11 December, 2006

Engaging God: One Way to Write a Prayer

Psalm 124,

A Song of Ascents. Of David.
124:1 If it had not been the Lord who was on our side—
let Israel now say—
2 if it had not been the Lord who was on our side
when people rose up against us,
3 then they would have swallowed us up alive,
when their anger was kindled against us;
4 then the flood would have swept us away,
the torrent would have gone over us;
5 then over us would have gone
the raging waters.

6 Blessed be the Lord,
who has not given us
as prey to their teeth!
7 We have escaped like a bird
from the snare of the fowlers;
the snare is broken,
and we have escaped!

8 Our help is in the name of the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.

If you want to try retelling a Psalm in a new way, I am going to recommend one method. It may not be simple, and it may not be easy, but it can really get the juices flowing.

I would only recommend one thing. If you do give it a go, let at least one person see it. Most of us find it really hard to believe our art is worthy, but that's because we think there's a standard. What matters is that it's you. I do some low quality stuff, but even in that the "real me" is seen by those who love me. It's worth the agony of being seen. Besides, there's nothing quite so fulfilling as finding out that the piece of doubtful work that flowed from my fingers meant something to someone else, and nothing quite so deadening as wondering a hidden piece might have been enjoyed by someone. If no one else does, I promise to love it. :-)

This kind of prayer is a blending of three things.
1) Divinely inspired scripture.
2) The revelation of God in Christ 2000 years ago.
3) A grain of dust.

When a snowflake is formed, it is a combination of water, environment and a single grain of dust. (A snowflake can be formed without that seed particle, but it's much easier if you have one.) And from those 3 simple ingredients come a billion, billion snowflakes, every one of them unique.

Our grain of dust will be some life experience that will make our prayer form up more easily. Sometimes we will have a mourning in our heart, and sometimes a rejoicing. Sometimes we have a request. Whatever is happening, we take it to the Lord and blend it with our knowledge of Him, and the Psalmist's willingness to be demanding. David was never bashful about asking for that which he needed. He will help us be as bold.

Our water will be Psalm 124.
Our environment will be whatever we have learned about Christ. (Learning more DOES help you pray better.)
Our grain of dust will be "grinches who want Christmas to go away." (Me? Maybe not. I don't want Christmas to go away, just advertising for it.) Forgive me if my step-by-step example is not very heavy. :-)

124:1 If it had not been the Lord who was on our side—
let Israel now say—


Water) Thankfulness to the Lord. We get to start in this Psalm with the reminder that He is on our side. And we are going to say something about that out loud.
Environ) In the 21st century, we have seen the Lord became the Lamb and died for us. We can declare much more completely how He is on our side than David could. Also, we are spiritual Israel, so we can direct this to ourselves.
Dust) The grinches are coming! The grinches are coming!

We can't fit all that in without getting to wordy, so what's a good balance?

Flake) If the Messiah had not come and stood with us-
Let the church now say-

2 if it had not been the Lord who was on our side
when people rose up against us,


Water) A repeat is a chance to be poetic by repeating or expanding on the first repetition. But, here we see our enemy for the first time. The people are not just one enemy, but a whole nation or culture.
Environ) Well, not much new here. Christ is the King over the people. Maybe that would be of some help.
Dust) The people in this Psalm are our grinches. That's pretty easy. Is it fair to say the grinches are rising up? Heck yeah! We grinches are a curmudgeonly lot, not at all happy to just sit around and wait for people to come to us. We go to your parties, and grinch all over you.

Flake) If the Child had not been born to us -
When the grinches rose up against us,

3 then they would have swallowed us up alive,
when their anger was kindled against us;


Ah. Now we see trouble appearing!

Water) David and God's people were facing death in this Psalm. Maybe that's not quite as dramatic as facing a Christmas full of, "Bah, humbug!" but we can understand the difference I'm sure. We have to express our complaint, though. Our complaint is real, if minor, and we can make it with confidence.
Environ) Many times, the evil of the Psalms can be paralleled to the evil in our own hearts. Many times, it is the evil of our own hearts that threatens to swallow us up. Or it can be related to the work of Satan to cover up the Truth with his lies, and to tempt us to our own destruction.
Dust) The grinches don't hate Christmas. They hate Christ, and it is toward Christ they direct their attacks by attacking us. Remember the serpent trying to drown the mother and Child with their many floods in the Revelation.

Flake) Then they would have swallowed our joy in His advent
When they vaunted their anger against us;

4 then the flood would have swept us away,
the torrent would have gone over us;


Water) David is not afraid to say he is afraid. So many leaders pretend that they stand above the fray, and know their salvation is coming. Yeah. Whatever. David knew no such thing. I know no such thing. When the flood comes, I am under it, looking up. No prayer worth its salt is spoken fully from a position of power. At some point, the fear has to be expressed. The KJV says the stream would have gone over our soul. It's a powerful fear.
Environ) Going back to the Revelation, the flood directed at the mother and Babe is swallowed up when the earth opens. God didn't just make it go away. He created a natural/supernatural situation that cured the problem. It's good to pray for visible answers to prayer.
Dust) Grinching against Christ is not exactly the end of the world, or of our lives, but it really is a complaint.

Flake) Their rage against the Babe would have driven us away
The river of their political correctness would have silenced our souls

5 then over us would have gone
the raging waters.


Water) David is drawing a picture of raging death that would have tossed and robbed us of breath. This is the last negative verse, so we have to give it some punch. We have to go there, and feel the fear.
Environ) Christ is even resurrected in the extreme of death. Sometimes, with the Psalms, it is helpful to pray as if you have died and need also to be resurrected. We don't need to fear doing this, because we have died with Christ.
Dust) Maybe here is where I should repent of having been a grinch my sad ol' self? Either way, we have to remind ourselves how awful it is to walk through a shopping mall that fears Christ, yet caters to every worldly lust and greed and has to gall to do it in His Name.

Flake) The lies of wrath and diversity would have tossed us and buried our souls

6 Blessed be the Lord,
who has not given us
as prey to their teeth!


Water) Remembrance! At long last, we can allow ourselves to remember the Sun of Righteousness that saves us from the greedy storms, water and teeth of our enemies!
Environ) We know Christ was actually born, the helpless King of the eternal kingdom. We also know He has placed His Spirit in our hearts to overcome every lie.
Dust) The world really, truly, actually wants to destroy everything in us. One little way they do it by forcing us to hide the Babe in a mockery of charity to those who do not love Him. In the name of kindness they tear at our hearts.

Flake) Blessed Jesus came,
And the sight of Him delivers us
He preserves us from their rending lies

(Everything I did with "teeth" sounded worse to me. Oh well.)

7 We have escaped like a bird
from the snare of the fowlers;
the snare is broken,
and we have escaped!


Water) David switches to his third picture here. The snare follows the teeth that follow the floods. I'm not a good enough poet to follow him effectively through these pictures, so I am not going to try. The point is that we were caught in a snare built just for us, but the snare broke. It's not that we were fast or crafty little birds, or that God lifted us away, but that He broke the plans of His enemy.
Environ) Ah, but don't look for that breaking in the headlines. It's not that God caused the political correctness gurus to stumble, but that in His Son He shattered their might forever. We focus on what He did.
Dust) In looking for Christ's work, I see two ways to go:
1) Jesus overcomes our enemies.
2) Ignore the dust completely. Let this verse be Pure Jesus, and forget everything else to sing His praise.

Flake 1) Our hearts are preserved from their ambush
From their lying loves we are freed
Our love is to the Master
And His nativity we proclaim!

Flake 2) Our hearts fly to our Master
Held only by His beautiful love
Bound wholly to His glory
Our love grows as wide as the skies.

8 Our help is in the name of the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.


Water) I have the hardest time with the recaps. David brings to mind the Name and power of the Lord.
Environ) I am reminded that there is only one Name given by which we must be saved, and only One worthy to receive glory and honor and power, and only One Who prevailed to take the book and loose the seals thereof.
Dust) I want to look back to the Babe and forward to the Lion of Judah Who took the book, broke the seals and ended the reign of terror against us. I don't know if I can.

Flake) Our salvation is in the Babe with no bed
He prevails to redeem heaven, earth and us - His own.


OK. I didn't catch everything I wanted, but then I never do.

Now, if this were a live exercise, I would set the Flakes aside for a day or two, and read them again to see whether they flowed at all. They won't. They never do. But with a little editing, they usually start to sound like a whole picture, instead of individual sentences and snippets. With the last prayer I did, I found out that I had completely changed subjects halfway through the retelling. I picked the second theme, threw the first away, and edited the keeper like a mad fool. :-)

We're all different. I never know where I'm going until I get there.

Everyone does this differently. I have known people to 1) outline these things, and stick to their outline like glue, 2) wander in a free-association that left almost no resemblance to the original, and 3) just change the tense of the verbs and the names of the subjects leaving everything almost exactly as it was. All three forms have created beautiful prayers. All three forms revealed a little bit of Christ revealed in them.

I hope you'll give this a try, and I hope you'll share with someone what comes out of it.

(Wait until you hear what comes next. :-)

4 comments:

Milly said...

I'll be reading this a few times. Very good
Thank you

Missy said...

Codepoke, this is really great. I have such a tough time with prayer unless I am in dire straits. I had made a goal to work on praise, and singing was all I could do - which is still awesome. But I am going to try this and do some posts with my results. Thanks!

codepoke said...

Thank you so much, both of you. Here's hoping it's helpful somehow. :-)

Missy said...

CP, I know this post has been some time ago, but I had bookmarked it to work on it myself.

I finally tried it and thought I would share.

(biting nails)
Thanks!