The Melody of Our Hearts: Praying the Psalms

The Melody of Our Hearts: Praying the Psalms

In our hearts is a song. It is the melody of our hearts. At times it is a happy tune sung in a major key, beautiful and robust. At other times it is in a minor key, full of sorrow and pain due to the circumstances of our lives. Yet the melody plays at all times and is a reflection of our inner lives, our inner selves. It is impossible not to hear it. It is sung and played for all to hear. To deny it is to deny who we are.

Yet we often try to play a different song over that melody as we try to convince others that we are okay. That life is grand, and that we have everything under control. The funny thing is, as loud as we play these songs to cover our true melody, our hearts will eventually drown out those songs, revealing what is deep within us. What is even more disturbing is that we often try to fool God by playing “the right melody.” A melody that we may have been taught is the appropriate way to approach God.

Let me explain. Somewhere along the way we were taught that to speak to God we must be polite and use polished words and correct theology. In other words, our prayers and songs shouldn’t speak what we are really feeling and experiencing. We feel this most as ministers and leaders in Christ’s church. This is a travesty! The God who created us also knows us intimately! He knows our thoughts, feelings, passions, struggles, hurts, anger, frustration, delights, lusts, pains, sorrows, love, hate, and so much more. But somehow, we have come to believe that we can hide those from God and fool him into thinking we have everything worked out. The Psalms teach us something different.

The Psalms are real! The Psalms are raw! The Psalms teach us to battle with God, praise God, thank God, scream at God, feel with God, and share our experiences with God. They are neither polite nor polished. They don’t hide feelings or experiences but bring them before the holy God who can guide us through life and carry us through hurt. They recognize that, no matter how one feels or experiences, God is still God.

According to Walter Brueggemann in his book Praying the Psalms, life gives us three conditions of living that the Psalms address.

  1. Being securely oriented in life. This is when we feel equilibrium in our lives. It is feeling settled and content in our lives. Life makes sense and God is well placed in heaven. However, we often don’t produce great prayers in this condition but instead feel in control of our lives without much need for God. [1]

  2. Being painfully disoriented (or dislocated). This is when life isn’t grand, we feel no equilibrium, and our lives are full of chaos, disorder, and disorientation. This orientation may be visible in broken relationships, job loss, financial despair, a horrible diagnosis from the doctor. Or it may not be visible, coming from gossip you’ve heard spoken against you, receiving a damaging email, or receiving sharp criticism from others. All of these teach us that life truly stinks sometimes. We don’t feel well or whole.

    In these Psalms there are no polished, eloquent words before God. Instead, they are raw and biting. They meet with God in the depths of despair (Pss. 13; 22; 88:16-18). The goal here is to not make these Psalms too “religious” or pious but to encounter them in the way they were written. These Psalms scream to God, “I am as mad as H-E-double-hockey-sticks, and I can’t take it anymore!”

    These Psalms are actually very religious in that they are willing to articulate to God the very real experiences and feelings of life. They offer to God one’s raw emotions with the expectation that he is listening and will respond. [2]

  3. Being surprisingly reoriented. This is the surprising movement from being disoriented to a new orientation that is nothing like the previous condition. This movement can’t be planned or scheduled. It happens on God’s time. It also does not return you to the old condition (the “good old days”), because God knows full well there were no such days.

    Instead, these Psalms recognize how God makes all things new. When it happens, it is a surprise of joy from God. It is a gift from heaven and always evokes gratitude. All these experiences remind us that God has not left us in chaos but remains forever by our side. [3]

So, the Psalms teach us that we can have full assurance that when we pray or worship God, we are not expected to censure or deny the depths of our hearts. God knows all that we are going through and wants to walk with us as his Spirit resides in us. As Paul wrote, “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” (Rom. 8:26-27).

The filling of the Spirit helps us experience life with the presence of God. It is then that we can truly allow the melody of our hearts to sing before God (Eph. 5:18b-21). Walter Brueggemann says that praying the Psalms depends on two things: 1) what we find when we come to the Psalms that is already there, and 2) what we bring to the Psalms out of our own lives. [4]

Thus, when we encounter the Psalms, we discover the passion and boldness of those who addressed the Holy One ages before us. But we also bring with us our own experiences that expose our depths of despair and also acknowledge our blessings of life. The goal to praying the Psalms is to bring both to the table in reality and rawness. To encounter God in the moments we find ourselves in, and acknowledge them head-on, with assurance that God is God and reigns over all our lives. Spend time this week praying through the Psalms and allow your melody to play (uncut and unfiltered). God will most assuredly meet you there!

[1] Pss. 37:5-7; 145:1-3, 8-9. Brueggemann, Praying the Psalms, 2-4.

[2] Brueggemann, Praying the Psalms, 4-11.

[3] Pss. 30:1-2; 103:1-2. Brueggemann, Praying the Psalms, 11-15.

[4] Brueggemann, Praying the Psalms, 17.

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