by Bill Mowry (alongsider.com)
I know that stomping on a chalk drawing is not going to stop the pandemic. This fun act takes off some of the edge of being “self-isolated.” Nearly three months in the same house is pretty confining. Stomping on the virus helps me “get real.”
“Stomp!” read a neighbors’ chalk drawing. Nate is an art teacher at a local high school. He drew a replica of the corona virus on the street and invited people walking by to “stomp!” on the virus. So I did! And it felt good.
I’m sometimes “reality challenged.” When asked “How are you doing?” I quickly reply “Ok.” Behind my faint smile is an urge to stomp on the virus. My automatic reply masks my concern about rising unemployment, our shrinking retirement account, or our grandchildren’s health. I need to “get real” about how I’m feeling. My model for getting real is the prayer life of the Psalmists.
One bible commentary describes the Psalms as “God’s gift to train us in prayer.” If this is true, we have a pretty unusual training manual. This “manual” portrays prayer not as pious or polite conversation but a brutal and frank talk with God. Author and pastor Eugene Peterson writes that “prayer is forged in the crucible of trouble.” This book of prayers shows people conversing with God about trouble — talking in outrageous, passionate, and joyful ways. The Psalms teach me to get real with life and with God.
Sometimes the honesty of these authors scares me. I can’t believe the audacity of the prayers. I keep waiting for God to strike down the Psalmist for what he’s praying. Surely someone told these writers that it’s better to say “hallelujah” or “rejoice always” than to talk about their fears or anger. The Psalmists point to a more honest way.
The Psalms train me in making prayer an emotionally honest exercise; the Psalmists show how prayer is a heart-felt and brutal conversation with God. Consider David’s prayer in Psalm 6:2-7 (NLT). He describes himself as:
- in agony.
- sick at heart.
- worn out from sobbing.
- lying on a bed flooded with tears.
- unable to see because grief clouds his vision.
Too often my prayer life is marked not by honest conversation about what I really feel but it’s prayer marked by what I think I should feel. I’m too polite with God. I don’t get real. I don’t want to admit my true feelings. I don’t want to stomp on the injustice or unfairness of life.
I need prayer training to recognize and respond to injustice. In Psalm 10, David was so consumed by the injustice against the powerless — the orphans and the oppressed — that He called upon God to: “Break the arms of these wicked, evil people! Go After them until the last one is destroyed” (Psalm 10:15 NLT). Has God become a Mafia godfather?
When was the last time we prayed for God to break someone’s arm or chase down the wicked until they’re destroyed? The Psalmist was real. He was so incensed at injustice that he asked God to stomp out the wicked. I think it’s permissible to get mad about the virus and the unjust wreckage it’s causing in our culture.
The virus’ damage affects the powerless in our society — our senior citizens, those who stock groceries, or the aides in nursing homes. Getting old, working in a grocery store, or caring for seniors should not be dangerous work. The covid-19 virus has made it a danger zone. We should curse the virus because it’s destroying those who have the least power.
My prayer training is showing me that my calm and measured demeanor can mask a lack of commitment. The Psalms teach me that if I’m not emotionally involved then I probably don’t care. My hurt, anger, or sadness reflects a commitment of concern for God’s life in this world — a life where things aren’t right, where God is not honored, where wrongs must be punished. When I’m emotionally invested in God’s interests then I’m committed.
I need training to care for the eternal. Jesus taught us to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). Real prayer longs to stomp out evil and bring in His kingdom. Destructive viruses won’t be in heaven. Their power will be destroyed and eliminated. When I give myself permission to hate the Kingdom’s absence in today’s world then my longing for its reality should become greater . . . and I should pray more!
The Psalms teach me that real prayer is autobiographical. There’s usually a personal back story to the Psalmist’s prayers. Prayer is the intersection of biography and faith, my life on earth and with God in heaven. Here are a few examples.
- Psalm 3 – David flees from Absalom his son.
- Psalm 18 – he is delivered from Saul
- Psalm 51 – David deals with his sin of adultery
What backstory is shaping my prayer life in this pandemic? Sheltering-in for nearly three months has robbed me of a portion of life. I find myself identifying with Moses when he prays:
Give us gladness in proportion to our
Replace the evil years with good.
(Psalm 90:15 NLT)
I’ve given up a part of my life to a microscopic enemy. Peggy and I can’t see our grandchildren. We’re missing an entire stage of their lives, never to get it back. I don’t have the freedom to hug my friends or relatives, to join in corporate worship, or visit my favorite restaurant.
I want my misery replaced with gladness and for the months taken away to be replaced by good. Now I’m getting real with God. When I pray like Moses, can I count on an answer? I’m not sure but I can ask . . . and be real.
Prayer trains me in faith. Prayer is the ultimate act of inviting someone bigger and more powerful into my life. Our world is casting around for that someone — the federal government or an esteemed scientist — who is wiser, bigger, and more powerful. Surely he, she, or it (the federal government) can solve our problems.
The Psalmists recognized this universal longing. Over and over, our Lord is pictured as a rock, a warrior, or a mountain. Our hearts are drawn to trust someone who is bigger, more powerful, and wiser than we are. Prayer trains us to trust in God.
I plead to the All Powerful One to keep the virus from my house and the houses of my neighbors and friends. There’s a God in heaven who wants to surround me with His shield of love (Psalm 5:12). There’s a God in heaven who is the Great Shepherd (Psalm 23:1). There’s a God in heaven whose voice can strip a forest bare or gently guide a deer’s birth (Psalm 29:9).
God is training me to get real in prayer. I’m learning to be more honest with others and with Him. Join with me as I pray in a real way:
“Lord, stomp out the covid-19 virus and bring relief to those who have been hurt by its economic and medical consequences. Break the arms of this virus and chase it down until it’s destroyed. In Jesus’ name, amen.”
Now I’m getting real. Stomp!