Catchy Phase: Lord Help me!
On Sunday, Pastor Nigel talked about his experience with the Psalms, the prayers of the church, as they are sometimes called. One of the types of psalms which he described are referred to as psalms of lament. Basically, things aren’t going well and the psalmist (the one doing the praying) is describing the situation, wondering what God has been doing (or where God has been) and asking for help.
We have not been spending much time on lamenting, so this week, we’ll take an opportunity to do so, if you’d like. We’ve chosen Psalm 88:
1 Lord, you are the God who saves me;
day and night I cry out to you.
2 May my prayer come before you;
turn your ear to my cry.
3 I am overwhelmed with troubles
and my life draws near to death.
4 I am counted among those who go down to the pit;
I am like one without strength.
5 I am set apart with the dead,
like the slain who lie in the grave,
whom you remember no more,
who are cut off from your care.
6 You have put me in the lowest pit,
in the darkest depths.
7 Your wrath lies heavily on me;
you have overwhelmed me with all your waves.[d]
8 You have taken from me my closest friends
and have made me repulsive to them.
I am confined and cannot escape;
9 my eyes are dim with grief.
I call to you, Lord, every day;
I spread out my hands to you.
10 Do you show your wonders to the dead?
Do their spirits rise up and praise you?
11 Is your love declared in the grave,
your faithfulness in Destruction[e]?
12 Are your wonders known in the place of darkness,
or your righteous deeds in the land of oblivion?
13 But I cry to you for help, Lord;
in the morning my prayer comes before you.
14 Why, Lord, do you reject me
and hide your face from me?
15 From my youth I have suffered and been close to death;
I have borne your terrors and am in despair.
16 Your wrath has swept over me;
your terrors have destroyed me.
17 All day long they surround me like a flood;
they have completely engulfed me.
18 You have taken from me friend and neighbor—
darkness is my closest friend.
As you can see, this is a very personal prayer. It is a prayer by the psalmist about himself. Most of the psalms of lament are for the nation of Israel. We’ve chosen a more personal prayer to help us to enter into the lament. You can use this prayer to present your own challenges to God. Or you can use the prayer to present the challenges of other people who you care about to God. Safe to say that there is someone in your life (even if it is via the “news”) who is facing some fairly daunting challenges right now and may be wondering where God is in the midst of their suffering. If it is you, pray the psalm as written, using “I” throughout. If you are praying for someone else, simply substitute “they” for “I” or “them” for “me” in the psalm, as appropriate. (Sometimes, “I” will still be appropriate, as you are the one interceding with God on their behalf.)
When you have time to pray this week, consider the situations that you or your loved ones, or simply anyone in need of God’s help, are facing. With these situations in mind, begin reading the psalm slowly. Listen to yourself pray. If the psalm says anything that is not exactly true in your situation, silently acknowledge this to God and continue praying. If you feel led to make a change in your life in any way, like praying more, tell this to God and make a note of it, mental or on a piece of paper. This is your time to talk to God. Your prayer might be about someone else, but it is your prayer and your relationship with God that is active right now.
Try to be open to the feelings expressed by the psalmist. You might use different words, but do you sometimes feel like the psalmist? If so, express your own feeling to God. There is no need to rush through the psalm. Finishing it isn’t the goal. Praying to God is the goal.
This particular psalm does not end on a high note. It ends by looking to God for the answer to the problem, which still exists. We can take this as an encouragement to continue your lament and prayer throughout the day, which can simply be a remembrance of your prayer and a brief reminder to God that you are still looking for his response to the situation.
When you have finished reading the psalm once, sit quietly for a few minutes, mulling over your prayer and any response you might have received from God. You might pay attention to anything that seemed different about this prayer compared to your normal prayer. Maybe you expressed some feelings that hadn’t come up in prayer before. Maybe you felt a connection with the person you were praying for that you hadn’t before. Feel free to sit with these impressions and share them with God.
Then go back and start over, repeating the psalm. This time go a little more slowly, pausing after each verse, sitting with the feeling being expressed. Own the feeling if it applies to you or your situation. If not, maybe thank God that this doesn’t describe you. Try to be open to what God might be saying at any point in the prayer. When you have finished, thank God for the time, and jot down your impressions from your time of prayer or any things that you felt God might be asking you to do.