Jesus taught his disciples to pray. But there’s a very real sense in which the psalms taught Jesus to pray. In this series, we’re going to sit with Jesus at the feet of the Bible’s lament psalms to see what they can teach us about prayer.
Why the laments? One of my students once observed that reading the laments made her feel like the Holy Spirit had been reading her diary. Generations of the faithful have testified to these psalms’ peculiar ability to help us express our most private and sometimes painful thoughts. Yet, the laments also teach us that, even when our prayers are full of anger or anguish, they are still “praise in a minor key.”
Study #1: Sound Asleep
Read: Psalm 3
I lie down and sleep; I wake again, for the Lord sustains me. (v. 5, NRSV)
Many of us grew up reciting the “Now I lay me down to sleep” prayer. I suspect many of us were at least a little troubled by that prayer’s references to the possibility that we might never wake up! (“If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.”) Yet, that prayer dates to a day when people often didn’t live past childhood—a day before vaccines and emergency rooms. So, what seems morbid to us was, in its day, a deeply comforting prayer. It was a child’s own version of Paul’s “whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s” (Romans 14:8).
The author of Psalm 3 prayed his own version of this prayer. Part of what makes his prayer so impressive is that it’s said, not in the absence of threat, but right in the midst of it. This psalmist is surrounded by enemies. But in the face of what seems like certain death, this psalmist lies down and has a good night’s sleep. The only reason this is possible is because of his trust in God.
If we wait for all our troubles to disappear, it’s likely we won’t be very well rested. If, on the other hand, we “lay us down to sleep,” in the comfort of God’s protective presence, we will sleep as soundly as David did in the midst of his enemies.
Prayer: Help us to trust you, O God, even when we’re surrounded by worries.