May 7, 2017

Psalms as Prayers (Psalms part 9)

Awkward silence.

We all hate it. You’re with another person, and for whatever reason, you find that neither of you have anything to say. This is not the comfortable silence of close friends who simply enjoy each other’s presence. Oh no - it’s the dreaded awkward silence: an uncomfortable lull in the conversation. Why does it happen?

Sometimes it is the result of not really knowing the other person all that well. Or maybe the subject matter is simply too intimate to be comfortable speaking of it with this particular person, even if you’ve known them for a long time. And there may even be times when you can’t connect with a person because you “aren’t speaking the same language.” It’s an odd metaphor, but it neatly sums up those situations where thoughts, ideas, or concepts aren’t crossing the divide between two minds. It can go way beyond awkwardness, all the way to frustration.

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Encountering difficulty while speaking to another human can be uncomfortable, but what do you do if you’re having trouble communicating with God? There you are, in the presence of the Almighty, at the feet of the Great I AM, the Creator of all space and time… One might be understandably overwhelmed, especially one who is new to the faith – one who doesn’t know God all that well just yet. Perhaps you are afraid to admit some difficult truth about yourself to God, or even to yourself. And let’s be honest – even the most mature and devout Christians encounter disconcerting periods of “silence.”

So what do you do?

My suggestion would be to open the book of Psalms.

We already know that the psalms are meant for praise and worship, but there is more. As mentioned before, the psalms are unique in scripture because they move us into direct communion with God. They teach us how to properly approach the Lord, and they give us a pattern to follow in our various forms of worship, devotion, and petition. So when you come to an awkward silence in your relationship with God, the psalms are ideal scriptures to use when seeking to know God better, to grow closer to Him, and even when you’re just not sure what to say.

Most Christians are familiar with the Lord’s Prayer found in the New Testament gospels of Matthew and Luke. In this model prayer, Jesus teaches us a general pattern which we can use when we speak with the Father. The psalms also give us patterns to follow in prayer; patterns which deal directly with our individual emotional states and spiritual needs.

For example, in moments of extreme sorrow and despair, I have often turned to Psalms 13 and 88.  When I cry out to God and urgently request His intervention, Psalm 70 serves me well. When I have failed to honor God and require repentance, what better scripture is there to turn to than Psalm 51? When I want to honor the Lord and acknowledge His work in my life, Psalm 23 is more than sufficient for the task.

Using God’s own words (His “language”) in our prayers frames them in a manner which is acceptable and pleasing to Him. When we follow the patterns He has given us, our thoughts, attitudes, and emotions begin to conform more closely to His. We become more like Him. While all scripture reveals great truth to us, the Psalms are particularly well-suited to letting the Truth change our hearts from within.

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