When the Psalms Pray Me

Sometimes I pray the psalms, but most of the time, the psalms pray me.I discovered this truth again last night. As my wife will testify, on most nights, as soon as my head hits the pillow, I’m out. My body relaxes, my breathing deepens, and I’m off to the land of the sleepers. But not last night. My mind was a storm-tossed sea, with waves of frustration and doubt and fear and pity all lapping against each other. You’ve been there. Some of you experience that sleep-depriving storm almost every night.

To calm the waters, I tried to pray. “Who knows, maybe God can help,” I thought.

I tried to channel my frustration and doubt and fear and pity into a prayer. I needed one that communicated exactly what I was experiencing, that could translate my emotions into the language of petition. I know a few psalms by heart, so I decided to give them a try. But none of them said exactly what I felt. It was like I was praying someone else’s prayer, reading someone else’s mail.

I went looking for a prayer to pray, and, along the way, I found a prayer that prayed me.

Over and over, I forget what prayer is. It is not so much me speaking to God, as it is the Spirit within me speaking to the Father through the Son. Yes, I pray, but it is the Spirit who prays for me, in me, through me. I no more make up my own prayers than I made up the English language. I inherited my native tongue; it was taught to me, word for word, sentence by sentence, as I grew up. So it is with the language of prayer. It is my speech but it is truly God’s speech, divine language.

Thus I never truly pray alone, for prayer is always God talking to God in me.

Last night, the Spirit helped my lips form the words to the third psalm. In it, David laments how his adversaries have increased. Tens of thousands of his enemies surround him. They mock him and his God. And how does David react? Does he brandish shield and sword to fight them? Does he lay out a strategy, launch counter-attacks, mow them down? No, he says that God is his shield, his glory, and the one who lifts his head. Then, he goes to sleep.

I went looking for a psalm to pray, and found a psalm that prayed me, that transformed my liquid emotions into its solid truth.

David closes his eyes and slumbers. It’s an amazing act. While his adversaries increase, while they mock him and his God, while they threaten his life, David says—or, rather, the Spirit says in David to the Father through the Son—“I lay down and slept; I awoke, for the Lord sustains me.” He becomes as a babe in the arms of his father, who is so certain of paternal protection, that he can sleep through the fiercest storm.

So Psalm 3 prayed me, even as I prayed its words, and those words had their way with me.

I lay down and slept, for the Lord sustained me. He told me that He is my shield, who protects me from the fiery darts of the evil one. He reminded me that He is my glory, despite my shame, despite my fears, despite everything, He is the one who is my victory. He will arise and smite all my enemies on the cheek. He will shatter the teeth of the wicked. Indeed, Christ has defeated them all in the battle to the death upon the cross, for when He died, He took down all my foes, including death itself.

This morning, I awoke, for the Lord sustains me. And He has taught me, once again, through His Spirit, that I am His child, and He my Father in Jesus Christ, my Lord.