Ugly Prayers

“Shall Your lovingkindness be declared in the grave? Or Your faithfulness in the place of destruction? Shall Your wonders be known in the dark? And Your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness? But to You I have cried out, O Lord, and in the morning my prayer comes before You.”  Psalm 88:11–13

Have you ever thought back over a prayer you’ve prayed to God and thought to yourself, “What an ugly prayer. How could God ever find that acceptable? What right do I have to talk to God like that?”

If I had prayed a prayer like the one recorded in Psalm eighty-eight I might have thought that afterward. The entire psalm is one long complaint that God has taken so long to give evidence that he has heard and is answering the psalmist’s petition. 

The psalmist laments that God has left him to suffer alone with his unnamed hardship. His heart is burdened and his friends are far away and it seems that God himself has abandoned him to his troubles.

In the middle of the psalm the psalmist even tries to entice God into action by saying that if he dies he won’t be able to worship and praise him anymore because God’s lovingkindness and wonders can’t be declared in the grave. 

Most psalms of lament eventually do come round to an awareness of God’s steadfast presence and an expression of faith but psalm eighty-eight does not. At the time of its writing its author is still so overburdened by the weight of his trial that he has yet to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Still in his despair he knows where to turn. He turns to God. 

Sometimes life’s like that for us. The trials come fast and heavy and we’re overwhelmed before we can find the words to express our faith. The only thing we have to bring to God is a description of the pain and isolation we feel, and then to offer our pitiful bargains to him, and the good news is God hears and he accepts our prayers, even ugly prayers like that.

I’ll admit it. At first I had a hard time liking psalm eighty-eight but now I love it. In this psalm I have 2500 year old evidence that God hears, remembers, and treasures my prayers no matter how ugly they are. The most important thing is that I bring my prayers to him. 

God knows my brokenness. He’s not surprised or turned off by my capacity for ugliness. He hears me and he accepts my prayers even when he has to discipline me. My prayers may not alter the course of God’s intervention in my life, after all, he knows what is best, but psalm eighty-eight is proof to me that he does hear and he does care. Perhaps, most especially when I find it hardest to see how loving and kind he really is. 

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