Teach Us To Pray – Study #11: Merciful Heavens


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 #11: Merciful Heavens

Read: Psalm 123

Have mercy upon us, O Lord…for we have had more than enough of contempt. (v. 3, NRSV)

I’ve had it! That’s it! No more! Never again!

If you’ve ever said words like these, then you have some sense of where the author of Psalm 123 is coming from. He has had a belly full of what he calls “contempt” (v. 3). He’s had it up to here with the enemies of his people who live on easy street, lording it over those whom they consider their inferiors (v. 4).

Before we get too indignant on his behalf, however, perhaps we had better pause to consider whose side we’re on in this little standoff.  Psalm 123 is a prayer of and for people who are oppressed. If that shoe fits, then by all means, we should wear it. But if it doesn’t, perhaps we should hear this psalm first as a call to repentance. Only then will we have earned the right to share this psalmist’s indignation.

Notice that the psalmist doesn’t have any illusions about his enemies suddenly having a change of heart. He knows their probably never going to change. But he knows where to look for help. “As the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master…so our eyes look to the Lord our God, until he has mercy on us” (v. 2).

No matter whose side we’re on, we’re all standing in the need of this prayer. We’re all standing in the need of God’s mercy.

Prayer: To you we lift our eyes, O God, longing for mercy and longing for grace.