Listen and speak with respect.
It’s the responsibility of anyone who wants to be in conversation. There can be no true discourse without upholding the dignity of one another; seeking to understand and be understood–preferably in that order–is the path to satisfying that requirement.
But that simple mandate also summarizes what it is to pray, so we argued last Sunday from Psalm 39.
Spirituality we’ve said since we began this series is in the service of maturity. And part of our maturity in faith is the cultivation of a truer communion with God which is reflected, in part, by an enduring commitment to listen and speak with respect in prayer.
Toward the end of the sermon we cited a nice summary from Kevin DeYoung (a pastor in Michigan you’d do well to follow) of the essence of praying from the Scriptures. Upholding the pastoral penchant for alliteration (a habit to which I gravitate for good or for ill!) DeYoung provides us three priorities in prayer (see–alliteration).
- “Rejoicing”–finding in the given text the reasons for praising God and voicing them
- “Repenting”–identifying where the text exposes my folly and failure, and acknowledging those discoveries with my mouth
- “Requesting”–asking God to render aid to us so that we might authentically embrace what the text commands or communicates–often our requests will be for help to really repent of where we sadly fail to rejoice
So what would that look like in practice? Glad you asked.
Yesterday I was in Psalm 73, having recently renewed the practice of simmering in the whole Psalter once a month.
It’s a Psalm that begins with lament and ends in praise. He reviews what appears to be the prospering of the wicked, and often at the expense of the righteous, and finds that reality insufferable. He is beleaguered by what ought not be, and then tempted to impugn the Lord’s commitment to justice.
But halfway through the Psalm he experiences a change of heart, having come to a realization once he “went into the sanctuary of God.” His contemplation of God’s nature, work and ways, expressed in shorthand as being in the “sanctuary” leads him to a conclusion which his focus on the treachery all around him had obscured: God does in fact bring wickedness to ruin, eventually if not immediately.
We noted in Q&A after the sermon how Psalm 39 tells an unfinished story. It gives hints of resolution to that psalmist’s predicament but it ends on s somewhat dissonant, incomplete note. Psalm 73 does not record what befalls the wicked that were in his presence, but it does end with a heartened note of being in God’s presence (v. 28).
Whether the Psalm ends with an opaque or transparent hope we can still apply DeYoung’s direction.
- I rejoiced that God was not threatened by His people querying Him on the darkness all around (HT: Jack Galle in our Q&A).
- I rejoiced that the Scriptures do not flinch at recording the real world. For all its majestic language it is not unfamiliar with all that’s noxious.
- I rejoiced that He has made a mighty promise in His Son to bring a final justice, and validated that seemingly impossible assurance by overturning death.
- I repented–or at least acknowledged–that often my first instinct in response to vice is to emulate the Psalmist’s confession in verses 21,22:
When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart, I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward you.
- I acknowledged how often I succumb to tunnel-vision, focusing only on what’s awful and refusing, almost defiantly, to see a larger frame not untouched by grace.
- I requested that He continue to goad me toward finding the reasons to rejoice. My Charlie Brown-like bent toward melancholy, while not necessarily an inherent liability, can often sip on sadness rather than take up reasons for joy.
- I requested that He move more deeply into me the truths of His grace to me in Christ. Inconveniences, frustrations, surprises can all scuttle the ship of my soul. But if His promise to me is true, and I am in Him, then I have ample testimony at the fingertips of my heart to turn back a tide of surliness.
These thoughts came to mind as I read the passage. These thoughts I brought to my lips in prayer. It was, I hope, listening and speaking with respect.
Praying through a text like this forces us to move from seeking information to submitting to formation. The habit feels a bit awkward at first, like learning steps to a dance you’ve never tried before. And while it might also seem mechanical (who has a checklist of priorities in any conversation?), the practice keeps us from fooling ourselves that by having merely read the words we’ve really received them as they intend.
Did I rise from my chair in tears at the profound experience I just had in praying? No. But did I honor God, the dignity of the text, and the nature of prayer? More so than only reading–though surely reading is tilling the soil!