This article was written by Kyle Johnston and published by BCC
How do you pray when you feel like giving up? How do you pray when you feel weak and distressed? How do you pray when confronted with the multidimensional misery of fading life in a broken world?
The answer: we don’t pray. Sometimes it’s because we don’t know what to pray for. Other times we feel too tired and discouraged, overwhelmed and exhausted. So we don’t really pray. We try to cope by soldiering on—an utterly unsustainable plan from a Christian perspective.
If you are feeling discouraged and weak, I don’t want to simply offer advice. I want to share some good news: we have a Savior who can empathize with us in our exhausted discouragement. He knows how to pray for us; more than that, He knows how to teach us to pray. And He uses the book of Psalms to do so.
Let’s consider how this works from Psalm 102.
Acknowledging Our Miserable Mortality
Psalm 102 begins by telling us this is a prayer of lament, and the first eleven verses demonstrate why: again and again, we are confronted with powerful images of a fading life. Reflect on these images, and you will soon see how they vividly portray our mortality. Our days vanish like smoke (v. 3), our hearts wither (v. 4), and we are physically reduced to skin and bones (v. 5). These images convey a fading life: physically, spiritually, and temporally. Perhaps most haunting is the imagery of a fading life socially: a lonely desert owl skulking around the ruins of a destroyed city (v. 6). These verses acknowledge the misery that so often intertwines with our mortality. Things don’t work; life falls apart. And, over time, we grow weak and feel like giving up.
How does this Psalm teach us to pray? Consider two things.
- Prayer tip #1: Take a look at verses 1-11, and consider how you might be able to personalize them. What are you facing? How are you feeling? Can you articulate your suffering? You can’t do this in 30 seconds! Take your time to talk to God. Tell Him everything that you are struggling with. I really mean that—tell Him everything, including everything that contributes to your affliction and distress.
- Prayer tip #2: Because the Psalms are the songs of Jesus, consider what verses 1-11 teach you about the heart of Jesus. Looking at these verses, what do we learn about His experience of life during His time on Earth?
Affirming God’s Eternal Plan and Purpose
Verses 1-11 of Psalm 102 are the lament of a fading life. Everything seems bleak; decay seems inevitable. But from verse 12, the mood changes dramatically. We see what it looks like to rejoice in the promise of an unfading church.
In contrast to our mortality, the psalmist (and, in turn, the Lord Jesus) affirms God’s eternal plan for His people: “But you, Lord, sit enthroned forever…You will arise and have compassion on Zion…the Lord will rebuild Zion and appear in His glory.”
The Lord will build His church. He will hear the prayers of His people. And He will fulfill His purposes in their lives.
This remains true even though God’s people experience affliction and rejection. When He prayed this Psalm, the Lord Jesus would have rejoiced in His Father’s faithfulness. When you pray this Psalm, you can rejoice in your Father’s faithfulness. God will establish an unfading church.
As wonderful as this is, the Psalm ends with something breathtaking: we get to listen in on a promise God the Father makes to His Messiah. Ponder this remarkable promise the Father makes to His Son about His eternal kingdom:
In the beginning, you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. Like clothing you will change them and they will be discarded. But you remain the same, and your years will never end. The children of your servants will live in your presence; their descendants will be established before you.
The writer of Hebrews quotes this Psalm to make a point about Jesus’ divinity (Heb. 1:8-12). What’s happening here is that the Father promises the Son that He will outlive a fading creation. More than that, those who belong to the Son (His servants) will live with Him in His presence! God’s promise to His Messiah is that there will be an unfading church. Despite the misery and frustration of what you currently experience amid a fading life, you are part of an unfading church. As a member of the unfading church, you will outlive a fading creation.
So how does this teach us to pray? Consider two final questions that can help you see how this Psalm teaches us to pray:
- How does God’s promise of an unfading church reframe how you think about your struggles?
- How does this Psalm encourage emotional honesty about the present and confident joy about the future?
Psalm 102 helps us to pray when we feel like giving up. I don’t know about you, but that is something I experience regularly! Discouragement and fatigue are expected in this broken world of fading lives. How wonderful, then, to pour out our hearts to God, knowing that—despite our mortality—we belong to an unfading church.