Mark D. Roberts

Messy Praying


“I am tired of living
     among people who hate peace.”

Psalm 120 is the first in a series of psalms known as the “Psalms of
Ascent.” They were used by the Jewish people as they ascended to
Jerusalem for worship in the temple. The Psalms of Ascent include a
broad spectrum of poetic types. Psalm 120, for example, is an
individual lament. It reflects the experience of someone who is far
away from Jerusalem. Long distance from home accentuates the psalmist’s
pain as people slander him (120:2). Thus he laments, “I am tired of
living among people who hate peace” (120:6).

Psalm 120 ends on a somber note. Even though the psalm writer seeks
peace, his enemies “want war” (120:7). There is no resolution here, no
word of hope, no confession of God’s ultimate deliverance. Though the
psalmist has cried out to God for help, we don’t even learn if his
prayers were answered (120:1-2).

Thus, this psalm reminds us
that sometimes our conversation with God is messy. Though it makes
sense to begin our prayers with thanks and praise and to end them
similarly, there is no biblical mandate for such a structure. At times,
we simply cry out to God from our place of pain, loneliness, and
despair. We don’t come to a sense of resolution when we run out of
words. We simply stop talking and wait upon God, whether we like it or
not. The fact that Psalm 120 is included in the Spirit-inspired canon
of Scripture reminds us that it’s okay to pray this way. Through the
example of this psalm, God invites us to come before his throne of
grace as we are, and to say anything and everything on our hearts,
without holding back (see Hebrews 4:16).

Have you ever prayed along the lines of Psalm 120? Do you feel freedom
to tell God what you’re really thinking and feeling? If so, why? If
not, why not?

PRAYER: Gracious God, my first
response when I read Psalm 120 is to think, “Well, that’s rather a
downer.” I’d rather hear words of encouragement that testify to your
faithfulness and mercy.

But the more I reflect on this psalm,
the more thankful I am for its presence in the Psalter. Psalm 120
sounds a lot like my own prayers when I am discouraged. It is so
honest, so vulnerable, so unpolished. It suggests that I can approach
you as I am, without having to clean up my act and my speech.

Psalm 120 exemplifies, Hebrews 4 proclaims. There, you invite us to
approach you with boldness, with full openness, confident of your mercy
and grace. What an amazing invitation! How reassuring it is to know
that I can come before you “just as I am.”

All praise be to you, O God, because you invite me to share my whole self with you, holding nothing back. Amen.


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