Aside from the Lord’s Prayer, Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep and the Doxology, I grew up understanding prayer as something being spontaneous and free flowing. Prayer emerged from need (in my mind’s eye, Mom is taking notes while on the phone as part of the church prayer chain). So often, my own words fail to articulate the thoughts and deep longings swirling around inside of me. It’s been later in life that ancient, written prayers have brought me into God’s company.
Jews prayed and sang psalms across the millennia. I imagine Jesus praying Psalm 63 out loud in the temple with his Jewish brothers. Reading the Psalm through this lens magnifies its force and meaning. I find myself calling out to God repeatedly, “O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my should thirsts for you, my body longs for you…” as I crave his nearness, his presence. “I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory.” Just like David, God invites me to enjoy his mysterious and divine company. How in the world can this be true? “Because your love (hesed/lovingkindness/mercy) is better than life…”
When I receive and accept God’s invitation to draw near him and be in his presence, “My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods.” The Hebrew words for the “richest of foods” mean “fat” and “abundance” not “malnourished” and “inadequate.” The satisfied soul can’t help but respond with gratitude and joy.
When I enter into God’s company, this place where I quiet myself to hear his words of love and acceptance, I know his protection and care. When I open myself up to his Word, when scriptures and songs about God come into my thoughts, the invitation to receive his love resounds. It can happen throughout the day or even in the wee hours of the morning, “On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night.” When I set aside distractions and set my focus on Christ, I know his peace and protection. “Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings.” So why do I choose business and distraction over the invitation to lean into God?
Hearing and accepting God’s call to draw near doesn’t guarantee a constant spiritual and emotional high. David wrote plenty of other psalms which described feelings of abandonment and loneliness, but he consistently, faithfully acknowledges God’s faithfulness, “My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.” This prayer anchors me to God no matter what the circumstance or the state of my emotional wellbeing. The truth is that when I call out to God, I call on the One who hears me… loves me… and holds me close to his heart.