Being With God, Part 5
I toiled in prayer for many years. Or better said, I toiled in prayerlessness for many years. It wasn’t because my heart was opposed to being with God. I just didn’t know how to be with him. And when I say, “be with him,” I’m talking about being a person who, as the Spirit directed us through the writing of the Apostle Paul, to be devoted to prayer.1 Yeah, I could put together five or ten minute spurts before my mind began to uncontrollably wander or I began to hear the still small voice of my email calling out to me, but that’s hardly what I think God has in mind. (I wonder why I only think of returning email when I’m trying to pray?)
On a side note, I don’t want to give the impression that legitimate prayer has a minimum time requirement. These days, I rarely consider how long I pray unless I’m worried about showing up late to my next appointment. But I do wonder how we can pray for all the things that desperately need our prayer and still linger in God’s presence in just a handful of minutes.
You might be thinking that that is precisely the problem. You don’t know what to pray for. I know. I felt the same way for a long time. It seemed like my prayer life often sputtered unless I had committed some sin, which broke me down before God and had me begging for freedom. Eventually though, the guilt would wear off and I would find my way back to the worn path of self-sufficient prayerlessness. And what I discovered about myself that largely fueled my anemic prayer life were feelings of inadequacy because I just didn’t know what to do in prayer. I didn’t know how to pray.
This is partly what led to me embracing the Psalms as my book of prayer and worship rather than a book of Biblical poetry that I dutifully read once or twice a year. (Check out my previous blog on why I use the Psalms as my prayer guide.) And as I said last week, I don’t just repeat the words of the Psalms. Prayer is more than talking to God. It’s a heart-to-heart interaction with him. So I use the Psalms as a guide for my heart in prayer. (Again, I encourage you to read my previous blog if you want to know how I do this.)
When I first began praying through the Psalms, I was relieved to release the dread that came with knowing that I “needed” to pray, but just didn’t want to. And then something remarkable began to happen to me. I actually wanted to pray! At last! I began to anticipate prayer, to look forward to it! My heart finally had a clear path to God’s heart.
But since I began this practice, I have been unexpectedly delighted by what the Psalms are teaching me. Previously, I thought that the Psalms were pretty shallow. (Shhh…don’t tell anyone I actually said that.) I thought that any theological content beyond pleas to love and worship God were few and far between. Obviously, I wasn’t looking at the Psalms very carefully. On the contrary, they are brimming with truth that is bringing clarity to my relationship with him. Here are a few examples of what I’m learning (and relearning) about God:
There aren’t always happy endings. Sometimes I forget that I live in a broken world. I expect God to meet my every need (and want). I want him to erase every conflict that robs me of contentment. But some Psalms don’t have happy endings like most Hollywood movies. I often need to be reminded that God will sometimes allow me to endure seasons in which I have nothing to lean on except naked faith. Check out some of the closing words of Psalm 44, “Awake! Why are you sleeping, O Lord? Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever! Why do you hide your face? Why do you forget our affliction and oppression?” (Keep in mind these words are inspired by the Holy Spirit.)
God loves me. But I’m also reminded that despite life’s many ills that are associated with this broken world, God’s love for me is steadfast. Note Psalm 100:5, “For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.”
I’m confronted with God’s desires. I don’t know about you, but I often lose sight of the overall story of God and his heart to save the world. This is obscured by my own selfish concerns. Verses like Psalm 96:1-3 are abundant and call me to step back and see the world from God’s perspective: “Oh sing to the Lord a new song, sing to the Lord, all the earth! Sing to the Lord, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples!”
Don’t envy the fortunes of evil people. It seems like the people who often get the “good life” are those who couldn't care less about God. Psalm 37:1-2 corrects my thinking and helps me not to envy them because their end is not a happy one if they don’t repent: “Fret not yourself because of evildoers; be not envious of wrongdoers! For they will soon fade like the grass and wither like the green herb.”
Faithful waiting is the real path to the good life. Check out verse 9 of that same chapter (Psalm 37): “For the evildoers shall be cut off, but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land.”
I’m reminded that even on my best day, my heart drifts away from God. I need his moment-by-moment intervention. Psalm 73:22-24 says, “I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward you. Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel…”
I don’t praise God nearly enough. I need to sing more. A lot more. I lead off with my problems in many of my prayers, which often outs my self-centeredness. I need to be less melancholy and far more thankful for his mercy. Note Psalm 103:1-2 (and the myriad others like it), “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits…”
I could keep going. I have a list that I’ve been compiling that is quite long. I never knew the Psalms were so replete with God’s riches. If you also make the prayers of the Psalms your own, you, too might see the face of God.
1 Colossians 4:2