Singing As We Plant #5
Take time to read the entirety of Psalm 5:1-12, and then come back and read the following verses again.
Give ear to my words, O Lord;
consider my groaning.
Give attention to the sound of my cry,
my King and my God,
for to you do I pray.
I get to pray with people a lot. It’s part of my job, but it is an immense privilege whenever I get the opportunity. I have prayed at hundreds of tables laden with feasts, and I have prayed with the homeless who had no idea where their next meal was coming from. I have prayed in maternity wards, giving thanks to God for a future full of possibilities, and I have prayed in ICU wards while the doctors have turned off machines. I have prayed at weddings with families whose eyes were moist with joy, and I have prayed at funerals, with families whose cheeks were stained with sorrow.
Sometime these prayers came easy, and I knew exactly what to say. But sometimes they were tough, and I ran on very little, in terms of inspiration. Often, I left the event and only then felt truly free to express myself to God, not having to worry about the impact of my words on others, but free to speak my mind to my heavenly Father. Sometimes, it was only when I ran out of words that true communication between God and me took place. I have laughed till it hurt. I have shouted at the sky. I have groaned out aloud, wept uncontrollably, banged on my steering wheel and even sung at the top of my voice. Sometimes I have done all of these in one day.
David says that this is okay. In his anguish he doesn’t need to have words. God hears his groans, and pays attention to his cries. His prayer doesn’t need to be understandable, it just needs to be true.
In prayer, sometimes when we run out of things to say, we get to the place where we make the most sense.
As Christians, we have made prayer – and especially corporate prayer – into a sometimes weird parade of showing off theological chops. We remind God of what he said in the Bible; we agree a lot out loud because it makes us sound like we are paying attention; we know just when to squeeze the hand of the person standing next to us in that space between “in Jesus’ name” and “amen.” But all of this posturing can leave a lot of people feeling intimidated by prayer. “I can’t pray like that guy, so I will just let him pray for me.”
You don’t have words to express how you are feeling? How about a shout? How about a groan? How about a laugh? All of those can be prayer.
It seems to me that sometimes when we run out of things to say, we get to the place where we make the most sense.
« Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. » Romans 8:26
Of course David doesn’t stop here. He goes on to pray, as God’s anointed King, both against God’s enemies, who were attacking him and thus a threat to God’s people and God’s project, and for God’s people, for whom he is responsible. Standing on God’s choice of him as King, on God’s steadfast love, his faithfulness, his protection both for him and for his people, he moves from groaning, to confident and even joyful supplication and praise.
Singing as we plant
Learning to pray is a lifelong process, and planting a church is like a crash-course. Sometimes because we learn quickly. Sometimes because it wrecks us. As we plant churches, we should not neglect groaning as a starting point for honest pleading with God.
As we plant churches, we should not neglect groaning as a starting point for honest pleading with God.
If you are not just struggling to know what to say when you pray, but struggling to pray, David shows us a life-line – his prayer for himself was not selfish but conscious of his place in God’s economy. When I have been struggling to pray it has often been because I have been overwhelmed with need and people – every new contact, every difficult situation, every new church was another item on a never-ending list of things to pray for. Some of this was well intentioned, some of this was a growing Messiah complex, as I bravely and proudly took on the job of saving the whole world, as if Jesus hadn’t already done that.
So some practical wisdom flowing out of the theology of this psalm: define who and what you are responsible for in the sphere God has given you. This is the new matrix for your repentance, your supplication, your gratitude. If you examine all the great biblical prayers – prayers of Abraham, Moses, David, Jesus, Paul, Peter – they flow out of the heart of people who knew what their mission from God was, and prayed accordingly.
This prayer is up to you today. Define who and what you are responsible for. Repent, plead, thank. Be honest and open. Groan.