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Posts Tagged ‘honest praying’

I’m slowly reading through the Psalms in Eugene Peterson’s biblical paraphrase The Message, and I’ve been increasingly blessed by what I’ve been reading.

This morning, I read Psalm 77, where Asaph speaks in the first 6 verses:

I yell out to my God, I yell with all my might,

I yell at the top of my lungs.  He listens.

I found myself in trouble and went looking for my Lord;

my life was an open wound that wouldn’t heal.

When friends said, “Everything will turn out all right,”

I didn’t believe a word they said.

I remember God – and shake my head.

I bow my head – then wring my hands.

I’m awake all night – not a wink of sleep;

I can’t even say what’s bothering me.

I go over the days one by one,

I ponder the years gone by.

I strum my lute all through the night,

wondering how to get my life together.

Do these words from Asaph resonate with you?

Asaph is comfortable enough in God’s presence to “yell at the top of my lungs.”  The psalmist doesn’t contort himself into adopting a sanctimonious tone.  He just tells God how he feels … and in this case, loudly.

He also states that “my life was an open wound that wouldn’t heal.”

I don’t know what Asaph was going through, but it was like an arrow pierced his heart.  He bled out a bit … but his wound refused to get better.

I know so many Christians – even people I admire – who have wounds that won’t heal: tortured memories … incessant regrets … bodily frailties … psychological plagues … emotional scars.

In Asaph’s case, his wound wasn’t private – it was public.  Everyone who knew Asaph knew about his wound.

When Asaph’s well-meaning friends tried to encourage him, Asaph couldn’t adopt their viewpoint.  Only he knew his pain.

And when he thought of God, Asaph could only shake his head and wring his hands.

Even though Asaph had petitioned God for relief, the Lord remained silent and inactive.

One of the worst nights of my life happened when I was a sophomore in high school.  My insect collection was due the following day, but I didn’t have it done.  I stayed up all night wondering what I was going to do.

I hated biology.

In my case, I knew why I was up all night.  In Asaph’s case, he couldn’t even say what was troubling him.

He reviewed his life – looking for clues as to why he was so miserable – but he received no answers.

So he turned to music.  In his case, he played the lute.

In my case, I play my iPod … sometimes listening to hymns all night.

But I love the last line of this text, where Asaph admits that he’s “wondering how to get my life together.”

Let me make three quick observations about this text:

First, God loves it when His people are honest.

If God didn’t like honesty, He would have made sure that Asaph’s little song was never published in Scripture.

But Asaph isn’t the only honest psalmist.  What about King David in Psalm 31?

Be kind to me, God –

I’m in deep, deep trouble again.

I’ve cried my eyes out;

I feel hollow inside.

My life leaks away, groan by groan;

my years fade out in sighs.

My troubles have worn me out,

turned my bones to powder.

To my enemies I’m a monster,

I’m ridiculed by the neighbors.

My friends are horrified;

they cross the street to avoid me.

They want to blot me from memory,

forget me like a corpse in the grave,

discard me like a broken dish in the trash.

The street-talk gossip has me

“criminally insane”!

Behind locked doors they plot

how to ruin me for good.

There’s no attempt on David’s part to be super-spiritual, or self-righteous … he just tells God, “I’m hollow, worn out, forsaken, ridiculed – and some people want to destroy me.”

How do these two prayers – and there are scores of sections like these in the Psalms – match up with your prayers as far as honesty?

Second, honesty draws us closer to God.

I grew weary of rote prayers as a kid.  My family had a 12-word rote prayer that we sometimes uttered around the dinner table:

“Thank you Father for this food in Jesus’ name we pray Amen.”

Memorized and careless statements aren’t going to draw us any closer to God.  Instead, He wants to know how we really feel.

Twelve days after our first date, I took Kim for a drive to the beach.  That night, we both shared things with each other that we had never shared with anyone else.

Up until that night, I had always tried to impress girls with my cleverness, or humor, or sports ability.

But Kim wasn’t impressed by those things … so I dropped the pretense and felt safe enough to share who I really was with her.

The honesty we started to display that night has bound us together for nearly 40 years.

God wants us to act in the same way toward Him.  The more honest we are with Him, the closer we’ll feel to Him.

And that often starts with being more candid and expressive with God in our prayers.

Finally, honesty attracts others to our faith.

Although Asaph laments his life in Psalm 77, he still refers to “my God” and “my Lord.”

He still held onto his relationship with God even though his life felt like crap.

There are millions of people in our culture who have rejected the Christian faith and do all they can to avoid church.

I have often wondered if what we’re missing in our worship is the authenticity found in the Psalms.

If you know me at all, you know how much I love music.

And the more honest the song, the better I like it, which is why I love songwriters like Dylan, Van Morrison, Johnny Cash, Neil Young, and Bono.  (Ever listened to the lyrics to U2’s “Acrobat?”  That’s a whole blog right there.)

But most of the Christian music that I own isn’t very honest.  I get the impression that the songwriter is writing what he or she feels they’re supposed to write rather than what they’d like to write … if their record company would let them.

Since the Psalms were the hymnbook of Israel, can you imagine singing the words of Psalm 77 or Psalm 31 in a worship service as Israel did?

In most churches, I look around and notice less than half the people singing.

Could it be that the words don’t reflect the way they feel inside?

I realize that in many of the Psalms, the songwriter may view life negatively at the beginning of the psalm and later view life – and God – more positively later in the psalm.

But I usually don’t see this pattern reflected in worship lyrics.

Maybe if our music was more authentic, we’d feel closer to God … and attract more people.

Because while people want answers to their questions about life, they want something else even more:

They just want someone to listen to them.

And God loves to listen to authentic praying and singing.

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