"Prayer is language used in personal relation to God. It gives utterance to what we sense or want or respond to before God. God speaks to us; our answers are our prayers. The answers are not always articulate: silence, sighs, groaning -- these also constitute responses. The answers are not always positive: anger, skepticism, curses -- these are also responses. But always God is involved, whether in darkness or light, whether in faith or despair. This is hard to get used to. Our habit is to talk about God, not to him. We love discussing God. The Psalms resist these discussions. They are not provided to teach us about God but to train us in responding to him."

(Eugene Peterson, Answering God: The Psalms as Tools for Prayer)

Often, we are trained to see the Bible as a book of answers, facts, details, truisms about God.

The Psalms, as Peterson would say, resist these labels.

The Psalms are meant to guide us into living, breathing, conversation with the Divine. When we read them as litanies of facts, we lose our way. We fail the original writers. We make things up. We avoid God.

Reading Psalms slowly, meditatively, with open heart, open journal, open soul -- this is the spirit of the Psalms. They are - first of all - prayers. They are also guides to prayer, if we allow them to play that role in our own lives.

Psalm 5*

May you hear the speech of my heart, Holy One, understand my contemplation before I give it voice.

Listen to my cry for compassion, My Protector and my God, because it is to you alone that I pray.

God, hear my voice in the morning, for each dawn I offer my prayer before you and wait.

Prayer prompt: If King David is right and God hears the speech of our heart, knows our thoughts before we give them voice, what might it be like to sit quietly in God's gracious presence and let your mind wander around, picking up concerns, pondering worries, bringing to mind the names and the faces of those who need God's healing touch? What if we don't have to have the right words, ask for the right things, pray the right sorts of prayers? What if God already knows and we can rest in that? How might that alter your view of prayer?

Like David, ask God to search your heart, read your mind, understand your soul. Then, just sit for a bit. See what emerges.

If you feel led, give voice to your thoughts and concerns. If not, rest in the knowledge that you are still heard. Your Protector and God knows, hears, and accepts everything your bring, even if you never speak one word. Even if all you do is groan, or curse.

Offer your prayers, silent or spoken, and trust, rest, wait.

Wait in patient hope, knowing every thought, every image, every name, every unspoken longing, is heard and held in God's good hands.


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