“My Soul Waits”
Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.
2 Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
to the voice of my supplications!
3 If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
Lord, who could stand?
4 But there is forgiveness with you,
so that you may be revered.
5 I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
6 my soul waits for the Lord
more than those who watch for the morning,
more than those who watch for the morning.
7 O Israel, hope in the Lord!
For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
and with him is great power to redeem.
8 It is he who will redeem Israel
from all its iniquities.
Every Wednesday morning, myself, Sylvia our bookkeeper, and Melanie King, director of PGO, get together for a weekly devotion. And a couple of months ago, the topic was, “What is one message we would like to share with others?” This was actually pretty hard for me to answer, as I have to come up with a different message each week. Is there one idea that ties them all together?
But pretty soon, it came to me. What is the one thing I want people to know more than anything else? And the answer is: “God wants a relationship with you.” That simple: “God wants a relationship with you.” Everything else is how we get to that relationship and live in it. But the core thing God wants us from us isn’t any external action, it isn’t a sacrifice on an altar, it isn’t winning any contest for God. It is having a relationship with God.
We often forget that, though. Instead, we fill a lot of our time arguing over everything that is not central. Arguments over theology, arguments over who’s good enough to be saved, arguments over how many meetings we should have and how they should be structured, arguments over lights in a building, arguments over what songs we are singing in worship. We make tons of time for each of those arguments but forget the main thing God wants from us: a relationship.
And a big part is that we like to talk about God and about religion much more than we actually talk with God.
I remember in college watching an interview with Elie Wiesel, the author of one of the most powerful books I read growing up: Night. It is about his own childhood, growing up heavily religious community, but then being taken to a concentration camp, where he saw so many of his family members and friends tortured and killed. The interviewer was asking him, decades after that, how the experience had shaped his faith. What was his faith like today? And he said something that has been with me ever since. Wiesel said that he doesn’t spend a lot of time talking about God. Instead, he spends a lot more time talking with God.
As a philosophy major who had been spending a lot of his time trying to figure out all the truths about God and reality and love in the abstract, Wiesel’s words jolted me. They reminded me that this journey of faith is not about having all the right answers or writing the best papers or winning the most debates. Faith is about my relationship with God. I needed, and I still often need in my life, less talking about God, and more talking with God.
There is one book in scripture that reminds us of this truth more than any other: the Book of Psalms. The Psalms don’t just tell us stories about God or teach us God’s laws, although they remind us again and again of them. The Psalms invite us into a conversation with God. They invite us to speak with God, not just speak about God. And they do so, no matter what is happening with us today. There is a Psalm for every season: psalms of dancing, psalms of joy, psalms of grief, psalms of anger, psalms of questioning and doubt, psalms of faith and safety, psalms that ask for direction, psalms that remind us who God is, psalms that confess our sins, and psalms that cry out for help.
And in reading and praying the Psalms, I have realized that they look and sound far different from my own prayers. My prayers are often a list of things I need, like a grocery list. My prayers often filter out things that are uncomfortable or troubling, like my anger, my sadness, my confusion and doubt. My prayers often focus only on happening to me and my worrys for the immediate future.
The Psalms, though, are structured differently. They are not written as shopping lists, but as prayers that bare ourselves to God, and show everything warts and all. They speak to God openly in ways that we too often are afraid to speak.
The Psalms consider not just this present moment, but they look back at what God has done throughout history. They remember God’s actions and stories, as if we are talking to a good friend and catching up once again. And they look forward to the redemption and salvation God wants to bring again to this world. They help us get out of our heads and join with God in imagining a better world. The Psalms show us a God who’s not an idol on a shelf, but a God who is constantly at work, caring, loving, and protecting our world.
And most of all, the Psalms give room for two voices. Most of my prayers give room only for one: my voice. The Psalms give space for God to speak back to us. They turn our prayers from “speaking TO God” to “speaking WITH God.”
In our Psalm this morning, Psalm 130, the writer tells us: “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his Word, I hope.” That word wait is important. We think of waiting as passive, as doing nothing, a sitting down and hoping someone taps our shoulders or calls our names.
But waiting, at least good waiting, is not passive. It is not doing nothing. It is active. It is taking ourselves to a space where we can listen, where we can pay attention. Waiting is heightening our vision and stretching out our ears to see and hear from God.
The metaphor this Psalm uses is “more than those who watch for the morning.” This could be shepherds watching over their flocks at night. Or guards up on city walls looking out to protect. These people aren’t doing nothing. They are focusing their eyes, their ears, their senses for what is out there. They may be standing still, but they are active in their waiting and watching. They are quiet, not out of laziness or a lack of things to say, but because they know that they need to hear.
And the same is for us in prayer. Our daily lives are filled with so much noise and worries and thoughts, we barely pay attention to the present moment we are in. We don’t notice the smells, the sounds, the sights that are around us. We miss people and conversations. We miss the gift that I am alive and this day did not have to be.
Waiting, like this Psalmist invites us to wait, slows us down. It gets us back into the present moment. And it reminds us we are not alone. The one who loves us and made us and wants a relationship with us is here. If we only take a moment.
Waiting is not doing nothing. Waiting is doing one thing with purpose and focus and attention and seeing God in the midst of it. It may be listening to your breathing or feeling the beats of your heart. It may be walking a labyrinth or a path in the woods. It may be speaking a Psalm out loud or memorizing its words. It may be lighting a candle or smelling some incense. When our soul waits, it is not passive. It is alive, and more alive than we often are in our daily routines. Waiting is actively listening and looking and sensing for what out there is greater than ourselves.
And when we actively wait, God speaks. It may not happen the way we would like each and every time. If I ask God, “what will the winning lottery numbers be next week” I probably am not going to get the answer I’m looking for. But if I keep speaking with God and allowing space and time and focus, I’m going to hear something from God. I’m going to be guided and challenged and loved in ways I don’t yet know.
Waiting is hard for us. Listening is hard for us. Talking to someone instead of about someone is hard for us. But relationship is why we are here. And if we are to have a relationship with God, we need all of those things.
So for the next couple of weeks in Lent, I would like for us to practice prayer together. And not just prayer for myself. But prayer for others. Today we are going to do our prayers of the people a little bit differently. In a minute I will invite you to make your way over to the table to my right and write down one or two or three things you would like to share with God today. They can be anything. Concerns, joys, ask for forgiveness, guidance with a dilemma, for you or someone else. But they will be up here on this wall. And then after today, I will invite you to come in sometime in the next couple weeks and pray for someone else’s prayer. Take it down from the board. Read it. Meditate on it. And lift it up to God. And after you do, write on the back of it, that you have prayed for this, reminding that person that not only is God hearing their prayer, but that someone else is joining in with them in bringing it to the Lord.