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Thursday, March 08, 2012

Teach Us to Pray

Do find yourself afraid to pray out loud? I have often noted at small gatherings that most people feel uncomfortable praying out loud. Perhaps we lack the confidence or we fear that others will find our prayers "unspiritual" or just too plain.

I find it helpful to know that even the disciples of Jesus wrestled with exactly how to pray. They came to Jesus one afternoon and said, "Rabbi, teach us to pray!" Jesus responded with the most well-known prayer of all time. Well, at least it is now. When Jesus spoke it, though, he was praying from the heart. The "Lord's Prayer" is still uttered on a weekly basis in places as diverse as monumental cathedrals to sweaty, high school locker rooms before the big game.

But did you know that for thousands of years, when people asked "How should we pray?", they were directed towards a single book? The book was a collection of prayers, poems and songs that revealed how prayer could come from any emotion, any part of life, and any person. We call this book Psalms.

I am reflecting today on Psalm 38. In this prayer, the author David is having a rough day. We don't know why exactly. Many of his other writings start with headings that cue us in to the situation he was facing. This one in particular simply states, "A psalm of David, asking God to remember him." In other words, David was having one of those rough days where it felt like God had forgotten about him. Ever have one of those? Me too.

Here's what I really love about this prayer: it's so intense! David reacts to this sense of God's-far-offness with a candor and emotion that are rare today. He declares:

I am bent over and racked with pain- all day long I walk around filled with grief.
My heart beats wildly, my strength fails, and I am going blind.
I am on the verge of collapse, facing constant pain.

And what did he most long for and desire?
For I am waiting for you, O Lord. You must answer for me, O Lord my God.

David takes the distance he feels between himself and God very, very seriously. He recognizes that without God's presence and nearness, he is lost and without hope. The cornerstone of David's life was walking closely with God.

I find myself wondering today if I ever approach God like this. When God seems far off, how do I respond? Usually with a short prayer, and then a lot of self-effort. I don't feel right, so I pour my energy into exercising, eating better, relaxing with family or friends, and finding other things to fill up the space. But David's prayer reminds me today that wholeness apart from the nearness of God is impossible. I want to carry David's attitude of prayer into my searching for more of God. I don't want to have this meager attempt to cry out to God; where, if He doesn't answer or respond in the way I would like, I move on. David had the ability to remain. To wait. To focus. Because He believed that unless God responded, all else was in vain.

Could I pray like that? Could you pray like that?

Lord, increase our faith!

May you wait on Him as you journey on. Peace-
Nick

1 comment:

Melanee said...

The only way I can pray aloud in public is to pause before I do and get myself in a place of complete and utter sincerity, and without guile. Without self-consciousness or desire to worship anyone but God.

In other words, when I lose myself, my self-consciousness and need to impress anyone, I find that place in my soul that can commune with God in a way that allows me to actually be inspired as to what He would have me say.

I adore the Psalms, and I love the intensity of David's heart. I know those kinds of prayers. I know their cleansing and healing power and I want more of them too. I want my prayers to more often reflect the truth that I am nothing without Him, and with Him, even with my little faith, I can do miracles in His behalf.

I love how you talk about doing everything else around prayer in order to feel better, but realizing that without the spiritual connection to God, it all just seems a little flat. I know exactly what you mean as I've done the same many times. I find that if I put in my "big rocks" first, which always includes communion, devotional, and so forth, everything else I do becomes magnified for my good.

Thank-you for the great reminders!