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 #12: Faith and Fingernails
Read: Psalm 125
Do good, O Lord, to those who are good. (v.4, NRSV)
It was supposed to be another beautiful summer day. It was supposed to be a chance to earn money for college. It was supposed to be safe. But on the day three young men forgot their safety harnesses and fell into a huge grain bin full of shelled corn, it was none of those things. It was a tragedy that tested the faith of a whole community. Two of those young men died. One will live with the memory of twelve hours of terror and helplessness.
When tragedy strikes, we often grasp for answers. But as often as not, there are no answers. Bad things happen to good people—and vice versa. Believers are left hanging onto faith by their fingernails.
The author of Psalm 125 knew all about faith and fingernails. The psalm opens with a soaring confession of faith in the God who embraces us like the mountains surround Jerusalem. But by the center of the psalm, his confidence begins to crack. Behind his plea for God to “Do good…to those who are good” is a tacit complaint. The righteous are not always rewarded. And this psalmist is worried that they may lose heart, and “stretch out their hands to do wrong” (v. 3).
If misery loves company, then there is a lot to love about this psalm. There are no easy answers—only a God who embraces us even as we hang on to our faith for dear life.
Prayer: Gather us up in your arms, O God, especially when our faith is frail and our hearts are hurting.