Frustration & Prayer (Rethinking Psalm 137): Towards A Theology Of Prayer, Pt. 9

In the last two posts of this series (see below for links), I explored the notion of "genuine prayer". In short, I urged that since God is the most genuine and relational being in existence (my term: Omnirelational), then He desires genuine relationships with us. The logic follows, then, that He desires genuine prayers from us. In other words, our prayers should avoid manipulation and they should also avoid self-focus, however, they should also be genuine enough that when there is tension between God's wants & desires and ours, we can express those. At the risk of being repetitive, I shall say here once more: God is not threatened by our thoughts, emotions or words.

It is my belief that much of the reason that Christians get frustrated with prayer is first and foremost that they have an incredibly ill-informed definition of what prayer is and what it is about. What flows from this, then, is bad theology of prayer altogether; if the starting point and foundation is errant, then what follows will be too. This is why we see some people treating prayer like it is magic, some people shunning it, some people attempting to manipulate it and some people treating it as a spiritual gift that they have been given that is different from that of everyone else. All of these views of prayer are half-baked and problematic.

If we may recall, I define prayer as: Attending to the presence of God both around us and in us. From this, I argue that prayer is, in the main, about finding out God's wants and desires and how we can fulfill those and please Him (and I do not say this in the sense of God being manipulative to us either; again, see my previous posts). If this is our approach to prayer, then our stance and / or attitude should be that of genuinness on the one hand and humility on the other. Having a healthy balance of these is what makes prayer fruitful.

One of the most graphic prayers recorded in the Scriptures but one of the most (if not THE most) genuine, is that of Psalm 137. This Psalm is known mostly for verse 9, issued by an Israelite against Babylon who has brought strife upon all Israel, which reads: "How blessed will be the one who seizes and dashes the heads of [Babylon's] little ones against the rocks." If nothing else, there is an incredible amount of authenticity and genuineness in this prayer!

Still, it has troubled many! Still, it has caused many to level incredibly accusations against the Scriptures! Still, it is graphic! Yet, what if we stepped back from that aspect of it for a moment and understood it differently. First of all, we could understand it in its socio-literary context. This Psalm is categorized as a "Psalm of Lament". These "Psalms of Lament", of which there are several in the Hebrew Scriptures, all share certain characteristics and structures. These "prayers" of lament, were born out of deep pain and genuine heartache (Cf. Pss: 35, 69, 88, 109, 140). These laments were penned during the exile, a time when Israel had been seized and ruled over by a tyrant king (Nebuchadnezzar; Cf. Jer. 29).

They also are all structured in 3 parts: 1) Lament, 2) Confession / Trust, 3) Pleading. In the same way that someone might write a ballad today (all ballads share certain characteristics), when someone was issuing a prayer imbued with lament, there was a typical way of doing so. In addition to understanding the socio-political and socio-literary contexts of this ancient lament, Psalm 137 tends not trouble me because there is a certain theology that undergirds it: A theology of genuineness and trust. At this point, a contrast might be of help.

In today's world, many persons in religious circles are vicious radicals. They pray laments that might often read like Psalm 137 but the difference is, they tend to actually carry these horrid events out. When the writer of Psalm 137.9 uttered those words, they were merely expressions of emotions, not a call to action. I find it helpful to think of it this way: When Psalm 137.9 was penned, the author, at that point, was giving his thoughts and emotions over to God. In giving them over to God, they now belonged to God and he could no longer act on them.

And friends, in my opinion, this is an incredibly healthy view and outworking of prayer! How much more peaceful would the world be today if Christians alone held to this mindset? How much more would we be able to live side-by-side without warring against one another if, instead of carrying out the vengeful desires of our hearts, we took them, in an authentic manner and mode, to God and gave them over to Him. Now, when I say "give them over" here, I do not mean give them over so He can carry out the warring and violence. I mean give them over so that He, in all of His genuiness can find a way to bring peace to the situation!

If you have realized it yet, the point of this post is not only to piggyback on the previous article in this series about genuine prayer but also to show you a Scriptural example of it and what it can accomplish: peace! So, the next time that you are frustrated, don't hold back on going to God with it, in fact, doing anything else could result in devastating consequences!

One last note: I hope that by now you realize the difference between taking your frustations genuinely into prayer and "being frustrated with prayer". As I said above, being frustrated with prayer can often be traced back to a bad definition and theology of prayer. And I would contend that in more cases than not, those frustrated "with" prayer, are often the ones who are not being genuine during the prayer event. A word of advice: If you are someone who is frustrated with prayer, then rethink your defintion of prayer and attempt to examine your genuiness in prayer. Just as well, next time you go into prayer, leave the focus off of yourself and focus solely on God, asking Him what He wants and desires! If it takes 5, 10, 20, 30 or 50 times of doing this before you get any inklings, well, keep doing it. And if you start to get frustrated, well, feel free to say so!!!


Other posts in this series:

1) Defining Prayer
2) Imaging Prayer
3) Asking in Prayer
4) Why I Don't Pray For Things
5) Pray Without Ceasing? Why?
6) Does Prayer Work?
7) Can Prayer Change God's Mind?

No comments:

Post a Comment