Praying the Psalms

This piece was originally published at HorizonsResources.net

I find it hard to pray. This is an uncomfortable confession because, by all external standards, prayer should be easy for me by now. I grew up in a Christian home surrounded by family members who prayed and encouraged me to pray. I have been part of a church since my earliest memories, listening and learning from pastors and teachers who prayed confidently. I have read books about prayer, attended conferences, taken college courses focused on studying the Bible, and listened to countless sermons. I have all the credentials of someone who should be, at the very least, adequate at prayer. And yet it is the single most difficult and frustrating aspect of my relationship with God.

It hasn't always been this way. There have been seasons of my life, sweet and wonderful seasons, where prayer felt like an easy discipline. I would sit down to pray and find a few minutes had turned into a few hours and my notebook pages were full of my communication with God. There were times when prayer felt more urgent, but the discipline still felt natural, such as when a family member was battling cancer or my dad was in a serious car accident.

These seasons are not the norm for me, so prayer has most often felt difficult and awkward. As often as prayer is difficult, I feel like I should be better at it. I should be enjoying prayer more. I should come to prayer in awe that I can approach God at all rather than seeing prayer as a chore. I should have more to say because of what a gift it is to be able to say anything and know that I am heard and seen and loved by the Father.

Perhaps I am the only one who struggles like this. It has certainly felt that way in the past as people have shared with me how sweet their time with the Lord is. Prayer has seemed liked an inside joke I’d never understand, like something only an exclusive group of people ever fully experienced. I just didn’t get it.

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Quiet Faithfulness

Originally published by Horizons Resources

A year before I started college, I read a stack of books that were hot in the Christian book market (I was the cool kid in high school) and the familiar thread of full-time ministry as the highest calling ran through each. I was not alone. In fact, there was a movement of people my age who grabbed hold of these books and read them cover to cover, determining that full-time ministry was the only worthy calling for any Christian.

I’m sure for some of those people, full-time ministry was a perfect fit for their unique giftings and strengths, but for me and many others, this idea that some work was more spiritual than other work was a heavy burden to carry. These were books that said, “This is how you love and follow Jesus,” and then painted a picture of the Christian life in only primary colors.

The “radical” Christian life has become idolized in our churches and in Christian culture. We view pastors and missionaries as people who have a more direct connection to God, something deeper than what is available to the average person. The outflow of this idolization is a belittling of the lives of small, daily faithfulness.

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The Rhythm of Faith in Grief

It has been eight months since my aunt passed away following a yearlong battle with cancer. It has been almost six months since my uncle, her husband, passed away unexpectedly after a sudden heart attack. They served the Lord faithfully and I can still hear the echoes of our prayers for healing. We pleaded and fasted and prayed to the Lord for a year to take away the cancer that had invaded her body, and the Lord did not heal her. We prayed desperately and earnestly on the way to the emergency room for the Lord to fix whatever was broken in his heart, and the Lord did not heal him.

I know what is true about this God who said no to our prayers. The truth of the Bible is stored up in my head, and my mind can trace the memories of God’s promises and character with ease. God is loving and good and compassionate. I say it over and over to myself, but the truth stays on the surface level of my mind without ever traveling the long way down into my heart and soul and bones. I know God is loving, but I do not believe that he has acted lovingly toward me. I know that God is good, but I cannot reconcile his goodness with what has happened in my life. I know that God is compassionate, but what he has allowed to happen does not feel compassionate to me.

These are difficult things to reconcile, and so I avoid them. My doubt feels shameful and wrong - how dare I doubt the character of God? And yet, is it truly doubt if I still know and trust what is true without believing it in my bones? The psalmist writes in Psalm 77,

“At night I remember my music;
I meditate in my heart, and my spirit ponders.
“Will the Lord reject forever
and never again show favor?
Has his faithful love ceased forever?
Is his promise at an end for all generations?
Has God forgotten to be gracious?
Has he in anger withheld his compassion?” Selah” (vv 6-9)

The psalmist’s questions feel almost too personal to read, like I am eavesdropping on a conversation to which I was not invited. They are honest, painfully so, and when I read them I feel my chest opening up and my lungs filling with oxygen again. These are questions I am allowed to ask the Father without fear of his judgment or silence. These questions are an invitation to communion with God in a way in which it is not wrong to look at what has happened in my life and wonder how to reconcile the pain with what I know to be true of his character.

When I continue reading, the psalmist ends by reminding himself of the things he knows to be true of the Lord. He does not hurl questions and then sit in anger, refusing to acknowledge the ways in which the Lord has been good in the past. He remembers and he does so actively by reminding himself of the Lord’s faithfulness.

“I will remember the Lord’s works;
yes, I will remember your ancient wonders.
I will reflect on all you have done
and meditate on your actions.” (vv 11-12)

My God is loving and good and compassionate. These are things that I know, both from the experiences in my own life and the stories recorded in Scripture, and these are the things I will preach to my heart until I can believe them again. Claire Gibson writes in response to this psalm, “This is the rhythm of faith. Yell out, and then remember.” And so I will.

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