A Paranoid Prayer

9 Have mercy on me, Yahweh, for I am in distress.
My eye, my soul, and my body waste away with grief.
10 For my life is spent with sorrow,
my years with sighing.
My strength fails because of my iniquity.
My bones are wasted away.
11 Because of all my adversaries I have become utterly contemptible to my neighbors,
A fear to my acquaintances.
Those who saw me on the street fled from me.
12 I am forgotten from their hearts like a dead man.
I am like broken pottery.
13 For I have heard the slander of many, terror on every side,
while they conspire together against me,
they plot to take away my life.
14 But I trust in you, Yahweh.
I said, “You are my God.”
15 My times are in your hand.
Deliver me from the hand of my enemies, and from those who persecute me.
16 Make your face to shine on your servant.
Save me in your loving kindness. — Psalm 31:9-16 (WEB)

Today, instead of using my own translation, I’m using the World English Bible, which is a completely public domain translation of the Bible based on the American Standard Version. There’s no particular reason for doing this other than to make you aware of this online resource that can be freely quoted without concern about copyright and licensing.

The Psalms are of great comfort to me and to many people because they are so very human. Often we spend all of our time discussing the divine aspects when we talk about the Bible. But very much like Jesus, who is all human and all divine at the same time, so the Bible shows us both people and God. It’s that connection that makes it possible for us to hear God, and it makes it possible for us to understand the message he has given us in his word.

But the Psalms have a special place. I like to teach about prayer, but I’ve found that almost any principle I can state about prayer will be contradicted somewhere in the Bible. Some one of God’s great servants will have offered a prayer that sounds theologically wrong!

I don’t like to teach people to use their Bibles as charms, such as opening the Bible randomly, pointing to a text, and getting their guidance from that text. Yet people in scripture ask God for signs regularly, even though they don’t use that particular form. In the days before the Bible was a book, it would have been difficult to do! In modern times, I know of stories where people have gotten good guidance in this way. I still don’t think it’s the ideal way, but I know that God honors prayers.

Now here in Psalm 31 we have a prayer that sounds almost paranoid. People turn the other way on the street when the Psalmist comes by. Everybody’s after him! I recall the saying, “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you!” Well, that would go with this Psalm. It fits well with Jesus, which is why it’s one of the current lectionary passages for holy week. Everybody really was after him!

Now the teacher in me would like to suggest that he stop whining, be content in all circumstances, and present his petitions with thanksgiving to God. But yet here we have one of God’s great servants praying in a way that doesn’t fit the theological mold. I think that is tremendously important.

You see, all through scripture we find that God is able to answer our prayers better than we pray them. We worry about how to pray. God is just waiting for us to pray. Whether your prayer is paranoid, simple, or you even think it’s silly, go ahead and say it. God really can handle it.


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