I have a friend wrung out by grief, who told me recently that it is near-impossible to pray. How can she pray? Where are the words? Who is this God she doesn’t understand? I committed, when she said that, to pray on her behalf. But where to start? I started with the Psalms, and pray them for her as I pray them for myself.
Day after day the Psalmists offer hope when hope seems far away, offer a model of how to lament, how to praise, how to bring all of our fear and anger and lay it at God’s door, expecting a reply. They are, compared to other songs, the highest, the most enduring, and the most honest.
If you find yourself lacking words to pray, borrow some. Crack open the Psalms and read them slow. Don’t skim. Ask questions—what is he saying? how is it said? Then turn them inside out and make them yours.
Here’s how I pray the Psalms. For the curious, for the thirsty, for the wordless wanting words, here are the first four.
Lord, don’t let me listen to the counsel of god-haters.
Don’t let me side with sinners
or sit in judgment of You.
Teach me to delight in Your Word
(in the beginning was the Word);
speak Your Word over my heart day and night.
Make me like a tree, Lord, rooted deeper day by day.
Plant me by the stream of Living Water
(I am thirsty for life.)
When this season of drought is past,
make me yield fruit—joyfully abundant fruit.
Don’t let me wither away.
If I take my stand against you,
I will have a tumbleweed life,
dry and brittle,
blown about by every gust of wind.
Grab hold of this tumbleweed heart and plant me deep.
Strengthen me with power
through Your Spirit
in my inner being,
that Christ may dwell in my heart through faith.
Make me rooted and grounded in love,
with strength to comprehend
the breadth and length and height and depth
Lord, all around me people rage against You—
as if You were the jailer and they the freedom fighters,
as if they were angry mice and You the crouching cat.
They are drunk with anger.
they taunt You, risking wrath;
they have forgotten who You are.
And who are You?
(“I AM that I AM,”
not in the whirlwind, not in the earthquake, not in the fire—
here in a whisper.
The Lord, The Lord, the compassionate and gracious God,
slow to anger and abounding in love,
forgiving sin and judging the guilty,
God Most High.)
Even as I rage against You, You are my King.
The ends of the earth belong to You.
From every nation people come out to worship.
Let me be among Your people, Lord.
Teach my soul to fear the Lord, the Lord alone—
to rejoice with trembling
(holy, holy, holy is the Lord).
Teach my heart to love the Son of Love.
Blessed are all who take refuge in You.
O, Lord, how many are my foes—
within my family (angry, divided),
outside my family (jockeying, jealous),
and, so painfully, within Your family,
who say of my soul,
“There is no salvation for that one.”
But, You, O Lord, are a strong and mighty shield.
You, O Lord, are my glory.
Attack away, foes,
judge all you want,
grind me down to the dust—
the Lord is the lifter of my head.
I cried out to the Lord and he answered.
The One who is qualified to judge came running.
Selah—Pause—Think on that awhile, soul of mine.
Peace sufficient to lie down and sleep, knowing the Lord sustains me—
peace sufficient to banish fear—
what power can raging man have against me?
You, Lord, who raise me up, arise!
Save me again and again, my God
(You are mine.)
For You are a warrior,
You fight for me.
Salvation belongs to You, Savior God;
Your sweet blessing (inexplicably) belongs to me.
I beg and plead for answers.
Who is it who hears my prayers?
The holy God, the perfect God,
who sees my darkest thoughts.
Answer me, O God of my righteousness!
(The weight of it bows my head.
I do not deserve this grace.)
Righteous God, Redeemer,
answer little me.
You have given me relief in my distress,
relieve me now.
Be gracious to me, God of grace,
This broken world turns honor into shame,
loves empty words,
But I know (remind me, Lord)
that You have set apart the godly for Yourself.
(And the Not Godly, like me?
You have painted on the goodness of Your Son and made me new.)
I am Yours;
hear me when I call.
O my soul, so angry, do not sin.
Ponder in your heart as you lie awake,
be silent before the Lord.
Offer right sacrifices
(the sacrifice of pride for praise)
and put your trust in holy, gracious God.
There are many who say,
“Who will show us some good?
Where is God in this broken place?
How can a ‘good’ God allow evil to reign?”
Their questions drag me down to darkness.
Help me, God!
Lift up the light of Your face;
drive the dark of doubt away.
And You do.
Light of the World,
You are the joy of my heart.
Better than grain and wine,
brighter than false promises.
In peace I will lie down and sleep,
for You—You alone—make me dwell in safety.