Praying Honestly with the Psalms
Perhaps you, like me, have had difficulty praying through this challenging time in our nation and world. Lately I’ve found the only prayer to come to mind is that of John 6:68: “Lord, You have the words of everlasting life.” At first the spontaneous entrance of this verse into my prayer confounded me; little by little, as it became my refrain, I realized the invitation in it. I returned to my practice of reading Scripture as prayer and found myself particularly drawn to the Psalms. When I could find no words for the deep desires and emotions within me, I could count on the psalmists to speak for me.
Ranging from praise and thanksgiving to lament and grief, we can find within the Book of Psalms a reflection of just about any human emotion we may experience. What I love most about this wide range of expression is the beautiful picture it paints of the relationship with God that comes about when we share freely with Him in our prayer; our own honesty, authenticity, and transparency before God lead to a deepening trust and faith in Him. Here is a sample of Psalms that may resonate with you today.
How long, LORD? Will you utterly forget me?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I carry sorrow in my soul,
grief in my heart day after day? (Vs. 2-3)
The pain of this psalmist is palpable; God’s face feels hidden, distant. The heart is heavy with grief, seemingly forgotten and unseen by God. I imagine this person’s tears flowing as they utter these words from their deepest place of pain. What pain might you share with God? How does He respond to you?
As for this psalmist, God’s response comes in the virtue of hope. After pouring your heart out to God, can you trust that He will hear you? Do you believe that God will deal “bountifully” with you, giving you reason to sing His praise? Be honest in your prayer; ask for the grace to trust in God’s mercy and love for you.
But I trust in your mercy.
Grant my heart joy in your salvation,
I will sing to the LORD,
for he has dealt bountifully with me! (V. 6)
I praise you, LORD, for you raised me up
and did not let my enemies rejoice over me.
O LORD, my God,
I cried out to you for help and you healed me. (vs 2-3)
In times of difficulty, it is helpful to return to times of joy and safety in your memories. Some spiritual directors like to call those moments when God’s presence is powerfully felt “touchstone moments,” particular memories to return to again and again in prayer. When has God raised you up? When has his touch healed you? Recall what God did for you and give thanks.
Sing praise to the LORD, you faithful;
give thanks to his holy memory.
For his anger lasts but a moment;
his favor a lifetime.
At dusk weeping comes for the night;
but at dawn there is rejoicing. (vs 5-6)
You changed my mourning into dancing;
you took off my sackcloth
and clothed me with gladness.
So that my glory may praise you
and not be silent.
O LORD, my God,
forever will I give you thanks. (vs 12-13)
Is there some physical expression or posture you can adopt in prayer to show your thanksgiving to God for these touchstone moments of joy in His presence? Perhaps you may wish to raise your hands up, dance before Him, sing a hymn of praise, or compose your own psalm of thanksgiving.
One of my favorite artists, Carsie Blanton, has a hauntingly beautiful song called “To Be Known” which asks the question I believe is at the heart of much human suffering: “Isn’t it all you ever wanted, to be known?” The truth is that we are more deeply known than we can even imagine. Psalm 139 expresses this truth, acknowledging that even those thoughts, questions, desires, and emotions we have left untouched and unspoken are known by God. I like to pray with Psalm 139 as a meditation on the depth of God’s love for me.
LORD, you have probed me, you know me:
you know when I sit and stand;
you understand my thoughts from afar.
You sift through my travels and my rest;
with all my ways you are familiar.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
LORD, you know it all.
Behind and before you encircle me
and rest your hand upon me. (vs 1-5)
If God knows the whole of us – all our actions and inaction, desires, thoughts, temptations, sins – are we to fear that He might not like what He finds and in fact leave us alone, to face our lives without Him? No; on the contrary, we can never be alone from God.
Where can I go from your spirit?
From your presence, where can I flee?
If I ascend to the heavens, you are there;
if I lie down in Sheol, there you are.
If I take the wings of dawn
and dwell beyond the sea,
Even there your hand guides me,
your right hand holds me fast. (vs 7-10)
How can we confidently hold the truth that God sees the whole of us and stays with us always, never desiring to abandon us even on our worst days? Because He made us whole. We are wholly His, every single aspect of our being designed and delighted in by Him. Even before our first breath on Earth, He lovingly breathed life into us and made us exactly as He desired, imagining into being the whole of our lives.
You formed my inmost being;
you knit me in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, because I am wonderfully made;
wonderful are your works!
My very self you know.
My bones are not hidden from you,
When I was being made in secret,
fashioned in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw me unformed;
in your book all are written down;
my days were shaped, before one came to be. (vs 13-16)
Wherever life finds you right now, whatever state your heart might be in, God sees you. God hears you. God loves you where you are, as you are. Nothing you can show Him in prayer will keep Him from you. Prayer marked by honesty and candor, like we find in the Psalms, is like a gift of freedom to be yourself before your Creator. Let us say with the psalmists, “Probe me, God, know my heart; try me, know my thoughts.” (Psalm 139: 23)