April 21, 2022

Praying the Psalms

Eugene Peterson spent most of his adult life serving as a pastor. He was also a scholar and was best known for The Message translation of the Bible, but that came out of his struggles to help people pray. “Getting started is easy enough,” he wrote. “The impulse to pray is deep within us, at the very center of our created being. ‘Help’ and ‘Thanks!’ are our basic prayers.”

Over the years, Peterson found that people often seemed “awkward and out of place” as they tried to deepen their conversation with the Creator. When they felt inadequate, Peterson would “put the Psalms in a person’s hand and say, Go home and pray these. They’re the real thing: honest, true and personal in their response to God.” (The Message, Introduction to the Psalms)

Take Psalm 126, for example. It begins by remembering the joy of knowing that God was at work during a tough time in our lives. “When the Lord restored our fortunes, then were we like those who dream. Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy.” When we’re sunk in despair, we don’t expect a magical cure for all our troubles. Connecting deeply with the Creator can shift the energy, shine light into our dark corners. “The Lord has done great things for us,” we’d say, “and we are glad indeed.”

However, the only constant in life is change. We tend to coast during the good times, staying on the surface of our prayers and taking our blessings for granted. That’s fine until it isn’t anymore, until new troubles mount up and we’re left feeling empty. Then, like the Psalmist, all we have is the memory of God’s presence with us as we cry out for help: “Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like watercourses in a parched desert.”

Spiritual maturity is not about getting beyond all the difficult times. It’s about discovering a resilience that helps us navigate the latest challenges. Psalm 126 pictures people weeping as they plant the seeds that will sustain them in the future. “Those who sowed with tears will reap with songs of joy. Those who go out weeping, carrying the seed, will come again with joy, shouldering their sheaves.”

As long as we remember who we belong to, we’ll never be alone, even in the darkest times. We’re the ones who forget; God is always listening.