A sense of entitlement can mar our prayers as we worship God. If I believe I deserve more, that I have earned more than I have received, I will approach life and prayer with anger. On the other hand, I may pray as if there is no need to do so, because I can claim what I want through my own initiative and hard work. The early chapters of Genesis describe the first humans eating forbidden fruit because they wanted to be like God and building a tower to heaven because they wanted to be equal to God. In our postmodern times, we may focus so much on achieving goals, playing games, or building wealth that we neglect to think about God, much less pray to or worship him. We trust ourselves (and perhaps no one else). In our desire for privacy we lock others out, including our Savior. Psalm 131, sung by pilgrims on their way to the temple in Jerusalem, describes the proper frame of mind for entering worship:
“O LORD, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me. O Israel, hope in the LORD from this time forth and forevermore” (Psalm 131:1-3 ESV).
I reflected yesterday on conversations I had had with my mother. She loved to learn, and confessed to me once that that what she loved most about talking to me once I had reached adulthood was that she always learned something. Perhaps she did, but what I enjoyed about those conversations was the knowledge that my mother wanted to know what interested me and cared deeply about the condition of my soul. We had calm conversations, even when we disagreed, which I usually could sense even if she did not express her dissent verbally. Those conversations with my mother inform my perspective on this psalm. When I pray or when I preach, awareness of my need for God will calm my anger and soothe my soul. There have been times when I prepared to preach that I was quite agitated about obstacles I was confronting in my life. Anger mingled sometimes with arrogance and distracted me from my mission of showing people the way to Jesus. On good days, I caught myself, and engaged in intense, even if short and private, prayer to God to have mercy on my and to heal my pain, to calm my soul so that I could communicate his love and reveal a reason to hope in him now and forevermore.
• Quotations from the Bible are from the English Standard Version.
O Lord, the challenges and disappointments that crowd into our days sometimes push aside our focus on you and your Son. Anger and our yearning for more cause us to trip, to stumble in our following of you. Help us to control our passion and to use it for the purposes you desire. May we have the confidence when we worship that a young child has as he or she walks alongside a loving parent. May we know your purpose for us and discern the work you have planned for us to do. In Jesus’ name, amen.