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January 24, 2014

Book of Psalms teaches readers how to pray in any circumstance

From the Pulpit

- — I have no way to confirm this, but I think God’s favorite book of the Bible is the Psalms. How have I reached this conclusions? It’s simple. When we read the books of the Bible, people of faith believe God is speaking to us, and when God speaks we listen. The lone exception in the Bible is the book of Psalms, in which the table is turned and God gets a chance to sit back and listen to his beloved children while we speak.

The act of speaking to God is commonly known as praying. As a pastor, one of my duties is to teach people how to pray, which seemed easy enough at first but has proven to be a difficult task. I’ve learned that most people want to pray, want to speak to God. The problem is they just aren’t very comfortable doing it.

Some people feel unworthy to pray. They say, “I’ve done some things in the past I’m ashamed of. Who am I to address this holy God?” Other people are more comfortable outsourcing their prayers to the pastor, the one with the religious credentials who has the power to get prayers answered. (If only that were true!) Still there are others who hesitate to pray because they’ve been taught that prayers should always be respectfully polished and contain just the right amount of churchy words like “thee” and “thou,” which they’re not comfortable using.

If praying has proven to be a stumbling block for you in your relationship with God, then you really need to start reading the book of Psalms, which is a book of prayers to God. You might be surprised and refreshed by the incredible degree of honesty reflected in the words of the prayers. As theologian Walter Brueggemann has written, “The Psalms are an assurance to us that when we pray and worship, we are not expected to censure or deny the deepness of our own human pilgrimage.” In other words, the Psalms remind us that no human emotion is off limits when it is our chance to speak to God.

Here are some examples:

Psalm 142 speaks for a person who feels alone: “No one pays attention to me. There’s no escape for me. No one cares about my life.”

Psalm 13 speaks for someone who feels abandoned by God: “How long will you forget me, Lord? Forever? How long will you hide your face from me?”

Psalm 34 gives thanks for answered prayer: “I sought the Lord and he answered me. He delivered me from all my fears.”

Psalm 141 speaks for a person trying to escape a cycle of destructive behavior: “But my eyes are on you, my Lord God, I take refuge in you; don’t let me die!”

Psalm 103 speaks for a person overwhelmed by the grace of God: “Let everything inside me bless his holy name! Let my whole being bless the Lord and never forget all his good deeds.”

Psalms 6 speaks for a person overwhelmed by past regret: “I’m worn out from groaning. Every night, I drench my bed with tears; I soak my couch all the way through.”

Surprisingly, there are even psalms that speak to our desire for revenge when we are angry, like Psalm 35: “Let all those who celebrate my misfortune be disgraced and put to shame!”

As you can read, the language used in the book of Psalms isn’t always pretty and well polished. It certainly isn’t always very nice language, but the language found in the Psalms is refreshingly honest. As a result, it gives us permission to speak to God honestly, and I’ve come to discover that the best prayers always begin with honesty. On the days in which life is going well, we can smile and speak to God with words of thanksgiving, and on the days in which life is falling apart, we can scream at the top of our lungs and call it prayer!

God wants to hear from us, and the clear message of the Psalms is that God wants to hear our full range of emotions. Read the Psalms. Discover your voice for today in these ancient words.

Adam J. Rodgers is pastor of Stoneboro Presbyterian Church.

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