Helpless as a Child

I love you, O LORD, my strength. (Psalm 18:1)

From Longing to Pray by Ellsworth Kalas:   “This is the essence of the prayer of helplessness. We seek from a base of love, and we solicit power to live. This is a mood born of the nursing infant who clings to the breast in trusting love and draws from it the very strength of life. It is the small boy holding his father’s hand on a crowded street: love and strength. It is a child of God, of whatever age, surrounded by the armies of hell, taking hold of with love the indomitable strength of God. Helplessness as a word may not appeal to us, but as an experience it is universal and lifelong. Perhaps it is even necessary. Without it, we would be incomplete as humans, because we wouldn’t know the full dimensions of friendship, either human or divine.”

Jesus infant

The Virgin of the Veil, Ambrogio Borgognone, 1500

Just Name The Place

Chapter 5 of Longing to Pray, by Ellsworth Kalas, is all about the places, schedules, and body language that provide the scaffolding from which we hang our friendships. We may meet a group of friends each month at a specific restaurant at a time certain, knowing that when we meet, everyone will lounge comfortably in his or her chair, slowly enjoying good food and even better friendships. We look forward to it, we aren’t in a hurry to leave, and we certainly aren’t thinking of other places or people. We settle in and enjoy the time we have together.

Right now, we aren’t able to make that lunch date. None of us. We’re trying as hard as we can to protect everyone we know (and even those we don’t) from contracting and spreading the coronavirus. Just a couple of months ago, we had no idea that our usual get-togethers – be they lunches, church, or even boring work meetings – would be our last for a good long while.

And because we never really thought about them ending… well… we sort of took them for granted, didn’t we?  Once all this “social distancing” is over, I bet we don’t do that again for a very long time. But… we’ll still have to be on the lookout because we’re apt to forget how blessed we are all over again. We are human after all, eh?

Dr. Kalas asks us to think about all those places and times that we share with friends, and how those things add to our friendships – especially our friendship with God. Do we have a favorite place where we meet with God regularly? Do we “hang out” and pray leisurely? Or, are we checking our watch, making our grocery list, daydreaming between sporadic scripture reading?

Are we giving God the same considerations we would give to our dearest friend? When was the last time we had a leisurely lunch with God rather than merely firing off a quick “text-message prayer” to check in?

Dr. Kalas writes, “Since you and I are human creatures, our human circumstances affect even our spiritual moments—including especially the moments of friendship, both human and divine.” (p.48)

Remember: God is always available. It’s up to us to set the place, the time, and the pace.

Psalm 62:5-8

For God alone my soul waits in silence,
    for my hope is from him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
    my fortress; I shall not be shaken.
On God rests my deliverance and my honor;
    my mighty rock, my refuge is in God.

Trust in him at all times, O people;
    pour out your heart before him;
    God is a refuge for us.

Structure

This past weekend, I read a few articles about the importance of keeping children on some sort of schedule through all the uncertainty we’re currently living in, and how important structure is to their lives… really, to all our lives. It reminded me of Dr. Kalas’s words from Chapter 3 of Longing to Pray:

Perhaps we would do better at finding the time [to pray] if prayer arrived at our doorstep each morning, like the newspaper, or if we had to tune it in at a stated hour. As a matter of fact, those who pray best are those who schedule prayer into their day the way they schedule everything else that is important…. I’m more likely to pray on the run and in the midst of other pursuits when I have set aside an earlier time to devote myself entirely to prayer (p 31).

Community events. Concerts and plays. Basketball games.  These are all important to us, so we write them down and make sure we get there on time.

What about prayer? When was the last time we set aside a specific time to talk with God and to listen for God? Is it important enough to schedule it, write it on our calendar, and anxiously arrive early? “Those who pray best are those who schedule prayer into their day the way they schedule everything else that is important.”

Our days are currently filled with uncertainty and anxiety. For many of us, our schedules have been upended. Community events? Cancelled. Concerts and plays? Cancelled. Basketball games in the middle of March Madness? All cancelled. We no longer have the structure we’ve clung to in the past for reassurance. Even something as mundane as buying groceries has become stressful, filling us with dread and worry.

Give yourself the reassurance, peace, and calm that only God can provide. If you currently pray every day, keep doing it. If you never seem to have time for prayer, take advantage of these days filled with fewer activities and make time. Schedule it. Write it down. And arrive early. God is with us, the Son intercedes for us, and the Holy Spirit fills us. God hasn’t been cancelled, and won’t be. Make scheduled prayer – conversation with God – a regular part of every day.

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (2 Cor. 13:14)

Just Now

From Longing to Pray, by Ellsworth Kalas:

“[The psalmist] may well get over these feelings an hour from now, or certainly a week, a month, or a year from now. But that isn’t the point. The point is that he hurts just now, and that’s what his prayer is dealing with…. Just now, he hurts, and hurts deeply. Tell him later that he should have been more patient, and that he should have trusted God. That’s all right for later. But just now, it hurts, and he isn’t writing later, he’s writing just now.”

Psalm 102:1-11 (ESV) 

A prayer of one afflicted, when faint and pleading before the Lord.

1 Hear my prayer, O Lord;
    let my cry come to you!
Do not hide your face from me
    in the day of my distress!
  Incline your ear to me;
    answer me speedily in the day when I call!

For my days pass away like smoke,
    and my bones burn like a furnace.
My heart is struck down like grass and has withered;
    I forget to eat my bread.
Because of my loud groaning
    my bones cling to my flesh.
I am like a desert owl of the wilderness,
    like an owl of the waste places;
I lie awake;
    I am like a lonely sparrow on the housetop.
All the day my enemies taunt me;
    those who deride me use my name for a curse.
For I eat ashes like bread
    and mingle tears with my drink,
10 because of your indignation and anger;
    for you have taken me up and thrown me down.
11 My days are like an evening shadow;
    I wither away like grass.

 

“This is strong language, no doubt about it, but it is so strong precisely because the psalmist is so confident of God’s character. He isn’t afraid that God’s love is provisional, that it will be withdrawn if we speak anything other than our better thoughts. In a sense, we can pay God no higher complement than to speak with utter candor. Such honesty reflects the quality of a truly great friendship–a friendship secure enough that we can speak our minds.”  (Longing to Pray, p 22-23)

About those Psalms…

Psalms has 150 chapters that scholars typically divide into five “books”:

  • Book One covers Psalms 1-41
  • Book Two, Psalms 42-72
  • Book Three, Psalms 73-89
  • Book Four, Psalms 90-106
  • Book Five, Psalms 107-150

As for authorship, 74 of the 150 Psalms are attributed to King David; 12 to Asaph, David’s choir director; 11 to the Sons of Korah [Numbers 16:3, 26:11]; 1 to Heman [1 Chronicles 25]; 2 to Solomon; and 1 each to Ethan and Moses; 46 of the Psalms are anonymous.

Authorship was viewed very differently in ancient writings. “A Psalm of David” can mean one of three things:  it was written by David, it was written in the style of David, or it was dedicated to David.

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Be sure to take a look at The Bible Project’s video, in which the hosts narrate – and illustrate – their overview of Psalms in just under 9 minutes!