Pray toward Praise
From Psalm 61
“Hear my cry, O God, listen to my prayer; from the end of the earth I call to you when my heart is faint” (Psalm 61:1-2).
There’s a reason we connect so well to the Psalms. Words like these tug at our hearts, familiar like a faded sweatshirt or sunken section on the couch. We know what it means to cry out, to hope Someone is listening. We understand why the writer would say “from the end of the earth” because we’ve felt that way too—God is who knows where, out there, incomprehensibly far away.
And we definitely know what it means to be worn out, frustrated, faint.
But if you’ve followed the reading plan, maybe like me you’ve noticed a trend this past week: beginning in Psalm 54 through today’s, Psalm 61, each begins in a place of sorrow. But—don’t miss this—each ends in a place of peace.
From tears to trust.
From concern to confidence.
From pleas (or please) to praise.
I read a book in the fall by a favorite author of mine, Shauna Niequist. Here’s what she said about prayer in Present over Perfect:
When you begin to pray—whether you write your prayers or speak them or form them silently in your mind—picture a bottle of oil-and-vinegar salad dressing. … Pour out the vinegar first—the acid, whatever’s troubling you, whatever hurt you, whatever is harsh and jangling your nerves or spirit. … Then what you find underneath is the oil, glistening and thick: We’re going to be fine. God is real and good and present and working. … This is the grounding truth of life with God, that we’re connected, that we’re not alone, that life is not all vinegar—puckery and acidic. It is also oil, luscious, thick, heavy with history and flavor.
I think this is what the author, David, is doing, over and over in these psalms. He opens by pouring out what’s wrong, by spilling his tears and fears and insecurities. But every time, David finds his way to praise. See it, for example, in the first and last verses of Psalm 61:
“Hear my cry, O God,“ he begins, and then closes with “so will I ever sing praises to your name, as I perform my vows day after day“ (vv. 1, 8).
What we need to know is how He got there, and Shauna’s advice is step one. Pour out your pleas. But don’t quit, don’t stop praying, until you’ve found the oil, until you’ve found your way to praise.
David’s secret? In these psalms, he focused on two things: recounting God’s faithfulness (what He has done) and remembering God’s character (who He is). God delivered me then, He will deliver me now. God protected me then, He is protecting me now. God is holy, God is in charge, God’s love knows no bounds. God is faithful, God is just, God is my strength and fortress. He will continue to be my shield and song.
This is the oil. This is what we all need so we can redeem a sense of richness in life’s more bitter moments. Keep praying until you get there. Pray your way toward praise.
Next week’s reading: Psalm 64–70 .