Popcorn Prayers

“God, if you’re real, I need you to show yourself right now!” my dear friend prayed after giving birth to her second stillborn child.

“God, I can’t take this anymore! Please help me!”, I prayed through blinding tears when I was in the depths of depression.

As he tended to his dying father, my husband cried out to God, “Help me, God! Give me strength!”

Though spending lengthy periods of time in prayer and quiet reflection with the Lord are treasured as well as vital to our Christian walk, there are also times when the luxury of time is not available. And sometimes our needs are so great and so immediate that all we can do is cry out to God, begging Him to allow us to experience His presence and his response to our requests at once. Otherwise, we may fear we won’t survive the moment.

popcornI will never forget listening to a sermon by Skip Heitzig when he was Pastor of Ocean Hills Church. He used a term I had never heard before: “popcorn prayer”. These prayers, like a kernel of corn when it is heated and explodes and pops up into the air, are quick prayers we “pop” straight up to the Lord. Popcorn prayers are those prayers we cry out when we are desperate, when words escape us, and in those times we can muster only enough strength or presence of mind to plead “Help! Please help me, Lord!” Oh, if only I had a dollar for every time I prayed a popcorn prayer! I tend to offer popcorn prayers when I’m frightened, when I don’t know what to do, when I have come to the end of my rope with a person or a situation, or when I just can’t stop myself from repeating some destructive behavior.

King David most certainly never heard the term “popcorn prayer”, yet he definitely understood the concept behind it:

Hasten, O God, to save me;
    come quickly, Lord, to help me.

May those who want to take my life
    be put to shame and confusion;
may all who desire my ruin
    be turned back in disgrace.
May those who say to me, “Aha! Aha!”

    turn back because of their shame.
But may all who seek you
    rejoice and be glad in you;
may those who long for your saving help always say,
    “The Lord is great!”

But as for me, I am poor and needy;           
    come quickly to me, O God.
You are my help and my deliverer;
    Lord, do not delay. (Psalm 70)

Notice the terms “hasten”, “come quickly” and “do not delay”. We, like David, experience moments when we are broken and empty, and we beg God to hastily come to our aid. David faced enemies who sought his ruin and wanted to take his life. Though we may not be in danger of murder as David was, we still face any number of enemies during our lifetime, including our number one enemy, Satan, who seeks to destroy us.

In verse 3 of Psalm 70, David asks that those who say “Aha!” to him may “turn back because of their shame”. “Aha!” is something someone might say when they think they are right and you’re wrong, or when they think they’re beating you. When David’s enemies cruelly and haughtily said, “Aha! Aha!” to him, they added insult to injury by reveling in what they were sure was their inevitable victory and David’s certain defeat. Similarly, we may feel that our “enemies” – whether they be actual people as in David’s case, or the enemies of anxiety, depression, health challenges, relationship struggles, loss of a loved one, financial problems, etc. – are metaphorically saying “Aha!” to us. In those situations, we may pray like David that God would confound and frustrate whatever is coming against us.

David asked the Lord not to delay coming to him because he was “poor and needy” (verse 5). When we approach the Lord in brokenness, poverty and neediness, He meets us with mercy. He honors us when we come to Him with a humble heart:

And it will be said:

“Build up, build up, prepare the road!
    Remove the obstacles out of the way of my people.”
For this is what the high and exalted One says—

    he who lives forever, whose name is holy:
“I live in a high and holy place,
but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit,
to revive the spirit of the lowly

    and to revive the heart of the contrite. (Isaiah 57: 14-15)

Pride brings a person low, but the lowly in spirit gain honor. (Proverbs 29:23)

David’s “popcorn prayer” teaches us that even in the midst of our distress, it is still appropriate to praise God. In verse 4, David prayed that all who seek the Lord would “rejoice and be glad in him” and that all who long for His saving help would always say, “The Lord is great!”. David wanted the Lord’s followers to glorify Him in this way. In verse 5, David praised God as his help and his deliverer. I find it difficult to praise God when I am scared, angry or overwhelmed. Nevertheless, finding things to praise Him for (and there is never a shortage!) helps me take my mind off whatever negative emotions are consuming me and re-direct my focus onto Jesus and all He has done.

When Saul sought to kill David, David prayed to God for help and strength. The Lord heard David’s prayer and delivered him from his enemy’s hand. As David recounts:

In my distress, I called to the Lord;
 I cried to my God for help.
From his temple he heard my voice;
  My cry came before him, into his ears.

He reached down from on high and took hold of me;
    he drew me out of deep waters.
He rescued me from my powerful enemy,
    from my foes, who were too strong for me.
They confronted me in the day of my disaster,
    but the Lord was my support.
He brought me out into a spacious place;
    he rescued me because he delighted in me. (Psalm 18:2, 16-19)

Beloved Warrior, when all you can do is cry out to the Lord, rest assured that He will hear you and answer you. His mighty hand will reach down from on high and take hold of you, and He will rescue you from all that is too strong for you.

This is what the Lord says, he who made the earth, the Lord who formed it and established it – the Lord is his name. Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know. (Jeremiah 33: 2-3; emphasis mine)

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