A man testifies to being immersed in crisis. He cries out to God so intensely he can hardly talk. At times, all he does is moan. God helps him by keeping his eyelids propped open, and miraculously holding up his hands so they do not become numb and fall. He wonders if God has forgotten him.
But something happens. He decides to start moving beyond his complaints to thinking of all God has done in the past. And the more he thinks about it, the more his spirit revives.
The man’s name is Asaph. His testimony is recorded in the seventy-seventh Psalm.
We think prayer is all about changing negative circumstances. It is actually more about changing us.
Prayer accomplishes two critical things in us.
First, we start seeing things differently. When we are in trouble, the greatest gift we can have, short of actual deliverance, is God’s perspective. God’s perspective shows us how things actually are, not how we feel they are. It can be certainly be gained through talking to others, or perhaps even calming down and thinking things through ourselves. But undoubtedly the best way to gain God’s perspective is through prayer, talking with God himself about how he sees things. There he shows us that he is the same faithful God he has always been. He has the answer in hand, even if we don’t know what it is.
Second, it focuses us on God, not ourselves. Challenging circumstances have birthed many a pity-party among Christians, a sad event in which our whole world is centred around our suffering. As Asaph entered the place of prayer and pondered the greatness of God, the force of his situation lessened, and his focus, perhaps subconsciously, turned to God. Asaph taught us a powerful lesson. In trouble, don’t look around or within. Look up. That’s where the answer is.
And this thought leads us to notice an interesting thing about the Psalm. Its beginning is marked by about a dozen occurrences of the pronoun “I”. At its end, it contains about a dozen occurrences of the pronoun “you”. The “I” of Asaph has disappeared in the “you” of God.Every so often, we should conduct a little audit of how we pray. How much is about me and how much is about God? The more it’s about God, the better it will be for us. Jesus said it this way: seek his kingdom and he’ll look after our problems.
Asaph ended the Psalm in better shape than he began it. And he lived to write quite a few more Psalms, which proves, I think, that the Lord did answer his prayer.
I’ll close with these words he wrote a while later:
For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere.
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.
For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favour and honour. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.
O Lord of hosts, blessed is the one who trusts in you!
It seems prayer had done him good. Don’t look around, look up!
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