So guys, I’ve been struggling with my prayer life lately.
Now I know that’s the go-to answer when another Christian asks you what you’ve been struggling with lately, but it’s also the truth. And when I say “the truth,” I mean part of the truth. Because when I say “lately,” I mean for my whole life. And I think I’m not the only one.
There are two parts to my struggle. First, I lack discipline. I can talk to God in the little moments—when something beautiful happens or I start to understand a tiny corner of his plan or, more often, I’m struggling and really need His help. But I haven’t figured out how to consistently talk to God for long periods of time. Second, I never know what to say. There’s this giant conflict in my head between the part of God that is huge and awe-inspiring and overwhelming and the part of God that cares deeply and intimately about me. The God who hand-formed a single man out of the dirt, and then hand-formed a single woman out of that man with attention to every minute detail. It seems like in order to talk to the big grand part, I need a choir of angels behind me, and we are all just singing “Hallelujah” because we are literally too overwhelmed by his glory to find other words. But the other side of God wants me to talk to him. To say the things that are in my head, even though he knows them already, just because that’s how a relationship works.
To help me learn to deal with this, I’ve been reading through the Psalms. I’ve been doing this for a while, and at first I don’t think I realized that was why. I just felt like I was supposed to read through them, so I did. I then I felt like I needed to read them again, so I did. And here I am, starting on my third time reading through the Psalms this year, and finally realizing that maybe there’s a reason.
The Psalms are beautiful. They are just so rich and layered and lovely and they have so much to say about the way we should talk to God. I’ve learned so much just from the few weeks I’ve been spending in the Psalms this most recent time, and I’d like to share a few of the things that I’ve learned.
This was originally going to be a single blog post, but I started writing it out and it just kept getting longer and longer… So I’m just going to start with a few and hopefully turn this into a series! As a disclaimer, I am definitely a non-expert in the field of praying well and also in the field of understanding Psalms. These are my baby steps towards learning how to not suck at having a relationship with God, but the way I see it, baby steps are still steps, and hopefully these ones are in the right direction.
- David has shown me over and over that I’m allowed to ask for things passionately. When David was in trouble, he didn’t pray “Hey God, a little help down here? You know, if you’ve got time. No worries though, I guess I can handle it if you’re too busy…” No. He wrote “Arise, O Lord! Deliver me, O God!” (Psalm 3) Those words have force to them. But David didn’t hesitate, because this was something that mattered.
- He’s also shown me that our prayers need to be aligned with God’s will. I don’t think the first point would be valid without this one. Our hearts are at the center of this: they need to be changed and our prayers should be a reflection of that. In Psalm 7 David writes “Awake my God; decree justice.” Justice is an integral part of God’s character, and David knows that. David is just asking God to be God—not in a frustrated, disappointed way, but asking in total trust for something he knows will be granted. And in Psalm 4, he asks “Give me relief from my distress; be merciful and hear my prayer.” Two lines later, he identifies the root of his distress: he is surrounded by men who “seek false gods.” When God is not being honored by his people, David feels enough distress to call on God for help. Guys, that’s beautiful. That’s the kind of thing I want to feel when I see places in this kingdom where God isn’t being honored. Unfortunately, I’m sometimes more a part of the problem than the solution.
- One of the harder things for me to learn is that praise has purpose. Sometimes I feel like praising God is a thing we are supposed to do just because he likes it, but that’s not the whole picture. In Psalm 8 David writes “From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise because of your enemies to silence the foe and the avenger.” I don’t know how it works, but this plainly says that praise does things. Praise is a part of God’s plan for manifesting his kingdom on this earth, and it’s something that I have the opportunity to do all the time. It’s humbling to know that this opportunity exists and to see how little I’ve used it throughout my life, but it’s also a beautiful, hopeful thing to think about how many more opportunities I will have to praise him in the future.
That’s just the start, you guys. I’ve only mentioned four psalms. There are one hundred and forty-six other psalms that I get to read and meditate on and learn from. I’ll hopefully be sharing a few more things they’ve been teaching me as I go through. In the meantime, I’d love to hear what your favorite psalms are or lessons they’ve taught you in the past!