Sunday, January 18, 2009

Ruminations on The Psalms and Prayer

OK ... I know .... Not the most exciting title for a post ...

One thing becomes obvious when going back over the Old testament is how the Hebrews incorporated God in all aspects of their lives. The ancient practice of praying the Psalms also reflect this. And it makes sense ... Who else do we trust the vastness of human emotion. The despair, hatred, bitterness, weariness, ecstasy, longing and desires? The Psalms show us that we are to offer our lives ... Our Holy, sometimes messed up even desperate selves ... undiluted to God.

In the Psalms particularly, our Lord seems to commend the Psalmists' honest expression of their real emotional state to God, without affirming their harsh and hateful words. I think as a result, we are encouraged, following the model of the psalmists, to allow our own hurt, and hate, to come openly before God. (There is no room for hiding in our relationship with God. He knows us at the very deepest levels of our being—in ways we do not even know ourselves. If we choose to cloak the anger and hatred that lurks in our hearts, we are fooling no one but ourselves and may do ourselves irreparable harm. Anger and hatred cannot be healed unless they are acknowledged and expressed.) Yet, ultimately the psalmists' imprecations are evaluated as wrong-hearted, and decidedly un-Christian!

Yet Jesus had some very strong things to say about the “vipers” and “whitewashed sepulchers” he encountered among the religious leadership of his day. So, if we are serious about shaping our lives in imitation of Jesus, then we will have to name evil for what it is. We may also need to admit that our own limited experience may need to be challenged and expanded by the suffering and angry agony of a broken world. Maybe then we will truly learn how to read the psalms of imprecation honestly and faithfully. May it be so!

The book of Psalms has been called God's prayer book and to me it shows what ones prayer life should look in real like. In the New Testament it is called "praying without ceasing," and Paul brings this up in 1 Thessalonians 5: 16-19:

"Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit."

In other words Paul is connecting unceasing prayerfulness with being connected to God no matter what is happening to us and around us. It's the centering of all our lives in the practice of the presence of God. To me, "unceasing prayer" is the discipline, the Holy Habit if you will of speaking all of our words, thinking all of our thoughts, taking all of our actions in the mindfulness that God hears, knows and sees. Its not so much what we do ... It's more the way we are, or becoming. Its being awake and aware to the reality, though we can't see it, we know by faith it's there. (Hebrews 11:1)

Fear should not silence our reading of the Psalms we don't "like." On the contrary, we should humbly follow the example of the psalmist who wrote Psalm 139. Immediately following the heated plea that God "...would slay the wicked" (139:19), the tone of the psalm changes decisively. As the psalm concludes, the psalmist turns his eye inward, inviting divine scrutiny. "Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting" (139:23-24).

OK ... I have to admit I practice this rather inconsistently. I tend to long stretches of utter obliviousness to God. I mean Jesus is there and all and then I complain is that He is not there. (Makes sense? lol) But I can attest to a growing skill ... rather halting ... Kinda makeshift probably ... But a skill nonetheless in unceasing prayer. With me it's a continual, (and usually silent) dialog. A conscience and deliberate gesturing toward and response to God. And over time it becomes un conscience and instinctive. But if we don't begin and keep this habit we lose what we worked hard to acquire. It's like learning a language, say Spanish, and never using it in conversation!

Just sharing something I've been working on myself ... yet again ....


God's Not Finished With Us Yet... said...

Wow, sounds like you put a lot of thought into this post; it's very hearty, pure, and strong to say the least.

I love how you give the reminder that God know's us at our deepest level so why hide from sharing our anger, hurts, disappointments, and everything else with Him; I mean He's seen it and heard it all before anyway.

Psalms is a great book, which I should read more often than I do. Thanks to your post I will try to relect and devote myself to it a bit more. Like you, as you state at the end of your post, I too am constantly just working on myself again, trying to be a better server of His, parent, neighbor, etc.....this is a good thing and I know pleases God greatly. :D Keep up the good call in serving His kingdom!

Ben said...

I think trying to hide how we feel from God is one of the most senseless things we can ever do. He knows us more than we do.About the Psalms, I think I have to read Psalms a bit more than I do right now. Honestly, I have not been to enjoy some of the Psalms, because of the intense words used.