The beginning of the end of my Grandmother’s life came early one morning. I knew she had cancer; but to my young and hopeful mind she would survive.
What signaled the change I do not know, but I woke to hushed whispers and frantic activity. A blood cot to the brain, they said.
I loved my Grandma. She was a towering presence of love and solid faith, a careful listener, a font of wise advise. The realization that her life was nearly over hit me like a wall. As the others left in the ambulance, I turned the water as hot as it would go, drowned my pain in the shower and screamed at God.
I feel the intensity of that prayer in Psalm 102, the fifth penitential psalm.
I feel its audacity, too: me telling God what he can and can’t do. Demanding his assistance. Presuming his attention and immediate help. The opening plea contains five strong imperatives, each one intensely directed at God: “Hear my prayer.” “Let my cry come to thee!” “Do not hide.” “Incline thy ear.” “Answer me speedily!” This may be a desperate cry but already there is hope: it is addressed to someone the psalmist has a claim on. God may not “owe” him anything, but there is nothing so strong as the claim of love.
Because of God’s immense love for us we can throw ourselves on him in our pain, whatever its source, even in the self-inflicted pain of sin. We can cry, we can yell, we can beg like a child who screams “Mo….m!” at the first sign of trouble, who assumes she can and will help. God can and will help, and he wants to.
When you read Psalm 102 today, try to listen with your ears. Read it out loud, if that helps. Pay attention when you read “But thou…” in vs. 12. “But God” has been a great turning point in my life, a reminder that whatever else is true, “But God” – there is a greater reality.
What makes the difference to the psalmist, after that “But”? Look for indications of God’s character and promises. Things he will do because of those. Things he has done that prove he is able. Take your own prayer of confession before him, and rest in the psalmist’s final realization: “but thou art the same, and thy years have no end.” The psalmist’s God is your God, too.
PS: It seems that over the course of the years, a plea on behalf of the people of Israel was inserted into the plea of this individual (see vss. 13-22). Possibly the original prayer was felt to be particularly apt, to those who returned home to Jerusalem after exile in Babylon. If you can’t pray the first part with meaning for yourself today, maybe you can pray the entire Psalm on behalf of God’s church.
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To incorporate lectio divina into your prayer and better recognize where you have sinned, express your sorrow, and ask forgiveness:
Pray: Incline Thine ear, O Lord, and show me mercy, for I am a sinner before Thee.
Read Psalm 102 all the way through several times. At least one time, read it out loud.
Reflect on the same psalm: read it slowly, lingering where your heart draws you.
Consider these questions, writing your answers in a journal if desired:
- What stands out to you in this Psalm?
- What do you hear God saying to you, personally?
Respond: What will you do about what you have heard? Respond to God in prayer.
Rest in his presence.
Close: Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
© 2014 Sarah Christmyer
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2016 update: Set aside ten minutes a day during Lent for a “spiritual cleanse” using my new journal based on these posts, Create in Me a Clean Heart: 10 Minutes a Day in the Penitential Psalms, available in paperback and on Kindle.