Praying out of the anguish of your heart

A number of months ago, my spiritual director gave me this piece of advice (as I was going through a particularly challenging season of prayer): “Pray out of the anguish of your heart.”  It was one of the most helpful things–among many others–he has ever said to me, and it came to mind this morning as I was meditating on Psalm 69, which begins:

Save me, O God!
For the waters have come up to my neck.
I sink in deep mire,
    where there is no foothold;
I have come into deep waters,
    and the flood sweeps over me.
I am weary with my crying;
    my throat is parched.
My eyes grow dim
    with waiting for my God.
More in number than the hairs of my head
    are those who hate me without cause;
mighty are those who would destroy me,
    those who attack me with lies.
O God, thou knowest my folly;
    the wrongs I have done are not hidden from thee.

This is a man praying out of the anguish of his heart.  David is being entirely honest with God about how he experiences life.  He laments: he expresses his grief, his sorrow, his pain. Michael Card, in his book, A Sacred Sorrow, writes about the importance of lamenting in the Bible–and in our own lives.  “From the beginning, David was no stranger to pain.  And in the end, it was the process of lamenting his pain that led him to unheard of intimacy with God.” (p. 63)  Lamenting before God–truly coming before Him and pouring out our anguish–can open the door to a deeper and much more intimate relationship with Him.  Derek Kidner’s comments on these first verses of the psalms also shed light on the fruit of doing so:

This distracted beginning demonstrates the value of putting one’s plight into words before God, for David’s account of his crisis clarifies and grows more reflective as he prays.  The desperate metaphors of inner turmoil and floundering (vv 1-2) give way to more objective (though still agitated) descriptions of his state and situation (vv. 3-4), and finally to a searching of his conscience (v. 5).  Prayer is already doing its work.  (Psalms 1-72, An Introduction and Commentary, pp. 245-6).

So, don’t be afraid to pray out of the anguish of your own heart–as long as it is done in sincerity–and before God.  Let the prayer of lament do its work in your soul.

One thought on “Praying out of the anguish of your heart

  1. Many years ago I read about praying with the psalms. It is a great blessing to me, and Psalm 69 has become one of my favorites in the past few months. The imagery in that first section is so vivid and has expressed well my feelings. “The waters have come up to my neck. I sink in deep mire”. How many times have I felt like that! As I continue to read it I begin to catch the psalmist’s trust in God:
    “At an acceptable time, O God, in the abundance of thy steadfast love, answer me….Answer me, O Lord, for thy steadfast love is good; according to thy abundant mercy, turn to me.” And finally, “I will praise the name of God with a song; I wil magnify him with thanksgiving…for the Lord hears the needy, and does not despise his own that are in bonds.” “Does not despise his own that are in bonds”: It says so much–I am his own. I do feel like I am in bonds, but He does not despise me, but hears me, the needy one. He is the mighty one. I am always encouraged (given courage) as I read this. I thank God that David recorded his honest prayers to the Lord, and that I can pray them as well.

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