Category: spiritual life

I’m not that good

Have you ever prayed the Psalms? I mean, not just read them like “reading Scripture,” but prayed them as if they are your own prayers? If you do or have, you have likely come across some interesting passages. Interesting as in, not very comfortable to pray out of your own heart/mind/mouth. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about…

Though the proud may utterly deride me
I keep to your law.
I remember your decrees of old
and these, Lord, console me.

I am seized with indignation at the wicked
who forsake your law.
Your commands have become my song
in the land of exile.

—Psalm 119

Sounds good enough, right? Praying that, though, as myself, makes me feel a bit uncomfortable. I certainly do not always keep His law (even the new Law of Love). I’m not so perfectly good that I sit around being angry at all the wicked folks around me. Uhm, David, you may need to chill.

I think we fairly often take too much of Scripture like this as prescriptive, as something we should emulate, simply because it’s “in the Bible.” Sometimes, we are reading thoughts and prayers of those who are thinking and praying out of brokenness, out of sinful self-absorption. In other words, David (or whomever wrote whatever Psalm we may be reading/praying) may be writing/saying things that aren’t necessarily good – that aren’t things we need to think or pray.

Sure, we should read them as part of the purposeful message of God to us. We should understand them as something God wanted us to see, to take in, in the context of everything else. But we can’t always be seeing everything that is written as a positive example for our own internal direction.

So, read the Psalms, please. Pray them – I would encourage you to do this. Let the prayers become yours, as you are able. But understand them as they were written. Get that David was pretty messed up a decent bit of the time. He was scrambling for God like we all do, and he didn’t always get it right. He may well have thought too highly of himself from time to time. Mostly, though, we see that other side balancing things out – the humble side – the yearning for God as the deer pants for running water side. This, I believe, is what we should allow ourselves to be drawn to.

prayer and expectation

Prayer is not always comforting. It does not always cause great Peace from above to flow into our souls, our minds, etc. Prayer is not always what we want it to be, what we expect.

Expectations can be a touchy, dangerous business, whatever they’re aimed at. All the more in prayer, probably, because of the mysterious, not entirely knowable nature of what we’re doing. “I will pray this nine times a day, and ‘X’ or ‘Y’ should happen, will happen, must happen!” Well, no, not necessarily. As we are able to perceive things, “nothing” may happen. What and how things happen is something we would do well to admit we don’t fully understand.

One of the best things we can do with and in prayer, I think, is to tame our expectations. Even when we are praying something we think is “Scriptural,” we may well not be grasping everything we need to in that particular instance, in our particular situation, etc. We don’t know everything. We know very, very far from everything. The sooner we get that straight, the less worn out we will be in this whole deal.

Pray. Pray in different ways. Pray, as the saying goes, “as you can, not as you can’t.” Pray with words. Pray with thoughts. Pray in silence. Pray with others. Pray using a book. Pray with beads in your hand. Pray walking through the woods. Just pray. And don’t get too caught up in what will or will not happen when or as you pray. I promise, if you do, you will get your proverbial bubble burst.

Sure, ask for things, expect things, but don’t make that what it’s all about. Again, go in knowing that you don’t know. You don’t know everything, even about your own situation. You don’t fully understand how God does things. Many things remain hidden to us, but are nonetheless, very real.

So, be humble; modify (not lower necessarily) your expectations; pray in spite of not feeling anything or getting what you want in the way you want; realize that your perception of how things are working out is very imperfect. Trust.

Peace.

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