One of the things I love about the Psalms, is that the song writers often begin where I am. Psalm 4 is a great example—”Answer me, God. When I call, when I need, when I want. You did it before. Do it again, and do it now. Be nice to me, be kind, go-easy-on-me and answer my prayers—MY prayers, the prayers I am praying that reflect what I think I need and deserve!” The way this Psalm reads in the beginning, you can just hear the whine in the singer’s voice. You can imagine her stomping her feet, demanding and pouting, angry even, angry at God, questioning where God is and where are the answers to my prayers. Or at least, that is how I am hearing it—today.
Can you feel me? Surely you have found yourself mad at God? Surely you have found yourself waiting for answers? Wondering where the heck God is and why the heck God isn’t giving you what you want when you want it? Or is that just Type A, over-functioning, pushy people like me? Thank goodness for the grace of the rest of the Psalm follows the rant. God responds right away—not necessarily with the thing that the psalmist thought she sought, but with ancient wisdom that in my head sounds something like this: “Dude, take a freaking breath, I am here. There is no need to be so scared, you just turned away and forgot the spiritual practices I have been teaching you all along. Take a chill pill and settle down, find your center and you will discover what you seek—me and the answer to your prayers.” Well, actually, what the psalmist advises in verse 4 is, “When you are disturbed, do not sin; ponder it on your beds, and be silent” (emphasis added). In other words, when you are disturbed, don’t flail around making yourself and the rest of us crazy with your drama and your incessant talking and your irresponsible accusing and your turning away from me. Stop moving. Get quiet. Ponder. Ohhhh. What an concept. Ponder. Wait. The wisdom will come.
One of my favorite seminary professors was Bernhard Anderson and among his many gifts to seminary students was his classic book titled, “Out of the Depths: The Psalms Speak for Us Today.” Dr. Anderson taught us that all of the Psalms begin in the depths of lament (or in my case swirling crazy talk which is camouflage for lament), move through the presence and care of God on behalf of the petitioner and turn ultimately to the Psalmist’s praise and gratitude for God’s action on her behalf. The Psalms offer us a model for prayer, wherein we might give God our brokenness and pain, even railing at God with anger for our circumstance—and out of that depth, hear God with us and find the gifts of God’s presence and grace to transform our struggles into light and love and joy.
What a blessing it is to have a God-with-us who guides and advocates, who lets us yell at God’s Spirit even when we are silly and self-centered, who finds a spot within us to warm-up so that we might feel the God-within which will turn our laments to praise. And what a blessing it is to have prayer and music and church that shines a light on that center when we cannot do so ourselves.
“When you are disturbed, do not sin; ponder it on your beds, and be silent. Selah. Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the LORD. There are many who say, “O that we might see some good! Let the light of your face shine on us, O LORD!” You have put gladness in my heart more than when their grain and wine abound. I will both lie down and sleep in peace; for you alone, O LORD, make me lie down in safety. —Psalm 4:4—8
With blessing and prayer, Rev. Wendy