Prayer is often a hard subject to talk about, and one reason for that is the guilt that it induces as people inevitably face up to the challenges and failures in their life of prayer. Talbot spiritual formation professors Kyle Strobel and John Coe, take a new look at prayer, offering helpful realism and insightful practices to make prayer more real and vibrant. Join Scott and Sean as they interview Dr. Strobel about this new book.

Episode Transcript

Scott Rae: Welcome to Think Biblically, conversations on faith and culture. A podcast from Talbot School of Theology at Biola University. I'm your host, Scott Rae, Dean of faculty and professor of Christian ethics.

Sean McDowell: And I'm your co-host Sean McDowell, professor of apologetics.

Scott Rae: We're here with one of our faculty colleagues today, Dr. Kyle Strobel, who has co-authored with his colleague, Dr. John Coe, from Talbot's Institute for Spiritual Formation, a super enlightening new book on prayer. And you might be thinking as our listeners, what else can be said about prayer that hasn't already been said? Well, I assure you, Kyle and John have said some new things that I've never thought about related to prayer. In at least particularly the first half of the book was in my view, it was a rock your world type of reading about prayer. And it's super helpful stuff. Kyle welcome, so glad you can be with us. We're so glad that the book has come out and that our listeners get access to this conversation and then hopefully they'll pick up the book and delve much more deeply into it.

Kyle Strobel: Thanks, Scott and Sean, it's good to be here with you guys.

Scott Rae: Tell us, first of all, I guess maybe the first question I want to get at is why is prayer such a hard topic for most believers to deal with? It's sort of like the elephant in the living room that we wish would go away, but we just have a hard time facing up to that.

Kyle Strobel: Yeah, I think there's a lot of reasons for it, but one clear one I think is that I think most people kind of presuppose prayer should be easy and maybe we've met people who prayer just seems to come easy for them. These people who just, they just seem to pray. And you'll for John and I, we are very clear in the book that, that's not us. Prayer's never just come easy for us. But I also think that most Christians they pray, but if they think about prayer or if prayer comes up, it's almost always a guilty feeling. I should really pray more. Yeah I pray, at bedtime or I pray meals or I pray with my kids, but man, I should, I really should be praying more. And so we only really talk about it when we feel bad about ourselves for not praying better or for not praying more or something.

And unfortunately what I have found is that when people try to instruct me in prayer, people sort of encourage me to pray, it often is presented as this ideal circumstance. And then I actually pray and my mind wanders, I fall asleep. Or just realized I've been planning out my week for the last 10 minutes. And no one was speaking into that. No one was actually helping me understand one, what's going on? But two, why? What do I do about this? How do I navigate what prayer actually is like? And unfortunately, I think we're rarely honest with what prayer is actually like. We present the ideal and it just makes us feel guilty and so we stopped reading books on prayer and we just try our hardest to do enough.

Sean McDowell: You gave us perhaps the most natural segue. Now I have to ask the question, okay, then what is prayer actually like? Because that's clearly something that we're missing.

Kyle Strobel: Yeah. Well, one of the things that strikes me when you read about Jesus in the gospels, is that when, whenever Jesus was in contact with people, they kind of came out of themselves. And so, you find a Peter who just kind of collapses before him. Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man. Or you have the disciples who debate, which of them is the greatest or John and James who asked Jesus, "Jesus, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to consume the Samaritans? After all your love enemy stuff, should we just start killing people now?" And people just kind of come out of themselves. And so the problem is what I think we've all experienced in prayer is we've experienced that, but we've interpreted it as I'm bad at praying. And then we apologize to God. I'll try harder. I'll try not to do that anymore.

And I think if we just remember that where your treasure is there, your heart will be also. That what happens when you draw near to God's presence is he shows you where your treasures are and he's not surprised at what they are. If you realize your treasure is the Lakers game or if you realize that your treasure is your work or controlling your week, which is why you're thinking about your calendar instead of praying. Then you need to bring those before God and say, "God, look at this, look at what I'm longing for." And I think what the Lord's doing in that is he's opening us up to actually pray about what we care about.

We quote, there's a great book we quote by Herbert McCabe who talks about how, the reason why people's mind wanders in prayer is because they're not actually praying for what they do want, they're praying for what they think they should want. And so Herbert McCabe talks about how we learn as children how to pray cleaned up Christian prayers. And he says, "When the Titanic's sinking and you're on board, you don't have a problem with your mind wandering." Or my children when they're telling me, I should say, what they want for Christmas. They're not having a hard time with their mind wandering. It's when we come to pray and instead of giving to the Lord, what we really want, instead of wrestling through the deep realities and questions of our lives. If we're trying hard to be good religious people in prayer, then yeah, prayer will be a time when we kind of leave bewildered, our mind wanders the whole time, we realized that actually we spent more time maybe talking to ourselves than God.

And I think what the Lord is doing is he's inviting us into the truth just as Jesus did with his disciples continually. And he isn't afraid of the truth because he died for us in our sins and not in our goodness. He's not afraid of them now, and he's calling us to open up, what do you really want? And not merely send our avatars to pray. That's the image I like to think of. I think many of us have learned somewhere along the lines that what God really wants is for us to send our avatars to pray. And so we have these Christian avatars that look really nice, that look really good, that know all sorts of Bible verses and we send them in prayer, hoping that the Lord will be really impressed and God doesn't want that because it's not real. He wants to meet us in reality. And so we shouldn't be surprised when prayer's bewildering, because it will invite us into our sin. It will invite us into our brokenness because that's wrapped up in our desires.

Scott Rae: Yeah. That was my first reaction is what if I don't want to admit or don't want to face that those are the things I really long for? I just don't want to admit that.

Kyle Strobel: Yeah. Well then you're going to have a really hard time with Jesus. This is where Jesus, because there's a real sense where none of us want to admit that, of course. But it reminds me so I was reading my children. I've little ones still. And so I was reading my seven to 10 year old, not as little as they used to be, but I'm reading them the Gospel of Mark right now. And we got to the part where Jesus curses the fig tree and then goes in the temple and starts flipping over tables and dumping money on the ground. And my son kind of looks at me and you can tell something's going on in his little mind. I think it was, "Daddy, that wasn't very nice." And I said, "Yeah, God doesn't have the attribute of niceness. That's that's not something true of God actually."

And if you just pay attention to Jesus, Jesus is incredibly uncomfortable to be around because he's constantly calling out what is really going on. The woman at the well, she wants to have a debate about theology and Jesus wants to talk about her adultery. Peter wants to talk about the king should be like, and Jesus calls him Satan to his face and tells him to stop setting his mind on the things of man. Jesus constantly is breaking open the heart and he wants us to see and know the truth. I think of, in the Exodus, which the Exodus is such a fundamental accounted scripture. In many ways, the whole Christian life is mapped onto the Exodus. By the time you get to the New Testament, the Exodus is kind of the paradigm for these things.

And in the Exodus account, God leads people out of Egypt miraculously and profoundly. And then he marches them for three days without food and water. And unsurprisingly people grumble. And they're going, "Lord, wait a second. What are you doing?" And then he marches them in the wilderness. And in Deuteronomy 8:2, we're told the reason he does this is to show them what is in their hearts. And I think many of us, we're not fully on board with that. And I'm not sure we've been shepherded into that well. I think we tend to be shepherded into kind of, God wants us in our goodness or God wants us to be growing or God wants us, but God only works in reality. And so God wants us to yes, grow into this, but he wants us to go from where we actually are, which means we have to attend to where we are. And the difficulty that I find in prayer and John shares this as well in the book. But what we found is that we would experience some of these things.

Scott, to your point, I'd realize I really, I don't want to talk about this in prayer. Or I'd realize that I don't want to pray right now. There's other things I'd rather be doing than prayer right now. Well, what I would do in that moment is I would turn to myself and to try to give myself a pep talk. I used to be a coach. It's like I was a coach again and I was trying to get my high school boys on the right page. Okay guys, you got to dig deep. But it never occurred to me that I should tell God that.

And so while I'm giving myself a pep talk, I have this fantasy that God's not there listening first, which is weird. But then I think that God somehow doesn't know this about me and that what God wants me to do is get my act together. And I think what we need to discover is that God needs us and God is calling us to say, "God, look at this. I don't even want to pray right now." And of course, we have to pray with that Lord, I believe, but help me in my unbelief and Lord, not my will be yours, be done, but we need to name the truth. And what we'll discover, I think is that prayer actually kind of comes alive when we begin to name the truth of our lives, because those are the things where we really struggle with. Those are the deeper questions of our souls and the deepest desires we have are found wrapped up in those sorts of things.

Scott Rae: Kyle, is this what you're suggesting that you made reference to when our minds wander, you call that a gift. Is that the reason?

Kyle Strobel: Yeah, because God is showing you where your treasures are. He's allowing the kind of compass of your heart to go to its true north and we need to see, wow God, I actually in your presence, I turn to these things rather than you.

Scott Rae: You're actually suggesting that God's presence is not something we necessarily long for?

Kyle Strobel: That's right.

Scott Rae: Yeah. You can just spell that out a little bit further.

Kyle Strobel: Yeah. Well, this is where our flesh, the flesh rejects God's presence and you see this with Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve, there's a reason they don't say, "Thank the Lord. He's here. He'll know what to do," After they sin. They say, "Run, hide." And this is what happens in our flesh. In our flesh, we try to draw nearer. And what we realize is the flesh is awoken and we don't want to be seen. We want to be seen in our goodness. We want to be seen in our ability. We want to be seen in our savvy. Many of us want to control God. The problem with the presence of God is we like Job, we end up standing before the whirlwind and it becomes very clear, I can't get my hooks in this God.

And I think, I've noticed in my own prayer life over the years, I remember I was praying once and as you guys know, I like to write and I write a lot. And I realized that I had just outlined an entire book when I was supposed to be praying. And so I told God about it. And I said, "God, why what's going on here? Why this? Do I have a weird book ideology?" And it became so clear to me, writing books is something I feel competent at and something I feel like I can control. And in the presence of God, those things feel taken away from me. And so what my heart does is it turns to something that I can grab onto that feels like an anchor as I stand before the whirlwind. And the sad reality is what I don't naturally turn to in my flesh is Jesus.

Sean McDowell: Kyle, one of the questions that I get all time when I work with students, Biola students, high school students is just when I pray, I feel like I'm talking to myself. You're making the point that God's presence is overrated on one hand but what would you say to the young person in particular, really anybody who's like, I feel like I'm just talking to my own head?

Kyle Strobel: Well, yeah. And this is where we need to interpret God's presence. The call to draw near, this is the call we find in the book of Hebrews, for instance. Where the call of Leviticus is don't draw near lest you die. Now we're ingraining the fear of the Lord. By the time you get to Hebrews, the call is draw near because you have a great high priest. And so when we draw near to God, the problem isn't the drawing near, the problem isn't the presence, the problem is we have come to equate God's presence with excitement, God's presence with a certain feeling or emotion. One of my favorite passages is first John 3:19, which talks about when we are before him. We're in the presence of God. We're presenting ourselves to him and your heart condemns you.

Job thinks for the Christian, that there'll be times we draw near to God and our heart's response is to condemn us. Now, here's the problem in that moment, what I would do, because I've had that experience. And what I would do is I'd project that on God. God's condemning me. Or for these students, it feels like my prayers are bouncing off the ceiling or it feels like I'm just talking to myself. And they're somehow equating their experience with reality. But no, God's presence is only known by faith. We trust God's presence there not because we feel like it's there, but because Jesus proclaimed it's true. That we have access to the father. That Jesus and not only Jesus but the spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. That that prayer is already taking place for us by God.

And so if I feel like I'm talking to myself, I would say you now know what you need to be praying about. God, it feels like I'm just talking to myself here. And this is where we talk about praying the Psalms in the book. One of the things you learn when you pray the Psalms is you learn what God can hear. And it turns out our God can hear all sorts of crazy things. It turns out God can hear prayers like, "God, have you fallen asleep on the job?" Just look at your world. What are you doing?" And God can hear things like dash their children against the rocks. God can hear laments and groans and complaints. And whenever I introduce a Christian to start to pray the Psalms, everyone has the same experience. As we're praying, maybe Psalm one and two are fine, but we hit Psalm 13 or something and we begin to immediately think, God doesn't want to hear this. And it's like, God does want to hear his word?

And we're amazed because we actually don't think God wants us to tell him the truth. And so the, the student you're talking to who says, "It feels like I'm talking to myself," my guess is they've never thought of telling God, "God, it feels like I'm talking to myself, are you with me in this? Where are you? Why do you feel so distant?" And that isn't a bad prayer. That's a profoundly good prayer. And it isn't a way to leverage God. That prayer it could become that in the sense that it could be a way to sort of manipulate God, but that's a prayer that presents oneself to God and trusts that God in his freedom will do what he will. It's not my job to make prayer feel better. It's my job to offer myself to God in truth.

Sean McDowell: Okay. Kyle, let me just come back. I can imagine the students saying, "Oh, that's really helpful. I'll communicate that to God." And then by saying, "Where are you? You're not present." The expectation will still be, now God is going to be present because I turn the key the right way, almost this magical sense that we can manipulate things, but you're bringing a different theology trying to transform that entire approach we take to prayer. Is that right?

Kyle Strobel: That's right. Yeah. Yeah. And I think, let me give you an example, a profoundly difficult example, but an example of this. Paul is caught up into the third heaven and has a profound vision. This is something unusual obviously, but Paul was given a great gift. What's interesting is not at least to me in this moment, it's not that gift that he's been given of the vision, but the next gift he's been given. We're then told that God gives him a gift of a messenger of Satan. And I'd say for most of my Christian life, I didn't believe in a God that gives gifts like that. Paul calls it a thorn of his flesh. This is in Second Corinthians 11 into second Corinthians 12. He asked the Lord three times to take it away. And every time he hears the same answer, "No. My grace is sufficient for you, Paul, for my power is made perfect in your weakness."

And so I would say, if you are going to pray and it's exciting and you're zealous and you're full of joy, praise God. If you go to pray and you're bored out of your mind, praise God. Because that says nothing about his presence to you and the question isn't, how do I get excited again? Which is now using God to get something else. Now we're kind of into a more pagan practice than in a Christian one. The question is, Lord, how do I be faithful here? Because we don't know why you're having this experience. For Paul, it was to keep him humble, we're told. Why was Jesus after his baptism sent by the spirit to be tempted by the devil in the wilderness? Why did Jesus end up in Gethsemane? Why did Jesus pray, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" We pray with and within the one who was led by the spirit, into all those places. And yet I find that intuitively we're surprised when he leads us there as well.

And instead of entering into those places and say, "Lord, how can I be faithful here? Lord, not my will, but yours be done wherever you lead me." What we tend to do is we tend to turn to ourselves and we tend to judge ourselves because I think to your point, the magical comment is exactly right. We tend to think that if I just do what God wants me to do, then I'll get life on my terms or I'll get a Christian experience like I want it. We actually begin to sound exactly like the older brother in the parable of the father with two sons. What we normally call the prodigal son, when the older brother, when he's met by the father, the father journeys out to call him back. He tells his father, "Look how many years I've served you. Where is mine. God, look at what I've done. Look at, I'm praying. Where is mine?" And the father says, "My child, you were always with me and all that is mine is yours."

And I think in prayer, we need to remember, he is always with me. That's not the question. And my experience of that says nothing about its truthfulness. We know by faith, that God is with us because we trust in Jesus and it's not ours to generate or to create something that confirms that in us. If the Lord does, and he might provide something like that, then praise God. But if he doesn't, that's a little more difficult, but there too, we need to learn to praise God. Precisely for the reason Paul gets told by Jesus, "Because his grace is sufficient for us and his powers made perfect in our weakness."

Scott Rae: Kyle, you maintain, there's a number of really provocative things that you say throughout the book. We've talked about some of them already, but you maintain that prayer sometimes ends up being a place to avoid God. That just seems contradictory to me. What do you mean by that?

Kyle Strobel: Yeah, well here's the difficulty with any Christian practice really. Most of us as we grow in the faith, there was a time in my faith where my main temptation was kind of obvious sin. I was a young believer and certain devices and the longer I've been a Christian, it's not that I'm not tempted by going to Vegas for the weekend and blowing all money. That's not a temptation I have now. Not that has never actually been a temptation, but it's certainly not one I have now. And there's plenty of things I used to be tempted by obviously that I'm just no longer tempted by. But there's things that I do because I'm a Christian. I go to church, I pray enough. Most Christians won't just stop praying altogether. Most Christians won't, some will for certain other reasons, but some of them aren't going to just chuck the church out the door. But the problem is we begin to do these things, to use Jesus' language, where we move our lips, but our hearts are far from him.

We do them precisely because if we didn't do them, we'd feel really bad and guilty, but we do them in such a way where we can keep God at arm's length. Look, we don't want to see the truth. We don't want to experience the truth. We don't want to wrestle through how little we want to pray. And so we pray in such, a maybe that's we pray really quickly so we don't pray long enough to kind of have some of these negative experiences of prayer. Maybe we give ourselves to only one mode of prayer, like inner session. Prayer is a discipline, I find. It's hard to feel good about it in the flesh. I can feel good about Bible reading in the flesh because I've accomplished something. If I read a chapter a day we're like, oh, look at I've done stuff. I can kind of check boxes off and that makes me feel better.

I never leave an hour of prayer feeling in the flesh like I'm killing it as a Christian. Prayer's just a humbling sort of enterprise. But we might discover, we give to modes of prayer that are little more checking the box. I intercede for a couple people. Oh look, I prayed and I can move on without actually being present in prayer, without drawing near. And that's where prayer can actually become a place where I avoid God, where I do it so I can feel like I'm doing okay as a Christian, but I'm not actually using it as a means to embrace God's presence.

Scott Rae: That's helpful, Kyle. One of the other things that really arresting to me about the book where you say prayer's a journey into our pain and sin. I think if that's true, then prayer needs a new public relations firm because seriously, why would somebody sign up for that journey? Because you say talking to God about the messy stuff in our soul, that's a little more tolerable, but that's not the stuff I think most people want to face, much less talk to God about, especially if you're going to do it every day.

Kyle Strobel: Yeah. Well, and that certainly doesn't mean that every prayer looks like that, but to give yourself to a life of prayer, God always leads us into reality. God is very uninterested in our fantasy lives. He's very uninterested in our Christian avatars. And again, the woman at the well is a great example of this or the parable Jesus tells about the two men that go up to pray. The one that prays in his goodness and the other that prays in his failures and only one leaves justified, the one that throws himself on the mercy of God. And I think the problem that we need to discover is, I think we have these expectations that no one probably taught us, but we just absorbed them somewhere. But what expectation is the longer I'm a Christian, the Christian life will always slowly kind of demolishing my sin and kind of slowly getting better.

And along the way, I'll be getting more excited and I'll be just kind of my life will come together. And all these things will just, it's all better. It's better, better, better, better. And actually that totally runs against the trajectory of the gospels. If you read the disciples of kind of the gospels, it goes the other direction for them. But there's all sorts of examples where we see that that's just not the kind of reality of having God in your midst. The Old Testament shows us this with Israel. The fact that our prayer book, the Psalter, the Psalms have always been seen as the kind of prayer book of the church and the songbook of the church. The fact that the number one largest groupings in terms of genre are lament Psalms, seems to tell us something about what God's training us for the Christian life to be like. That God is going to awaken the deep things. He's going to expose them and he's going to meet us in them.

And one of the images that came to me as we were writing this book, I was really sitting with Romans 8. And there's an image in Romans 8, where we're told the spirit descends in our souls right now. And the spirit is groaning with groanings too deep for words. The spirit's praying for you, but evidently human words don't work, the level of your brokenness and rebellion and cynicism, we don't even have words for that. And so the spirits just kind of groaning and the image that came to me as I was thinking about this was that whenever we pray, God is hearing our words against the backdrop of the spirits groaning. And it just made me wonder, whenever the spirit groans it's clear the spirit's groaning in reality. The spirit's groaning were told like creation groans because creation knows what it was created for. And the spirit knows what your spirit was created for. And so the Holy Spirit's groaning there.

And so if, if the way we pray to God never actually touches those deep things then in kind of, so to speak, to use a metaphor, you'll get an analogy. In one ear God kind of hears the groaning of the spirit, groaning about your brokenness and rebellion and sin and your pain. And then if he hears us, "Hey God, things are going great. Hope you're doing well. I got to go." And it's this kind of superficial projecting at God, then just think about the dissonance of what God has descended into in our soul versus what we're actually giving ourselves to. And so I think what the Lord does with us, what he did with his disciples clearly in the gospels, there's so many examples of this.

Is that he leads us on the way to the cross and all along the way we fight him. We debate with one another about which one of us is the greatest. We want to call it on fire from heaven instead of go to the cross. There's all sorts of things we want instead of that way. And God constantly exposes us to how our desires run contrary to his. And at times we have to hear him saying what he said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan. You're setting your mind on the things of man." And one of the verses that I think is really important here is Luke 7:47, where Jesus says, "The one who is forgiven much can love much." And that means, if our call is to love, which it undoubtedly is, to love God and love neighbor, then our ability to love is directly related to knowing. And I would even say to experiencing how much we need forgiven.

He wasn't saying the Pharisees didn't have a lot to be forgiven them. That'd be a really superficial way to read that. He's saying the Pharisees, they can't love much because they have no idea what God's forgiven them. This means the Christian journey is going to be a developing reality, a realization of deeper and deeper ways that I desperately need forgiveness. And so that's precisely where the Lord's leading us. The question I suppose is are we open to that? And maybe some of us aren't and that would be a good place to start praying. Lord, I'm not interested in this.

I actually prayed that prayer once. I prayed I right after Talbot, when I first finished my first degree, my philosophy degree, I was confronted with a lot of this stuff. And some of it had do with life circumstances. And I didn't know what I was giving myself to. I didn't know where to go in life. And I remember sitting down and I prayed, "Lord, as I was reading the Gospel of Mark and I saw Jesus do this to his disciples." I said, "Lord, this is not what I signed up for. I didn't sign up for this. I don't want to see this stuff. I have no interest in this." And that's a great prayer. I think that God often leads us to that pray. Lord, this is not what I wanted. I kind of wanted you to kind of make things better and you're leading me here. I don't want that any more than the disciples wanted the cross. And so the Lord leads us where he does, which is always the cross. And so we need to just be really honest with our openness or lack thereof to that.

Sean McDowell: Your encouragement towards honesty is just huge. And it just kind of bleeds through this book, so to speak. And it is awesome to see how far you've come. You and I went to the MA Phil program together about two decades ago. Neither of us had a clue what we were going to do with our lives, just trying to figure out. And this book is rich and it's thoughtful. Let me ask this. We can do a whole program on this, but maybe one practical idea for people that would make prayer field doable, just one kind of step. And of course we want to pick up your book because you give specific prayers that people can walk through. You make this tangible. But give us one idea to kind of put this into practice.

Kyle Strobel: Yeah. Well, one of the things I would turn to and this is, you're right. We do flush this out practically in the book, but one of the concepts that I found really helpful that I actually picked up, I learned from the Puritans is the Puritans, one of their favorite biblical terms was watchfulness. And in Colossians 4:2, we're told that we're supposed to be watchful in prayer. And then you pay attention to the Psalmist and sometimes the Psalmists start talking to themselves in prayer it seems. Oh my soul, that is within me. And at one point they were talking to God and now they're talking to their souls. And I think one of the things to do in prayer that actually makes prayer to be honest, just more interesting, is whenever you're praying, just be watchful of what your heart's doing. Just be watchful. Does your mind wander? Okay. Be watchful of that and tell God about that.

I'll talk to students that are like, why when I pray I'm lusting when I pray? What is going on in that? Yeah, sure. You're in the presence of God and your desires are coming out. Tell God about that. The danger is turning to yourself and thinking what God wants you to do is clean yourself up. And that is such a temptation because it's the deepest belief of the flesh that Jesus has not done enough to bring you in the presence of God. And that is the great lie. The truth is that you have access to the father in Christ Jesus, by the spirit of God, that's just Ephesians 2:18. And that you can boldly ascend to the throne of grace, the author of Hebrews tells us because you have a great high priest. That the reason you're able to be in God's presence is not because of your goodness, but because of what Christ has achieved.

And so just be open and be watchful of that. And one of the places I lead people into, I think a great starting point would be start praying the Psalms. Pray through the Psalms, make their words your words and you're going to feel tensions there. Sometimes their words won't make sense of your life and you'll have to be open to that. Sometimes you'll read things and your initial reaction, you'll be praying, "Lord, dash their children against the rocks." And you just can't pray it. Well, then just stop and consider why you said something very similar to that, well, last time you drove on the freeway. You might not have said exactly those words, but something like that is in your heart. And just open that to the Lord.

And then, one of the Psalms we talk about is Psalm 139, because in Psalm 139, you get language like that. But I love the way it ends, search me O Lord, test me, reveal to me my anxious thoughts. See if there's any offensive way in me, lead me in the way everlasting. If you experience them, bring them to the Lord, but then tell the Lord, "Lord, test me, help me see." And be open to how much of prayer has actually become a place to perform. And it isn't a performative thing. And for the average Christian, I think they feel like they're bad at prayer, which is why they don't pray because they're still thinking their goodness in prayer is what leads them to God rather than Jesus.

But with some people, my seminary students, so when I talked to my, my incoming seminary students, you know what a lot of our seminary students do when they pray? It's pretty funny because they come to seminary, they really want to get the doctrine and atonement right. Which of course I'm a theologian so I'm all for it. We should get our doctrine and the atonement right. You know where it totally collapses and becomes meaningless? In prayer. Because you know what they're doing in prayer? They're trying to atone for their sins. A lot of my students beat themselves up in prayer and the deep hope is if I turn on myself and I'm really harsh on myself, maybe God will put the thunderbolt down. That maybe if I show God that I'm so sorry, I'll do better. I promise, Lord. And what they're kind of play acting for God.

And notice how this is now Adam in the garden, wheeling and dealing, using our words in prayer to try to manipulate God to our side, rather than saying, "Father look, help me here." And it's that watchfulness that helps us see, how has these fantasies kind of penetrated our prayer life rather than leading us to Jesus.?

Sean McDowell: Kyle, this is great stuff, buddy. I love the theology that's rich in this book, but also praying through the Psalms. That's something very practical, kind of baby steps, so to speak. I love that you're writing on this topic. I love that you're a colleague here at Talbot and want to commend to our listeners your book, Where Prayer Becomes Real. Again, the title is, Where Prayer Becomes Real. It's just outstanding. Kyle Strobel, thanks so much for coming on and talking about your new book.

Kyle Strobel: Of course, guys, so good being with you.

Sean McDowell: This has been an episode of the podcast, Think Biblically, conversations on faith and culture. The Think Biblically podcast is brought to you by Talbot School of Theology at Biola University, offering programs in Southern California and online, including the Institute for Spiritual Formation, where Kyle Strobel teaches. Visit to learn more. If you enjoyed today's conversation, give us a rating on your podcast app and share it with a friend. Thanks for listening. And remember, think biblically about everything.