, and when it appears there’s no one else to blame, it’s not too surprising we might become frustrated with God. He promises to care and provide for us, yet we feel disappointed, unfulfilled, or dissatisfied with life and our circumstances as we wait for resolution.
I don’t know about you, but sometimes being frustrated with God affects my prayer life. Maybe I’m tired of praying for the same thing over and over. Or I’ve stopped praying because (just like in our human relationships) I don’t feel like talking to the person with whom I’m frustrated. And sometimes, I’m afraid praying about my frustrations just shows a lack of faith on my part. So how do we pray when we’re frustrated with God?
Talk to God
The absolutely best place for us to take our frustration with God is to God himself in prayer. At its simplest, prayer is a conversation with God. If you’re upset with God, then tell him, let it be part of your conversation with him. It’s the biblical way of handling a conflict (Matthew 18:15-17). It’s also a sign of strong faith. It demonstrates you continue to believe that he hears you as scripture promises. Here are a few examples of these loving promises:
Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart (Jeremiah 29:12-13).
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6-7).
This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him (1 John 5:14-15)
Use the biblical model
It’s comforting to know that the Bible itself contains the prayers of prophets and psalmists that demonstrate what it looks like to faithfully pray even when we’re frustrated with God.
If we examine the books of Habakkuk and Psalms, we notice that the Bible presents a valuable model for how to pray when we’re angry or annoyed with God.
Name your frustration
Consider Habakkuk 1:
How long, Lord, must I call for help,
but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, “Violence!"
but you do not save?
Why do you make me look at injustice?
Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?
Destruction and violence are before me;
there is strife, and conflict abounds.
Therefore the law is paralyzed,
and justice never prevails.
The wicked hem in the righteous,
so that justice is perverted.
The prophet Habbakuk struggles with the realities around him and strives with God’s seeming inaction. Similarly, Psalms is one of the most emotion-filled books of the Bible. There, we find valuable examples like the opening verses of Psalm 10, 22, or 142:
Why, Lord, do you stand far off?
Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? Psalm 10:1
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from my cries of anguish?
My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
by night, but I find no rest. Psalm 22:1-2
I cry aloud to the Lord;
I lift up my voice to the Lord for mercy.
I pour out before him my complaint;
before him I tell my trouble. Psalm 142:1-2
In each of these examples, the prophet or psalmist directly expresses their frustration to God. In most cases, they continue to describe the circumstances and seeming offenses for a number of additional verses.
State your petition
What is it that you want from God? Neither Habbakuk or the psalmist just complain. In Habakkuk 2:1, the prophet makes clear he wants God to do something. But then he goes on, “Lord, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, Lord. Repeat them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy” (Habakkuk 3:2). He wants God to deliver Israel now as he delivered them before. Likewise, Psalm 10 petitions God to not forget the helpless (verse 12), to break the arm of the wicked man, and to call the evildoer to account (verse 15).
Acknowledge who God is and what he has done
Neither Habakkuk nor the psalmist allows their feelings of frustration to block their memory of who God is and how he proved himself faithful in the past. In fact, in Habakkuk 3, the prophet spends the next thirteen verses recalling the acts of God. In contrast, Psalm 10 is much more concise, declaring confidently, “But you, God, see the trouble of the afflicted; you consider their grief and take it in hand” (verse 14) and “The Lord is King for ever and ever; the nations will perish from his land” (verse 16). As you can see, there is no right way to do this. You can go back to Scripture, you can go back to your own experience. What is important is to remember that your current frustration does not eclipse the long history of what you know to be true.
Affirm your faith
Finally, even as you pray your complaint to God, affirm your faith. What do you believe and know to be true, no matter how upset you might feel? We see this clearly in Psalm 10:
You, Lord, hear the desire of the afflicted;
you encourage them, and you listen to their cry,
defending the fatherless and the oppressed,
so that mere earthly mortals
will never again strike terror. Psalm 10:17-18
Habbakuk ends his prayer with a similar affirmation:
Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.
The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to tread on the heights. Habakkuk 3:17-19
God told the prophet Isaiah an important truth about himself that we should always keep in mind: “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways” (Isaiah 55:8). This means there will definitely be times when we don’t understand why God works the way he works or why his timing doesn’t match ours. We are human, and it’s natural for us to grow anxious when things don’t go the way we think they should, but our frustration with God should not derail or weaken our faith. Instead, lean into your faith and follow the examples of Habbakuk and the Psalms.
Remember, God is at work, and he’s not done yet.