"Prayer is not the place to be good, but the place to be honest." (John Coe)

I don't know what has happened to us humans, but prayer these days often feels performative and kind of prissy. We are rarely honest. We try to sound better and more religious than we are. We talk to God in a voice not our own, saying words we don't mean, asking for things we are supposed to want - like world peace or for our enemies to feel warm and fuzzy - while under the surface, in the real-real places of our souls we tuck away all kinds of realities we don't want to face and think we can hide from God.

To that, the Psalms say - BALONEY.

Let's be honest, shall we? The Psalms are great guides to prayer, because they offer a kind of truth serum that - if we let it - forces things into the open.

Psalm 4*

In times of anguish, you have widened my way. Now, with overflowing kindness, pay attention to my prayer.

Mortals, why do you put my honor to shame? You lust after emptiness and quest for deception. Selah.

Prayer prompts: In this kind of call-and-response prayer, the psalmist starts with a lovely statement of praise and request to God. You have been faithful, God. Your kindness to me overflows. Please hear me.

How can you thank God for giving you a sense of openness and merciful wideness during times of anguish? Will you pause to remember God's full-to-overflowing kindness to you at various times of your life? Do you dare be so audacious as this psalmist and demand that God pay attention to your prayer? If King David can be so bold, why can't we? Is God giving us permission to do so? Ask God to listen to you now with overflowing kindness.

And then we get to the next line and the truth serum shows up - God is speaking back to the psalmist (to me, to you) with some hard truth:

  • In what ways do you put my honor to shame? In the ways you treat your neighbors? In the ways you hoard my grace and goodness, rather than giving it away with abandon?
  • What about "lusting after emptiness and ... deception?" How are you doing with that?

Take a moment now to confess the ways you dishonor God. The ways you throw your life energy away toward things that are nothing but empty. Talk to God about the ways you try to deceive, both God and others. Be brutally honest. (Tip: God already knows).

With peace and contentment, I lie down and sleep.

Because you, God, are with the lonely, help me to dwell in trust.

Pray: God, in a world that feels shattered and foreboding, please help me to sleep. Show me what it means to be content in you and your care for me; your care for this whole wide world. Remind me that you are in control and I am not, nor should I try to be. God, when I am lonely, be my Friend and Companion. For all the lonely people in this world, God, be the same. As I drift off to sleep, may the final word on my lips be: trust ... trust ... trust. AMEN

*All excerpts are taken from The Complete Psalms: The Book of Prayer Songs in a New Translation, by Pamela Greenberg.