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 #8: Frail Children of Dust
Read: Psalm 90:1-6
You turn us back to dust…. (v.3, NRSV)
Shortly before his death, I paid a visit to my teacher, Richard Oudersluys. When I entered his hospice room I was struck by the small sign on the foot of his bed. “Richard” it said simply. There was a little red heart-shaped sticker beside his name. The simplicity of that sign caught at my heart, but I didn’t fully appreciate why until we’d finished reading Psalm 90 together.
“You turn us back to dust,” the psalm says, alluding to the creation of Adam and to the fact that all mortals return to the ground from which we were formed. Somehow, reading this psalm at my teacher’s bedside helped me to hear it in a fresh way. It was all summed up in that sign at the end of his bed. Here was a great man—a man who had taught generations of fledgling ministers how to read and interpret the New Testament. And yet, at the end of his life, the sign did not say: “The Rev. Dr. Richard C. Oudersluys,” but simply “Richard.” At the end, we go to our God carrying nothing but our Christian names—and the promise that God in Christ will welcome us home.
Perhaps that is what the heart sticker was all about.
Frail children of dust, and feeble as frail,
In Thee do we trust, nor find Thee to fail.
Thy mercies how tender, how firm to the end.
Our maker, defender, redeemer, and friend.
(From “O Worship the King,” by Robert Grant, 1833)