This finishes our series on the “life of a prayerful person,” which puts together the season the prayerful goes through in the Book of Psalms. We can begin with Shalom, experience utter confusion, only to turn the corner to watch Shalom return home again.
Sometimes our confusion makes its way back to Shalom and we tell God that, too.
Prayer is sometimes nothing more than what Jacob did with God: a wrestling match. God is game, the Psalms tell us, so enter the ring. My favorite prayer that wrestles for Shalom is Psalm 77. This psalm never gets to the resolution, but it points the way, and I have often thought this Psalm perfect for those bereaving death or separation.
In brief, Asaph (the poet of this psalm) speaks of his â€œday of troubleâ€ and of his inability to find any sleep at night. So he turns to prayer and that doesnâ€™t work either: â€œI think of God, and I moan.â€ He questions Godâ€™s goodness and asks if God has failed to remember his covenant with his people: â€œHas God forgotten to be gracious?â€
Then the content changes: instead of moaning, Asaph begins to recount â€“ before God â€“ what God has done in the past. And he gently trots through a number of things God has done that showed that God was faithful and a deliverer of his people. God, he informs God, created, and God opened the water for Israelâ€™s liberation.
And it ends right there. I believe Asaph is taunting God with this thought: â€œIf you, O Lord, liberated in the past, what are you doing now?â€
Sometimes we get no further than where Asaph stopped: wondering if God is gracious. We may end there some days because it would be dishonest and pretence to think life is any better than it really is. For Asaph, night is upon him and it brings no relief from his â€œday of trouble.â€ God has delivered, he tells God, but will God do it again? That is the question.
Sometimes Shalom returns.
Anyone who reads or recites the Psalms knows that the so-called first two books within the Psalms (1â€”72) are filled with complaints by David. In fact, sometimes David seems to be complaining too much (but then I admit I was never King of Israel!). But David also knew the other side of complaint.
The last section of Psalm 30 reads:
To you, O LORD, I cried,
and to the LORD I made supplication:
â€œWhat profit is there in my death,
if I go down to the Pit?
Will the dust praise you?
Will it tell of your faithfulness?
Hear, O LORD, and be gracious to me!
O LORD, be my helper!â€
You have turned my mourning into dancing;
you have taken off my sackcloth
and clothed me with joy,
so that my soul may praise you and not be silent.
O LORD my God, I will give thanks to you forever.
Here David knows that his complaint has been heard. Where he once mourned, he now dances; he once wore sackcloth but now he dresses up in joy. He finishes it off as he should: â€˜I will give thanks to you forever.â€ Until the next time he finds himself again in trouble with his enemies — this is how life is lived for the prayerful person in Psalms.
One never reaches a state where confusion is eliminated, where everything is smiley faces, where everything is always Shalom. Life is like this, so prayer should be too.