Volume XXXVIII, #38: Prayer's Purpose in the Psalms
It’s easy to forget prayer’s purpose. If we’re not careful, we can turn prayer into a genie session where our wish is God’s command, a therapy session where our goal is simply to feel better, or a list of empty phrases on repeat. In the Psalms, prayer’s purpose is communication in relationship with God. Written in a covenant context (Lev. 26:12), we find all the key elements of relationship in the psalms.
1) Communication in all seasons. Sometimes we only talk to God once in a while. “Hi there. It’s me again God. I know it’s been a while, but I could really use some help.” Can you imagine a marriage like that? Or a parent/child relationship like that? The Psalms show regular, consistent communication with God in good times and bad. “Evening and morning and noon I will complain and murmur, and He will hear my voice.” (Psalm 55:17). “Seven times a day I praise You, because of Your righteous ordinances.” (119:164). “My tongue shall declare Your righteousness and Your praise all day long.” (35:28).
2) Authenticity. Sometimes we talk to God, but we don’t tell Him what’s going on with us. Maybe we hide our anger because we’re afraid it’s sinful, we hide our sadness because it’s too painful, or we hide our fear and doubt to make God think we’re good and faithful. Can you imagine a marriage like that? A parent/child relationship like that? We can’t have genuine relationship if we bottle up our feelings. Besides, God already knows what we’re thinking and feeling anyway, so we might as well just tell Him. “You know when I sit down and when I rise up. You understand my thought from afar.” (Psalm 139:2). If you’re scared, tell Him. “I have heard the slander of many, terror is on every side; while they took counsel together against me, they schemed to take away my life.” (31:13). If you’re lonely, tell Him. “Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted.” (25:16). If you’re angry, tell Him “You have rejected us and brought us to dishonor...You sell your people cheaply and have not profited by their sale.” (44:9,12). Authenticity creates connection and the peace that comes by being truly known and understood by God.
3) Love and respect. In the Psalms, authentic communication takes place within a context of adoration and admiration. Authenticity doesn’t mean flipping out on God. All “outbursts of anger” are sinful (Gal. 5:20) We shouldn’t do that to our spouses, parents, or children, and woe to those who burst out against God! Even when the Psalmists express hard feelings toward God, it’s always clear they have a deep love for God and respect for who He is. Psalm 88, the most negative of all the Psalms, starts with, “O LORD, the God of my salvation...”. Psalm 44, the second most negative, is sprinkled with praise. May the Psalms help our prayers reflect genuine relationship with our God.