A Reading from Psalm 55
1 Give ear to my prayer, O God;
do not hide yourself from my supplication.
2 Attend to me and answer me;
I am troubled in my complaint.
I am distraught 3 by the noise of the enemy,
because of the clamor of the wicked.
For they bring trouble upon me,
and in anger they bear a grudge against me.
4 My heart is in anguish within me;
the terrors of death have fallen upon me.
5 Fear and trembling come upon me,
and horror overwhelms me.
6 And I say, “O that I had wings like a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest;
7 truly, I would flee far away;
I would lodge in the wilderness; Selah
8 I would hurry to find a shelter for myself
from the raging wind and tempest.”
9 Confuse, O Lord, confound their speech,
for I see violence and strife in the city.
10 Day and night they go around it
on its walls,
and iniquity and trouble are within it;
11 ruin is in its midst;
oppression and fraud
do not depart from its marketplace.
12 It is not enemies who taunt me —
I could bear that;
it is not adversaries who deal insolently with me —
I could hide from them.
13 But it is you, my equal,
my companion, my familiar friend,
14 with whom I kept pleasant company;
we walked in the house of God with the throng.
15 Let death come upon them;
let them go down alive to Sheol,
for evil is in their homes and in their hearts.
16 But I call upon God,
and the Lord will save me.
17 Evening and morning and at noon
I utter my complaint and moan,
and he will hear my voice.
18 He will redeem me unharmed
from the battle that I wage,
for many are arrayed against me.
19 God, who is enthroned from of old, Selah
will hear and will humble them,
because they do not change
and do not fear God.
20 My companion laid hands on a friend
and violated a covenant with me
21 with speech smoother than butter
but with a heart set on war,
with words that were softer than oil
but in fact were drawn swords.
22 Cast your burden on the Lord,
and he will sustain you;
he will never permit
the righteous to be moved.
23 But you, O God, will cast them down
into the lowest pit;
the bloodthirsty and treacherous
shall not live out half their days.
But I will trust in you.
So many of the psalms, especially this week, use the phrase “hear my prayer, O God,” or a variation thereof. The phrase echoes in nagging, almost recalcitrant repetition. The phrase is almost a question. “Do you hear my prayer?” The phrase represents what is so hard about the Psalter: the insistence of the first-person singular. It means that one cannot pray the psalm with any comfortable distance. The use of I, me, my, and mine over and over again puts the psalm right in front of your nose. And so we have to pray: “Hear my prayer. Do you hear my prayer?”
There is no doctrine, catechism, or platitude that saves your heart when God doesn’t hear your prayer. Posturing doesn’t save, only God does. The psalmist spells out his complaint: his friends have left him, the terrors of death surround him, the adversary taunts him — all pretty relatable and familiar stuff. The psalmist is lonely — we are lonely. We wonder if God hears and if God will save. We wonder, but we also know. We believe, but we need help with our unbelief. “I will call upon God, and the LORD will deliver me.”
We know the story, especially this week. God created us, God came to us in flesh, and God saves us fully and finally on the cross. We know this, and we know it with our all our heart, soul mind and strength. But we doubt it even just a little — or a lot. God, Psalm 55, gave us words to express our belief and our unbelief — songs for sighing until we see him not through a mirror dimly, but face to face.
Chase Benefiel is a friend, Tennesseean, preacher, and student (in that order) currently finishing his M.Div. at Duke Divinity School.
Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer
Today we pray for:
The Diocese of Saldanha Bay – The Anglican Church of Southern Africa
Christ Church Georgetown, Washington, D.C.