Uncomfortable Prayers

Uncomfortable Prayers

Author: Peter Leibensperger
June 17, 2020

What is the most difficult prayer for you to pray right now? The answer to this question likely will be different for everyone, and I’ve been reflecting on it quite a bit lately.

I think of Jesus’s prayer in the garden, “Yet not as I will, but as you will,” teaching us to submit to God’s plans even in the darkest corner of the valley of death. I think of the worst times in my father’s life where he desperately prayed for Jesus to love him even as he felt his faith slipping away. I think of my neighbors of color who pray for social justice and equality even in the face of hundreds of years of oppression. What prayer just feels too impossible, or too frightening, or too humbling that its utterance is painful?

One of the most challenging prayers I’ve come across in my life can be found in the third stanza of Katherine Grimes’s hymn text, “Teach Me Thy Will, O Lord,” written in 1935. I hope you also enjoy the opportunity that this text provides to reflect upon the manifold ways that God teaches us:

     Teach me Thy will, O Lord, teach me Thy way;
     Teach me to know Thy word, teach me to pray.
     What e’er seems best to Thee, that be my earnest plea,
     So that Thou drawest me closer each day.

     Teach me Thy wondrous grace, boundless and free.
     Lord let Thy blessed face shine upon me.
     Heal Thou sin's every smart, dwell Thou within my heart;
     Grant that I never part, Savior from Thee.

     Teach me by pain Thy power, teach me by love;
     Teach me to know each hour Thou art above.
     Teach me as seemeth best in Thee to find sweet rest; 
     Leaning upon Thy breast, all doubt remove.

     Teach Thou my lips to sing; my heart to praise;
     Be Thou my Lord and King thro’ all my days.
     Teach Thou my soul to cry, “Be Thou, dear Savior, nigh,
     Teach me to live, to die, saved by Thy grace.”

The line that stands out to me is “Teach me by pain Thy power.” When I think about what that means it makes me very uncomfortable. Why would we ever pray for a loving God to subject us to pain just to teach us that God is more powerful than we? Aren’t pain and discomfort things to be avoided?

This line just felt so challenging to me that I decided to live with it for several weeks and then reset Grimes’s poem to new music back in 2005. I was inspired by the juxtaposition of joy and sadness, pain and pleasure, all of which God uses to teach us, and through which God is always with us. I decided to start in E minor with a somber, chantlike melody, but ultimately it lifts to F major with rich counterpoint, and each verse grows in complexity. The Chancel Choir is familiar with this piece, but, if you’re interested in hearing it, you may find it here: Teach Me Thy Will, O Lord. I hope this piece touches you and causes you to reflect upon what you might ask God to teach you.


First Presbyterian Church


20 King's Highway East, Haddonfield, NJ 08033
(856) 429-1960