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 #2: Praying Our Pain
Read: Psalm 13
How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? (v. 1, NRSV)
Miriam was a 4-year-old pixie with a sparkle in her eye when I met her. She sat on my lap and tried hard to teach me her favorite song. I was a slow learner, and she rolled her eyes to express her frustration. I was frustrated too, but not with the song. By the end of my music lesson, my heart was breaking. Miriam was an AIDS orphan. She lived in a settlement near Cape Town, South Africa. I write of her in the past tense because by now I’m almost certain she is dead. She had the disease that had killed her both her parents and has orphaned millions of children in South Africa alone.
So we pray, “How long, O Lord?” The words of this ancient lament are so abrupt, they seem almost rude. Yet, this agonized cry from the heart of darkness has helped believers of every age bring their most painful prayers before God’s throne of grace. Whether those prayers are intensely private or of epidemic proportions, they still make their way into the midst of God’s mercy.
It’s interesting that this wrenching psalm ends with a song. “I trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation” (v. 5) There’s a lesson in that, I think. Even before the psalmist knows whether God has answered his prayer, he takes the time to sing a song about God’s steadfast love. I think Miriam would have liked that.
Prayer: Hear our prayers, O Lord—especially for children who are suffering. Help us to know how to help them.