We are all psalmists. We may not all pray in rhyming verse or elegant phrases, but anyone who speaks honestly with God is a psalmist. If you are speaking your heart song, whatever that may be at the moment, you are a poet in the highest sense of the word. I love reading in the book of Psalms every day because it reminds me to be honest with God. The introduction to Psalm 102 in the New Living Translation reads, “A prayer of one overwhelmed with trouble, pouring out problems before the Lord.”
How many times have I been there, pouring out my troubles to God? And the overwhelmed author of Psalm 102 lays it all out: “For my days disappear like smoke, and my bones burn like red-hot coals. My heart is sick, withered like grass, and I have lost my appetite.” Yes! (Except for the appetite part – I’m a stress eater, but I talk to God about that, too.) God, listen to me and how horrible I feel right now. These are my problems, and I want you to do something about them now! Quite a few psalms go this way; David was very emphatic about what he wanted God to do about his enemies. It obviously doesn’t hurt to be very specific with God.
But psalms almost never end with just problem dumping and to-do lists for God. Even Psalm 102, which purports to be “a prayer of one overwhelmed with trouble, pouring out problems before the Lord,” doesn’t end with merely pouring out problems. Less than half-way through the dump session, the focus shifts from problems to perfection, “But you, O Lord, will sit on your throne forever. Your fame will endure to every generation,” and ends with, “But you are always the same; you will live forever. The children of your people will live in security. Their children’s children will thrive in your presence.”
Wait… What? What happened to all the troubles? You know they didn’t just vanish, but they certainly disappeared from view when compared to God. That’s the thing I miss sometimes in my moments of being real with God. I tell him my problems, and I tell him what I want him to do about them, but I don’t always stop and reflect on who God is. I don’t always look at look at his creation and marvel at his omnipotence. I don’t always stop and drink in his grace or swim in the depths of his mercy. I don’t always praise his permanence and immovability. My psalms are often incomplete.
My psalms are anemic and self-centered, and so they really aren’t songs of praise worthy of God; they aren’t psalms at all. I must praise God if I am ever to complete my songs. Some days this feels impossible. I have to admit that when I am cleaning up cat hairballs and the never-ending pile of dishes in the sink while a toddler screams at me because she is mad that it’s Tuesday, I am almost never thinking of how great God is. And when I am overwhelmed with stress from work and home and just trying to get through the day, I don’t usually shout about the amazing work of God around me. I am too focused on shouting down the craziness or shoving chocolate down my throat in a misguided attempt to cope.
But when I get it right, when I sing a whole song to God and really spend time meditating on him, my psalms start to sing praise and joy. The troubles aren’t gone, but they seem infinitely smaller compared to infinite glory and goodness. When I focus on God and his grace, I quit focusing on me, and I am more eager to serve and be kind to people around me. I can see past the pain and frustration at hand and look at the bigger picture and know that God is always and unchanging even when my circumstances are difficult. My psalms are complete in those moments. My soul can sing even when my eyes are full of tears.