I recently finished reading Eugene Peterson’s Answering God: The Psalms as a Tool for Prayer. Peterson is best known for The Message Bible translation and well known among pastors (at least the circles I run in) for his calls to obedience to Christ and the interior life. I’ve been on a protracted Peterson kick for the past four years, taking my time to read through as much of his work as I can (and recently finishing Winn Collier’s excellent biography on Peterson, A Burning in My Bones).
Peterson is like a breath of fresh air for my cloudy and polluted mind. He seamlessly weaves together biblical wisdom with striking prose, and it’s illuminating. I leave the story of his life challenged and I leave his own writing inspired and encouraged, challenged and convicted. It’s a delightful experience every time I pick up one of his books.
The major premise of Answering God is that the Psalms are our answers to God: our prayers in response to who God is and what He has done. For Peterson, the Psalms should form and forge our life of prayer, as everything from the words and scope to their order and system bear meaning for our walk with the Almighty. (There are lots of other things worthy reflecting on too, but this is the main message.)
This struck a chord with me as there have been several times in my life when the Psalms have formed the core part of my prayer life with God. When I left home for the first time to attend my gap year at Summit Semester, I read and prayed the Psalms each morning. While I was studying overseas at Oxford, following the death of my grandfather, and during a rough season in grad school, the Psalms were my lifeline of prayer and faith. Not that I haven’t read the Psalms at other times—only that these turbulent times stand out in my mind as seasons when the Psalms were particularly helpful for putting into words what I was feeling and struggling with.
The other season when I’ve relied heavily on the Psalms is, of course, right now. As I’ve struggled mightily since January with my physical and mental health, the Psalms have formed the core of my prayer life. When I don’t know what to say (or even what to focus on), the Psalms have been there to provide my words to God. Relatedly, I’ve taken up praying the Daily Office, which is filled with (among other Scriptures) the Psalms.
And so as I make my way through this persistent season of exhaustion, pain, and anxiety, I’ll continue to turn to the Psalms—to run to them, to pray them, to cling to them, to learn from them, and to answer God with them. For what else can I do?
I lift up my eyes to you,
to you who sit enthroned in heaven.
As the eyes of slaves look to the hand of their master,
as the eyes of a female slave look to the hand of her mistress,
so our eyes look to the Lord our God,
till he shows us his mercy.
Have mercy on us, Lord, have mercy on us,
for we have endured no end of contempt.
We have endured no end
of ridicule from the arrogant,
of contempt from the proud.