We are officially in the season of Lent. This 40-day time of solemn preparation for the celebration of Easter Sunday is often marked by “giving something up.” This is always a good practice for those of us who have slipped into a spiritual lethargy since last Lent, methinks! I encourage the plus/minus form of Lent-making. In other words, don’t just give something up, but add something new in its place.
This year I decided to teach a Lent Bible Study in my congregation. It is my own personal “adding to.” I know that the discipline of preparing for class each week will add to my own discipleship and shake me out of my complacency. Our first lesson is on prayer, and already God is working in my spirit to teach me things I need to learn about prayer.
So imagine my joy when Psalm 25 came along in today‘s lectionary. Not only is David’s psalm a prayer, but it also teaches us about prayer! Let’s find those teaching points together today.
Psalm 25 (New Revised Standard Version)
To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
2 O my God, in you I trust;
do not let me be put to shame;
do not let my enemies exult over me.
3 Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame;
let them be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.
We can’t enter a conversation with the Lord without lifting up our soul. This first sentence reminds us that we need to be deliberate in seeking and entering God’s presence. To lift up one’s soul is to expose everything we are dealing with in our hearts and minds to him. We enter a sacred chamber and wait, trusting God’s immediate presence. Through prevenient grace, we know that he is already in the chamber. We wait for OUR spirit to catch up with his presence.
4 Make me to know your ways, O Lord;
teach me your paths.
5 Lead me in your truth, and teach me,
for you are the God of my salvation;
for you I wait all day long.
So often our prayers are mere lists of needs and wants. Indeed, God inclines his ear to hear our wailing, but David reminds us that if we pause our litany of woes long enough, we can also be taught and led into God’s ways and his truth. The difference is LISTENING. God gave us two ears and one mouth. They should be used proportionally in prayer. Speak once. Listen twice.
6 Be mindful of your mercy, O Lord, and of your steadfast love,
for they have been from of old.
7 Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions;
according to your steadfast love remember me,
for your goodness’ sake, O Lord!
Reminding God of his goodness is a psalmist’s trick to remind the reader of God’s mercy and steadfast love. When we remember those truths, our prayers are more honest and forthcoming. And remembering that God forgets our sins gives us permission to also forget them.
8 Good and upright is the Lord;
therefore he instructs sinners in the way.
9 He leads the humble in what is right,
and teaches the humble his way.
10 All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness,
for those who keep his covenant and his decrees.
The Psalmist ends with more references to instructing, teaching, and leading.
What are you learning about prayer today? How will your prayers during Lent be different than before? Being humble in your approach to God is the first step. Humility calls us to be listening learners rather than loud demanders.
May we all rejoice in practicing listening, and may we celebrate a Holy Lent this year.