Praying the Psalms

I’m into the Psalms these days. They’re teaching me how to pray in this broken world.

(I actually hate typing that.  They’re not intended to be a lesson on prayer.  They weren’t written as a curriculum to instruct us to survive the tension.  They’re just us listening in as real people pour out their hearts through poetry.  Songs are not always meant to be sermons.)

But I’ve been watching the psalmists sing their songs for some time now, and I’ve noticed this rhythm fills a lot of their prayers:

  1. God – this is who you are (e.g. your steadfast love never fails)
  2. God – why aren’t you acting inline with who you are? (e.g. why have you forsaken me?) [NOTE: they don’t say things like – I know you haven’t forsaken me but it feels like you have. They say things like – you have abandoned us.]
  3. God – be who you are. (e.g. come and save me according to your steadfast love.)

You and I were made to get to learn who God is from the world around us; through our experiences. All of creation was created to testify to the truth about God.  And that’s how it worked in Eden, but now the world is fractured.  Like a mirror that once showed a clear reflection, it’s been shattered and when you look in it now, things look distorted. Fathers don’t always testify to what it means that God is a father. Spouses rarely reflect what God is like as a lover or partner. The Church fails to consistently model for us what God is like as a leader or shepherd; the community offered within its walls doesn’t always declare what the community of the trinity is like.

Maybe in Eden, our prayers would have been songs more like: God your steadfast love never fails.  And everything around us shows us constantly that your steadfast love never fails.  And thank you that your steadfast love never fails.  

And even now – we still have moments, little pockets – where His kingdom comes on Earth the way it is in Heaven.  And we have moments of singing songs like those we would declare in Eden.  The psalmists have these moments as well.

But things have shifted in this strange new world, and these moments are not constant realities.

The psalmists acknowledge the truth that is hard for us to concede: this world does not always look like God is who He says He is. In fact, this world does not OFTEN look like God is who He is.

God we know you are on your throne, so why is this land not filled with justice and mercy? Why do wrongdoers go unpunished and why are people are oppressed?

God – we know you what good and love for us – so why does pain befall us? Why are we hurt and treated badly by those around us? Why do we face loss and loneliness?

What do we do with the gap? What do believers – who know who God is – do with the disconnect between who God is and what the world around us looks like?  If God is who He says He is, why doesn’t it always look like it?

The Psalms don’t answer these questions.  They give you permission to ask them.  They let you know that you’re not crazy for noticing that dissonance.  They let you know that faith in God doesn’t mean you have to pretend this world is as it should be.  In fact – faith in God means we have a holy discontentment with this land.  Sometimes faith is an unwillingness to accept this world as acceptable.

Faith sees the cavern between who God is and what is happening around us.  Faith calls us to fill it with our cries.  To take hold of God like Jacob and ask for more.  To pour out a complaint to Him, to protest before Him that things are not as they ought to be – knowing no one cares more about that than Him.

Join with creation as it groans. Wait for God – which by definition means you acknowledge that He is not yet showing up in the way He one day will.  Wait for Him as the watchman waits for the morning.

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