Prayer is a funny thing. It is so deeply personal, but it’s also on a grand scale. We have the privilege of offering up our sin, our mistakes, our fears, our worries, and our deepest longings to the Creator of the Universe. We have examples from the Psalms of God’s people bringing exactly those petitions to the Lord. I am so thankful for those first Biblical scribes who took these ancient prayers and songs and passed them down to us, preserving them for us.
Reading and praying the psalms in the wilds of creation is a perfect way to offer up a prayer of deep-held longing or regret or fear or uncertainty. You can bask in the vivid scenery before you as you seek to translate your prayers into the language of the prayers that might have been offered in those places so many centuries before.
I went hiking in the mountains of Alaska with friends in early May. The last remnants of winter were just beginning to fade away. Piles of snow were mixed with rich mud and flowing trickles of water, and you could hear the bubbling sounds of mountain springs as snow slowly melted down the rocky mountain sides. It was a strange experience. It was warm enough that we were sweating in our long-sleeved shirts and jeans, surrounded by fresh growth and budding blueberry bushes, struggling to wade through hip-deep snow. As we made our way along the barely-there path to our ultimate destination, a large rock in the middle of a stunning valley of mountains, we skirted around thick, miry mud and snow in equal measure. Early spring in Alaska was strenuous to hike through, yet gorgeous and untamed.
Though I grew up in the woods of Northern Michigan, wandering toward that rock in the middle of a mountain valley is the closest I ever came to understanding what it means to sink into the mire. The mud wasn’t that deep or thick, particularly with the permanently frozen ground lying mere feet below us, but wandering on top of snow with the certain knowledge that you could fall and sink to your hips at any moment came vividly to mind as I read these words from David.
Rescue me from the mire,
do not let me sink;
deliver me from those who hate me,
from the deep waters.
Do not let the floodwaters engulf me
or the depths swallow me up
or the pit close its mouth over me.
Every time I missed a step and sank through the snow, it happened with an immediacy that took my breath away. One moment I was standing on solid ground, the next moment my leg was down in a gully of snow. As we pushed forward and through, each of us sank through the snow at least once. It took energy, core muscle strength, and determination to pull ourselves up and continue, knowing it could happen again at any moment.
I don’t know your story, but I have faced moments in my life in which my frequent prayers to the Lord felt something along the lines of what we find in Psalm 69. Much like my hike through the wilds of the Alaskan mountains, I remember striding forward, following the path laid before me, when suddenly something happened that sunk my spirits deep. In those moments and in those seasons, prayers like these gave me permission to pray with honesty and vulnerability before the Lord. I offered Him everything in those prayers, and the ability to do so was a gift of grace and sustenance in those seasons.
In his commentary, Derek Kidner says that this Psalm “demonstrates the value of putting one’s plight into words before God, for David’s account of his crisis clarifies and grows more reflective as he prays.”1
In the seasons in which you find yourself slipping quickly with your spirits sinking deep, I would encourage you to find some wilderness and wander there, praying with the boldness and ferocity of our psalmists. Pray like David, trusting that the Lord, the Creator of the Universe, hears and is invested in the outcome. And, even in those seasons where you are moving forward with strength and courage, certain of the path before you, I would encourage you to pray with vulnerability like the Psalmists, because God is just as invested in those prayers as He is to the ones we offer in crisis. Prayer really is a funny thing. A funny, grace-filled, incredible thing.
Kidner, D. (1973). Psalms 1-72: Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries. Downers Grove: IVP Academic. ↩