Praying for help

Recently, I had conversations via Zoom with two different individuals who were struggling with their faith. Over the past several months they had seen too much suffering. Some of it was due to COVID; some was due to other problems that were exacerbated by the pandemic. Through it all, they’ve tried to maintain the belief that God is good and faithful to his promises. But the more they saw and the longer the crises went on, the harder it was to believe. They felt their faith slipping away.

Do you know the feeling?

You’re not alone.

When we pray for God’s help, it matters what we believe and expect. This is what I love about Psalm 25: it is a complex and multilayered prayer for help that teaches us about the life of faith, about how we might approach such prayers in the first place.

Let it be said right up front that when it comes to prayers of lament, few things seem to be out of bounds in the Psalms. There are prayers in the Psalter that I cannot imagine would ever be prayed in a worshiping congregation in the western world (Psalm 137 comes to mind — if you don’t know it, go read it, and see if you don’t raise an eyebrow or two by the time you get to the end). That’s not to say, “Anything goes.” But it is to say that if you come to God in honesty, wanting to lay your heart bare before him, he’ll hear you even if your language is angry and impolite.

Psalm 25 is not autobiographical. It’s not a page out of the psalmist’s diary where specific enemies and offenses are named. It is a carefully crafted acrostic poem that helps the community of faith to give voice to their own prayers for help. We’ve spent some time unpacking the psalm in recent posts, so I won’t repeat everything I’ve already said. But I’d like recast some of the prayers of lament contained in the psalm, in the hope that you will be able to identify with them, and find the words for your own lament.

In Psalm 25, the psalmist uses words and images that suggest prayers like these:

  • I feel stuck, trapped, squeezed, hemmed in…
  • I’m suffering the hatred of others and don’t understand why…
  • I feel beaten down and humbled by life…
  • I’m afraid of being shamed…
  • I feel isolated and alone.

Do any of those words or sentiments sound familiar? All of these can be found in Psalm 25 and elsewhere in the Psalms. But alongside these prayers are these words of trust:

  • To you, O LORD, I lift up my entire being…
  • To you, O LORD, I run for shelter, because you are my safe haven…
  • To you, O LORD, I dedicate my life, to learn your way of living and follow it…
  • And for you, LORD, I wait.

These are not easy prayers. It is not easy to be honest with God about all we suffer and how we truly feel about it. It is not easy to trust, to remain faithful, when things are going so poorly and others are telling us to forget about God.

But if it matters, again, know that you’re not alone. Others are struggling alongside you, even if they don’t let on.

And with the psalmist, you’re in good company indeed.