First Mennonite Church
September 12, 2021
The Comprehensive Scope of Prayer
Text: Psalm 69:1-36
As we continue our series on the book of Psalms, today we will be reminded of the purpose, depth, and power of prayer. The purpose of prayer, as we will see, is to access the presence and power of God in and for our daily lives. Prayer accesses for us the face of God. Through prayer we enter the holy presence of God, either in our personal or congregational prayer time. Prayer also, as the saying goes, moves the hand of God.
Psalm 69 also reminds us about the depth of prayer. When we pray, we lay bare and naked before God. Nothing in us is beyond or excluded from being an item of prayer to God. From the darkest sin, to the holiest act, from the daily and mundane worry, to the most sacred of moments, for the reasons of our deepest joy and for those that make our blood to boiling, prayer includes everything and every emotion. Prayer reveals the depth of the human heart before God. Prayer is the offering of the whole self to God. Maybe, this is the underlying reason why many believers cannot pray earnestly to God. They do not want to yield to God completely. To pray is to offer ourselves completely to God.
Psalm 69 can be divided into six parts, which we will do. The first section is from verse one to verse three. This psalm is prayer of lament.
Lament is very seldom practiced in the church or by Christians, as a whole. One major reason we do not practice lament is because we believe that Christians should always be hopeful, happy, and not gloomy. Our confession of a victorious Christ who defeated death might seem a contradiction if we show we are in pain or distress. It might also be that in our effort to inspire joy, gratitude, and hope during our services, based on the promise of the resurrection, that we do not allow space for lament in our services. However, we should remember that Jesus expressed lament. He openly wept and cried out to God. He was grieved by the hardness of the human heart (Matthew 19:23, 24; Mark 3:5) He lamented when his people failed to recognize God’s visitation through him (Matthew 23:37-39).
In ancient Israel, lament was practiced after national crisis.
Yesterday was the 20th anniversary of 9/11. Beside holding a moment of silence for the loss of lives that took place, lament often times is a foreign idea. In many instances what comes after national tragedies in the official and individual discourse is a call to resilience at best or for vengeance at worst. To lament is often thought of as a sign of weakness or defeat, or of giving the perpetrator more power.
The psalmist opens with a direct call for salvation:
1 Save me, O God,
for the waters have come up to my neck.
2 I sink in deep mire,
where there is no foothold;
I have come into deep waters,
and the flood sweeps over me.
3 I am weary with my crying;
my throat is parched.
My eyes grow dim
with waiting for my God.
The imagery of a rising flood as the source of threat leads to this desperate plea for salvation. This imagery of a threatening flood is still used today. The expression, “trying to stay afloat” is used when someone is overwhelmed by a given problem. The psalmist is exhausted of crying and waiting for God to intervene, but deliverance seems not coming still. In fact, the situation only seems to worsen:
4 More in number than the hairs of my head
are those who hate me without cause;
many are those who would destroy me,
my enemies who accuse me falsely.
What I did not steal
must I now restore?
5 O God, you know my folly;
the wrongs I have done are not hidden from you.
6 Do not let those who hope in you be put to shame because of me,
O Lord God of hosts;
do not let those who seek you be dishonored because of me,
O God of Israel.
7 It is for your sake that I have borne reproach,
that shame has covered my face.
8 I have become a stranger to my kindred,
an alien to my mother’s children.
9 It is zeal for your house that has consumed me;
the insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.
10 When I humbled my soul with fasting,
they insulted me for doing so.
11 When I made sackcloth my clothing,
I became a byword to them.
12 I am the subject of gossip for those who sit in the gate,
and the drunkards make songs about me.
We know the expression, “when it rains, it pours.” The psalmist enemies are countless and are attacking on all sides. There are false accusations, insults, reproach, and mocking. The psalmist claims to have become the laughing stock even of drunkards. In 2Timothy, three, Paul describes the evil character of men in the last days.
You must understand this, that in the last days distressing times will come. 2 For people will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 inhuman, implacable, slanderers, profligates (that is: extravagant or wasteful), brutes, haters of good, 4 treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God (2:1-4).
We should not be surprised when unbelievers cannot grasp the way of Christ or when our way of living the faith seems like nonsense to them. But instead of fighting back those who reject, ridicule, or are simply baffled by our values, principles, and way of life in Christ, we should do as the psalmist did:
13 But as for me, my prayer is to you, O Lord.
At an acceptable time, O God,
in the abundance of your steadfast love, answer me.
With your faithful help 14 rescue me
from sinking in the mire;
let me be delivered from my enemies
and from the deep waters.
15 Do not let the flood sweep over me,
or the deep swallow me up,
or the Pit close its mouth over me.
16 Answer me, O Lord, for your steadfast love is good;
according to your abundant mercy, turn to me.
17 Do not hide your face from your servant,
for I am in distress—make haste to answer me.
18 Draw near to me, redeem me,
set me free because of my enemies.
In Hebrews we are instructed to “look at Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame. . . so that you may not grow weary or lose heart (Hebrews 12:2, 3).
Early on I said that prayer is the offering of the whole self to God. When we totally surrender to God in prayer, we lose every claim over ourselves. Therefore, nothing that comes to us in the form of rejection, humiliation, or incomprehension matters because our life has been handed over to the one who knows everything. Jesus says it this way, “For whoever wants to save their life[a] will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it” (Matthew 16:25). Thus, the psalmist prays:
19 You know the insults I receive,
and my shame and dishonor;
my foes are all known to you.
20 Insults have broken my heart,
so that I am in despair.
I looked for pity, but there was none;
and for comforters, but I found none.
21 They gave me poison for food,
and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.
The psalmist releases his pain and brokenness before God. Even when nobody seems to be concerned for the psalmist misfortunes, he knows that God is always ready to hear him. So he pours out his heart before God.
But the psalmist also knows that God is righteous, so he prays to God to make justice.
22 Let their table be a trap for them,
a snare for their allies.
23 Let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see,
and make their loins tremble continually.
24 Pour out your indignation upon them,
and let your burning anger overtake them.
25 May their camp be a desolation;
let no one live in their tents.
26 For they persecute those whom you have struck down,
and those whom you have wounded, they attack still more.
27 Add guilt to their guilt;
may they have no acquittal from you.
28 Let them be blotted out of the book of the living;
let them not be enrolled among the righteous.
29 But I am lowly and in pain;
let your salvation, O God, protect me.
Our trust in a moral God gives us confidence that there will come a day when God will right all wrong and will vindicate every injustice committed. Our confession of a righteous God should give us peace, that all human injustice, lies, violation of the sanctity of life, greed, indifference, and all forms of evil, will one day come to the light and will receive its due reward. Everyone will have to give account for whatever we have done in life, whether good or evil. Therefore, when we see or hear of evil being committed, we should remember what Psalm 137, says,
Do not fret because of the wicked;
do not be envious of wrongdoers,
Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for him;
do not fret over those who prosper in their way,
over those who carry out evil devices.
8 Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath.
Do not fret—it leads only to evil.
9 For the wicked shall be cut off,
but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land.
Once the psalmist prays for God to bring to justice the wicked, he turns to praise. And he closes his prayer of lament, plea for mercy, and judgment of the adversary, with a doxology—a song of praise to God.
30 I will praise the name of God with a song;
I will magnify him with thanksgiving.
31 This will please the Lord more than an ox
or a bull with horns and hoofs.
32 Let the oppressed see it and be glad;
you who seek God, let your hearts revive.
33 For the Lord hears the needy,
and does not despise his own that are in bonds.
34 Let heaven and earth praise him,
the seas and everything that moves in them.
35 For God will save Zion
and rebuild the cities of Judah;
and his servants shall live there and possess it;
36 the children of his servants shall inherit it,
and those who love his name shall live in it.
I am sure you noticed some familiar phrases in this psalm. The gospel writers used some phrases from this psalm to refer to Jesus, especially in the passion narratives. See for example John 15:25 used 69:4; Matthew 27:34 used 69:21. Indeed, the psalm’s loneliness and lament became a backdrop for the Passion. The spirit of this psalm relates clearly with the suffering of the Messiah.
But as for you and me, how do we handle those moments in life when our emotions are raw or when we witness the dark side of humanity? This psalm reminds us that the scope of prayer is comprehensive and broad. There is nothing in life that escapes the scope of prayer. So, bring before God those things that anger you. Bring before God the issues that frustrate and annoy you. Tell to God in prayer, when you feel depressed, lonely, or scared, but do not forget to give him praise. God’s healing comes to us when we lay before him everything there is in our heart. To pray is to surrender completely to God, and that is our calling. Amen!