Last week, I had the opportunity to share with the staff of a nearby church about the subject of Spiritual Health. We talked about a bunch of things, but at one point I recommended something that might seem at odds with how prayer is supposed to work. I suggested that they pray someone else’s words, not just their own.
Huh? Who does that? Why would I pick up someone else’s prayer and pray it as if it were my own?
The answer: that’s exactly what most folks in the history of the Church have done. In fact, embedded right in the middle of our Bibles, we have a prayer book that believers have used for thousands of years. We call these prayers The Psalms.
There is a power in not simply praying your own words all the time. There is something expansive about a prayer life that isn’t dependent on what I can come up with to pray about. Now, to be sure, I always want to come to God with the thoughts of my heart, the concerns and needs that are front-and-center in my life. But if that is all I ever pray, my prayer life can become shallow, self-centered, simplistic.
But when I open the Psalms, I have words that have been prayed countless times by a variety of believers throughout the centuries and throughout the world. In the Psalms, I find words of praise, of doubt, of confession, of hope, of hopelessness, of longing, and longings fulfilled. I find words that cover the spectrum of emotion and experience — all there in the Bible, waiting for me not simply to read them, but find myself in them. And pray them.
In the Psalms, there are words that are difficult to pray. There are words I may not agree with. And in the Psalms there are words that are not the final word on a given subject. Just this morning I was reading/praying Psalm 5, which includes these words of prayer: “You hate all who do wrong.” Well, that’s certainly not all there is to say. God hates evil, but clearly if he hated all wrongdoers, none of us would have room for love or mercy. And so, when I work my way through the Psalms, I will encounter words difficult or even impossible to fully pray.
But what I do encounter is honesty. Openness to lay before God whatever I am experiencing, or struggling with, or questioning. The Psalms give me freedom to be honest before God, and to pray what’s real (not just what I feel like I am supposed to say). And the Psalms remind me that whatever I am experiencing (or not) with God, others — SO many others — have been down that road before. And they have marked out a path, one where I can join them, and pray with them.
So, my challenge is to pray a Psalm in the morning, and a Psalm in the evening. For the next month, as I preach through a series on prayer, I want to invite you to open your Bible to prayers that are as old as humanity, but can be as fresh as whatever you need, right now. Join me in praying the Psalms, and see what God might teach you through old words that become, on your lips and in your life, new prayers.