Prayer, as I once heard in a sermon, is an area of religion/faith “where we could all stand to improve.” Today, I want to share how reading the Psalms has improved my prayer life.
Here are some (loose) categories of how a person’s relationship to prayer may look—
- Doesn’t pray at all
- Only prays in a dire situation, such as when a loved one becomes seriously ill or when one wants a work promotion, etc.
- Prays more frequently but tends to be rote, vague, and/or lack vulnerability
- Prays frequently with fervor, with humble confidence, with honesty, with worship and reverence
Just a gander, but I’d guess most people fall in category #2. Though the last category is the most ideal, let the record show there is not a ceiling of perfection with prayer; one can always pray more often, for longer, for more people and situations. Still, I’m happy to report I have moved solidly from category #3 to category #4. I will share the role the Psalms played in that. First, I need to give you a brief timeline of my faith journey/prayer life—
- 1993-2008–lifelong church-goer, too young to understand much (cat. #1)
- 2008-2017–old enough to understand more, thought I was a Christian but was really riding on emotions and traditions (cat. #2)
- 2017–read most of the Bible for a college course; had a spiritual transformation (still cat. #2)
- 2017-2019–God sanctified me and made scales fall from my eyes daily; for the first time in my life, I genuinely “hungered and thirsted for righteousness” (cat. #3)
- 2020–(going to) read entire book of Psalms; established a new method for praying and reading scripture (cat. #4)
As of April 3, 2020, I’ve read over 100 Psalms (about one third of the book left to complete).
The Intersection of my Prayer Life & my Devotions
As you see, during the heavy sanctification period, my prayer life began shifting into the right gear. But I needed to go through some trial-and-error. Praying at night before falling asleep worked for a while, but I kept dozing off before finishing. Praying before I got out of the bed in the morning worked for a while, but there were a few issues. Firstly, my still-sleepy brain kept wandering off from Lord, guide the doctors and scientists researching Friedreich’s Ataxia to find treatments and an eventual cure to I wonder what I should wear today? I need to email my boss when I get up. Secondly, I didn’t really like lying in bed for an eternity in the mornings, yet I didn’t want to cut my prayers short. Ugh, such a dilemma! Meanwhile, I was reading my Bible at some point throughout the day on the couch. The lack of routine made devotional time easier to skip. Oops, I just had way too much to do today…never mind the fact I’m not making it a priority…
Sooo. I began to read my Bible and pray at my desk in the mornings after breakfast (stringent back support=less temptation to get comfy and groggy, easier to write in my Bible; consistent routine=more likely to do it). Around that time, I began digging into the Psalms. Though I read several of them (and even paraphrased one!) during the life-altering-college-course, I’d never read the book straight through, start to finish. So I figured this might be excessive but what the heck and dived into it.
My Reaction to “Psalm Submersion”
WOW! The Psalms are incredible. They provide countless examples of praying with equal parts BOLDNESS and FAITH. I have actually been taken aback at times by how blunt and direct some of the Psalmists are–even to the point of DEMANDING that God hear their desperate cries, save the oppressed, enact justice, scorn their enemies, etc. But that element of boldness is balanced by unshakably high levels of AWE and WORSHIP. Even in the midst of pain, suffering, and feeling forsaken, these Psalmists still praise God for creating everything, having steadfast love and mercy, being a refuge for the needy, etc.
As I read these Psalms, I was inspired–even convicted–to start imitating them. I was ready to take my prayers to a new level. It also “came to me” (thanks, Holy Spirit) that I need to start praying OUT LOUD. [Boy, you realize pretty quickly how mealy-mouthed your prayers really sound when you hear the words.]
Praying out loud with the inspiration of the Psalms has pushed me to be more real, more specific, and more intentional. Getting distracted while praying is a problem of the past (praying out loud, while sitting upright at my desk, helps me focus). Hearing the words somehow makes it feel like an actual conversation with God. Speaking the words aloud helps me explore and embrace the most intimate parts of my heart and share with God how I truly feel, what I truly need, etc. The Psalms have informed my prayers by their AUDACITY to plead with God UNASHAMEDLY. And now, I find myself making similarly audacious prayers…
Lord, You created the heavens and the earth, and You created each and every person in Your image. Scripture tells us You are the refuge for the poor, the weak, and the needy. Father Almighty, in Your sovereignty, help Your children who are suffering from oppression and injustice. Free those who are imprisoned by prejudice, by persecution, by human trafficking, by domestic and child abuse, by homelessness, by the sex industry, by mental and physical illnesses, by unsafe and unfair working conditions, in war-torn nations. Lord, be their refuge, please! Give them their daily bread–peace, hope, strength, courage, perseverance, healing, or whatever they need–to help them get through today. Guide them to connect with resources to get food, shelter, and their other physical needs. Lord, I know You did not create us to suffer. Bless all those who are suffering today. And guide Your disciples to have open hearts, open eyes, and open ears to see the needs around us. Draw us near to You and help us grow individually so we can act collectively. Give us all the tools we need–boldness, unity, creativity, vision, wisdom and insight, spiritual gifts and interests, strength, faith–so we can understand how to meet those needs and turn our thoughts into actions. Lord, help us plant seeds that grow up to bear fruit–fruit that makes disciples and transforms the world. We cannot do these things alone. Let Jesus be our head so we can be the body of Christ.
Perhaps this priming of my prayer life is happening “for such a time as this.” I hope you will join me in audaciously bold and faithful prayers during these uncertain times…for those with the virus, for their caretakers and loved ones, for essential workers, for those out of work, for small business owners, for those with children, etc…
Thanks for reading! If you don’t mind sharing, which prayer category do you fall under? Do you ever pray out loud? How are you doing, really? Let me know in the comments.