O Lord, God of my salvation, I cry out to you by day. I come to you at night. Now hear my prayer; listen to my cry. For my life is full of troubles, and death draws near. [Psalm 88:1-3 (NLT)]
Last month, a man crashed his car into the frigid waters of the Klamath River in California. Although the accident occurred around 3:00 in the morning, the nearly submerged upside-down car wasn’t reported until 5:30 AM. The dive team finally was able to attach a cable to its undercarriage and tow the vehicle to dry land at 8:00 AM. By this time, thinking it a recovery rather than a rescue operation and with airbags blocking the windows, no one expected to find anyone alive in the car. When the team commander opened the door, however, he heard the words, “Help me!” The car’s driver had survived nearly five hours in icy water while breathing from an air pocket in the car. I have no idea whether the man was a believer but I imagine he might be one now.
This morning, I thought of that man when reading Psalm 88. Although I think the psalmist, Heman the Ezrahite, was writing metaphorically about death drawing near, being “as good as dead,” standing “helpless and desperate,” in “the darkest depths,” with “wave after wave” engulfing him, in a “trap with no way of escape,” and with terrors swirling around “like floodwaters” that engulfed him completely, those words sounded as if they could have been penned by the driver of that submerged car. Alone, in darkness, in a frigid river, desperately trying to keep his head above water, fearful of running out of air, and thinking he’d met his end, I wonder if that frantic man prayed as passionately as did Heman in his psalm.
In his prayer, the despairing Heman doesn’t mince words; nothing is concealed. He lays his miserable life out for God (and everyone else) with brutal honesty. Grieving and in desperate need, estranged from friends and loved ones, he complains that darkness is his closest friend. Yet, in spite of his list of afflictions, there are no accusations, calls for revenge, or anger; there is just woeful resignation, acceptance, and entreaty.
While this is a psalm of lament, it is also one of trust, hope and perseverance. Freely expressing his discouragement and complaint, the psalmist calls to the God of his salvation. Knowing that God is sovereign over his suffering, he also knows God is sovereign over his relief. Even though it seems as if his prayers aren’t being heard, Heman tirelessly continues to pray, crying out to God “day by day” and at night.
I’ve never been gasping for air in an upside down car submerged in icy water and I don’t think I’ve ever been as desperate as Heman must have been when he wrote his psalm. Nevertheless, that doesn’t excuse me from my often sporadic, passionless and perfunctory prayers. Why does it seem that we must be in trouble, in desperate straits, in need of rescue, or in deep despair before we are as forthright, fervent and constant as Heman in our prayers? Shouldn’t every one of our prayers be said with the same level of urgency, ardor, honesty and emotion? Could some of our prayers remain unanswered simply because we haven’t offered them as earnestly as did Heman? What will it take before we pray with his passion? I certainly hope it doesn’t involve an overturned car floating down a river.
When you pray, rather let your heart be without words than your words without heart. [John Bunyan]