In previous posts, we have seen that both the prayers of Jesus and the prayers of Paul were conversational prayers with God. They talked to God about the same sorts of things they would talk to anyone else about, and used the same sort of language. The book of Psalms reflects something similar about prayer. When we pray the Psalms, we learn to pray to God in a way that sounds like we are talking to anyone else.
The Psalms as Prayers
The Psalms are not exactly prayers. They are actually songs that were intended to be sung. But they are not just songs, either. They were intended to be sung when Israel worshiped God in the temple and during their annual festivals. As such, it is safe to think of the Psalms as prayers to God that are sung.
And the great thing about the Psalms is that they reflect the full range of human emotions. If you are feeling something … there’s a Psalm you can use to pray about it.
Most of the Psalms are about giving praise and honor God, and calling on the people to faithfully love and serve Him, but sometimes the Psalmist is angry with God, and tells Him so (Psalms 10:1; 22:1; 42:9; 74:1, 11). Other times the Psalmist is angry and people, and tells God about this too, to the point of asking God to destroy his enemies (Psalms 54:5; 79:10; 143:12). Sometimes the Psalms are quite long (Psalm 119). Sometimes short (Psalm 117). Sometimes they use repetition (Psalm 136). Sometimes they focus on simply praising God (Psalm 150), while others focusing on His past works (Psalm 78).
Walter Brueggemann, in his excellent little book, Praying the Psalms, says that the Psalms are not the voice of God addressing us, but rather contain the voice of a common humanity addressing God (p. 1). When you pray the Psalms, you are praying together with believers throughout the world and throughout time.
Conversations with God
When people wonder what sorts of things they can and should pray about, and what kind of language and words to use when communicating with God, it is often not enough to just tell them that they can have a conversation with God just like with any other person. For some, this seems too informal.
So it is often always a good idea to also recommend the Book of Psalms a helpful guide to learning how to pray and what to pray for. As people pray through the Psalms, they learn that pretty much anything can be said to God, and any emotion is welcome by Him. There are no taboo topics or emotions.
Again, from Walter Brueggemann: “The Psalter knows that life is dislocated. No cover-up is necessary” (Praying the Psalms, p. 9).
But this is just like our real relationships in life, right? Your genuine relationships, your meaningful friendships, are the ones where you interact with each other with honesty and reality. You share your emotions, feelings, and ideas without fear of being judged. Where you do not have this freedom to be real, you do not have a real friendship.
So why do we so often hold back in our prayers? We should not and we must not, if we desire true friendship with God. When we pray the Psalms, we learn to express all our feelings and emotions to God, just as we do with any true friend.
But this is just like life, isn’t it? Our conversations with others cover the whole spectrum of emotions and subjects. Sometimes we are careful with our words and ideas. Other times we don’t hold back.
All of this, I think, helps us understand what Paul meant when He instructed the Thessalonian believers to “Pray without ceasing.”.