As a young person, I carried a Bible with a list of scripture references, many of them from the Psalms, carefully Scotch-taped inside the cover. Each was a promise, or an encouragement, or a word of hope for a variety of everyday struggles: when you feel afraid, when you are lonely, when you are tempted, when you are sad. I thought of that list as I was reading the Psalms in preparation for this month of devotions, and I remembered that though I may not personally be afraid, or lonely, or tempted, or sad (or anything!), there are countless people in the world who ARE. And many of them may be so terribly afraid, or lonely, or tempted, or sad, or anything, that they cannot even shape words into prayer.
Together, as the community of faith, we can claim the promises of God and pray on behalf of those who have no words.
Praying Psalm 34 for Those who Simply Cannot Praise
Proclaim with me the greatness of Yahweh, let us acclaim Yahweh’s name together. Yahweh is near to the broken-hearted. Yahweh helps those whose spirit is crushed.–Psalm 34: 3, 18, NJB
Possibly, praising God should be the first and the easiest thing we ever do. The Psalmist certainly wrote plenty about it—broke out all the loudest instruments, summoned the congregation, extolled the wonders of creation and the victories of the Lord! In the worst of life’s battles, struggling against the most deadly enemies (both external and internal), the psalms pronounce praise to the God of all things! Praise God though all things! Praise God IN all things!
To be honest, I can see how the Psalms could be off-putting because of this insistence, this unending confidence, that God is to be praised no matter how broken our hearts are, no matter how crushed our spirits. If I try, though, I can hear these songs set in a minor key, instead of as a rousing chorus. I can hear them in a different tone, hoarse with tears instead of bursting with joy. And then–in that pain-scarred, worn-out, gently-echoing song–there is room even for those who are so broken, so crushed, they cannot bring themselves to join in with a raucous congregation or a resounding orchestra.
God, worthy of praise,
keep your promise and answer your people with joy,
even (and especially)
when they are so weary,
that they simply cannot form words of praise.
Let us lend them our words of encouragement,
of caring, of companionship.
Let us carry their brokenness in our own prayers.
Let us match our tears to theirs–and not demand that they
match their joy to ours–so we may praise you in one voice.
With the Psalmist we pray for all who cannot bring themselves to praise:
make your camp around them;
be their refuge of comfort and peace. (v. 7)
Bless them with reassurance of your goodness, (v. 8)
even in the worst of the bad times.
Give them confidence in your care, and
show them that you can be trusted to save them. (vv. 9-10)
Look on them with gentleness, and
listen to the sound of their tears; (v. 15)
in your steadfast goodness, gather them near to you. (v. 18)
When they are broken, heal them.
When they are crushed, restore them. (v. 20)
In all their troubles, rescue them (v. 17)
so they may sing your praise
with ever-increasing joy.