“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.” Psalm 51:1
Sorry about the brief hiatus. This has been the worst fever/sickness I’ve had in 10 years. To illustrate, I’m the kind that hates to take any kind of medicine. Why? “Medicine masks symptoms, it doesn’t make well.” You know the deal, let your body handle things naturally, and it’ll grow stronger, and all that jive. But over the past couple days I destroyed that motto. At one point I was already on as much of a dose of acetaminophen as possible, and still had fever going wild and felt like poo, so I told my wife it was time to add something else to the mix. Truly, I was ready for that to include illegal narcotics if necessary, or quick death. Instead we went with Tylenol Cold & Sinus Night Time or some such thing. And it worked! I’m told there’s Benadryl in that stuff, which means if nothing else I was going to be unconscious for a good while, and so it went.
Anyway, in the midst of the throes of “suffering,” I found myself doing something that seemed a little cheap. I mean, sure my symptoms were bad, but I was only a day or two in and knew it would pass in no more than a week. So, all in all, not a terrible thing to have to bear. But, still, I decided it was worth praying for myself over. I have a hard time doing that sometimes, because, again, it seems like cheating. In college fellowship I always had a hard time with students that seemed to need to occupy the whole group every single week with some new tidbit of “prayer request,” especially when the requests were more like horn-tooting, and especially when it sparked a cycle of horn-tooting requests as others started to think that’s what the 40 of us were circled up for. Like, if one person mentioned their grandmother’s ongoing cancer battle, someone else had to mention their grandma’s dog who died, so someone else had to mention how much they missed their grandma, and someone else had to ask for prayer for how much they missed their dog. Ugh. Sorry for the cynicism, but competitive prayer requesting makes me gag. I learned then that unless I really felt burdened with something unique, I wasn’t going to be speaking up in the prayer request circle.
Now, yes, I know, I know, that makes for a pretty selfish Christian way of life, a fairly “lone ranger” attitude that doesn’t allow others in or let one become vulnerable like we ought to. That’s the danger of it, sure. It becomes tempting to downplay our prayer needs, or to make out like God only wants to hear from us when we’re in serious enough danger/pain. And I know all of that is nonsense, and that prayer should be constant and all-encompassing. But I still have a hard time praying for mercy/help over-frequently. Let me say this — I do it. I do it a lot. I pray for those things for myself all the time. When I say I have a hard time I mean there’s a pang of a difficult feeling that accompanies those prayers. I pray for forgiveness all the time, but I get hit with: “Again? Are you really praying for that AGAIN? And for having done that same thing again?” I prayed for mercy during my sick time, only to hit myself with: “Really? Is this really enough suffering to ask for God to intervene? When you know it’ll pass in not even a week?” Or I think about all the other more serious things/situations I fail to pray for, and it seems dumb to stick myself in there before having remembered them to God.
I wanted to walk you through all that insanity, and what must be the remnants of feverished thinking, because it is all just so absurd. I know those little voices in my head have nothing to do with the truth, or with God. I know it. But I do it. And you do the same thing, some of you, sometimes. We just don’t always do a good job simply praying. Or simply being direct with God. Or doing so without adding our own little nonsense commentary on ourselves. When we have real needs, it’s time to humbly present them to God. To fail to do that is to count ourselves too little, or to count God too little.
Certainly, let our prayers for ourselves challenge us to pray for others, and larger things, too. But let us never get tired of asking for mercy. I think if we can pray for help from a fever, or for a loved one, or for a bad event at work, etc., then maybe we’ll do better at approaching God with our deep sinfulness, or repetitive wrongdoing, or whatever else tempts us into avoiding God altogether. It is more important that we eat our pride, realize our predicament, and cry out for “Mercy!” than to leave our transgressions working away at us and those around us.
Psalm 51 even teaches us to ask for the biggest and best we can think of. Not Ferraris and mansions. But listen at how the Psalmist doesn’t limit his/her request. This isn’t a prayer for mild, minor, or temporary relief. It’s not a request just for a specific healing/forgiveness. The person praying isn’t trying to list everything and make sure God gets it all. This is an all-encompassing prayer for a permanent solution — the blotting out of transgressions. Like, “God, please eradicate completely my sinful history.” Do you know today that this is God teaching you and me how to pray? Do you know that this is something you can present to God yourself? Try it. Hang onto this verse today, and approach the throne of grace for mercy. God isn’t one to just mask your symptoms, but to heal you of the whole thing.