Prayer without Effort

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Two o’clock in the morning. Most nights, I habitually wake within minutes of this hour. I’m not a night owl, nor an early riser. Yet, for almost a year now, I’m awake in the blackness of mid-night for at least thirty minutes. 

I feel the need to pray, but as night images meld with inky darkness, my mind swirls unsettled and unfocused. I desire to use this time wisely, but find it difficult. However, with the clarity of daytime prayers, I’ve stumbled upon a way to initiate these hours into an activated faith

My secret? The Psalms. 

Every night, before retiring, I open a Bible app on my phone that allows for audio listening. Finding the Psalms, I ready my phone as well as my earbuds by my bedside. Then, when my mid-night waking occurs, I put in one of the earbuds and press play. Without disturbing my husband, I can begin to pray through the Psalms with David, Solomon, and other Old Testament poets. 

I’m discovering what the church father Athanasius spoke of in the fourth century. “To me, it seems,” he explains, “that the Psalms are to him who sings them as a mirror, wherein he may see himself and the motions of his soul, and with like feelings utter them. So also one who hears a psalm read takes it as if it were spoken concerning himself.” Listening to these prayers, praises, and hymns in silence, I resonate with the words of the Psalmist, allowing these ancient words to pray through me

Since this revelation some six months ago, I have cycled through the Psalter’s entirety several times. I have no goal per night, nor do I bother if I fall asleep mid-chapter. One night, having dozed through David’s psalmic prayers, I dreamed through all of Proverbs to awake somewhere in the middle of Ecclesiastes. 

Most nights, I pick up where I stopped the recording the night before, joining my heart with the writer, whether in joy, weeping, or resentment. I often match a name or situation with an appropriate verse or merely agree silently with the passage. I’ve discovered myself praying for:

  • My husband — “Who is the man that fears the Lord? He will instruct him in the way he should choose. His soul will abide in prosperity, and his descendants will inherit the land’ (Psalm 25:12-13);
  • My children — “Let our sons in their youth be as grown-up plants, and our daughters as corner pillars fashioned as for a palace” (Psalm 144:12); 
  • My anxiety — “When my anxious thoughts multiply within me, Thy consolations delight my soul” (Psalm 94:19);
  • A sick friend — “The Lord will protect him, and keep him alive, and he shall be called blessed upon the earth; and do not give him over to the desire of his enemies. The Lord will sustain him upon his sickbed; in his illness, Thou dost restore him to health” (Psalm 41:2-3).
  • A struggling friend — “Do not deliver the soul of Thy turtledove to the wild beast; Do not forget the life of Thine afflicted forever” (Psalm 74:19);
  • Fake media —“O God, shatter their teeth in their mouth; Break out the fangs of the young lions, O Lord” (Psalm 58:6);
  • Our country — “Had it not been the Lord who was on our side, when men rose up against us; then they would have swallowed us alive when their anger was kindled against us; then the waters would have engulfed us, the stream would have swept over our soul; then the raging water would have swept over our soul. Blessed be the Lord, who has not given us to be torn by their teeth” (Psalm 124:2-6).

Need I go on?

Whatever the sentiment of our soul, the Psalms well-expresses every detail. These divine words allow us to cry, rage, and express our disappointments. But rather than spiraling us into the hopelessness of introspection, praying the Psalter always lifts hearts into praise. Come with me on this journey and together “(we) will be satisfied with (His) likeness when (we) awake” (Psalm 17:15). 

Praying the Psalms allows us to cry, rage, and express our disappointment Click To Tweet