PRAYING THE SCRIPTURES | A Psalm in the Night
It was 1:14 am. I never felt so lonely. So abandoned.
A little over one year ago, I was on my knees in our family room at that early hour: head clutched in my pressing hands, taut fingers extended through my hair like a wild man.
Rocking back and forth, muffling my howls for deliverance with a pillow so as not to wake the others in the house, it was just another night in a three-week long battle-for-my-sanity with insomnia.
When I woke earlier, terrified of the hours of sleeplessness ahead me (if you’ve experienced it, you’ll know what I mean), I had glanced in the mirror on my way out of our dark bedroom.
The face looking back at me had hollow eyes and looked like someone about to completely check out of reality—someone who might finally wake his wife and say, “It’s time to check me in to a facility.”
A PSALM IN THE NIGHT
Over a year later, I am sleeping fine. I sleep through the night, and I hear the Lord’s voice often.
As I look back on that moment—on how close I was to a complete breakdown and the imagined loss of so many things I hold dear—my heart swells with gratitude.
It was the night the Word of God was a tool of revelation and deliverance in the hands of the Holy Spirit.
There was a moment in those early morning hours that I cried out to Jesus, “Deliver me from this mental anguish or take me now—I’m ready to go.”
Silence. I heard nothing I could discern as an inner word of comfort, or presence, or hope. I felt utterly abandoned.
Then, a different thought took form, a thought that took shape in the form of a sentence, a sentence born in a Psalm-writer’s poem thousands of years ago.
The phrase is from Psalm 119:50.
22 years ago, I sang that line, that lyric, as I led our beautiful congregation in worship in the high school gym where we met. It was the opening lyric from a song that held a central, catalytic role in the life of our community.
We were seeing miracles of heart, mind, body occur in those days. The homeless were friends with the wealthy, the new Christians were being mentored by the mature Christians.
Jesus was so palpably present, and faith pulsed in the room when we sang those words.
A LYRIC LIGHTS A FLAME
I shared versions of that passage many times with the grief-stricken, the sin-wrecked, and the soul-sick through my years of pastoring.
That night, the song lyric lit that verse from Psalm 119 like a match bursting into flame, and the passage came fully to mind. I began to speak the verse again and again into that pillow, into the heart of my pain, into the silence, forcing my distressed spirit to choke it down like medicine.
Then, it was like my spiritual eyes were opened, awake to the Father’s presence instead of my pain. I had been looking into a mirror of my own suffering—turning my energies toward a cry for my own deliverance.
But in that moment, something shifted.
A WINDOW TO THE WORLD’S SUFFERING
I felt like I had been holding a mirror, staring at my own suffering and my own needs.
In that moment, my suffering transformed from a mirror to a window—a window seeing out on the world’s suffering.
I felt like I was experiencing in my body, perceiving with every sense, the suffering of others around me. Pandemic. Cultural woes. Political volatility. Relational strain. Financial insecurity. Interpersonal shaming.
I felt it, all at once, like a thickening pressure on the sinkhole of my spirit —a sinkhole that was about to collapse.
But it didn’t collapse. Years of Jesus helping me, with decades of spiritual habits and worship experiences, forging trust—these were reinforcing the ground beneath the weight.
The Lord spoke:
“Dan, get up, and intercede. This anxiety, this suffering, this fretful wakefulness—this is the state of the world I love. Let your anxiety, your suffering, your terror of what could happen—make you an intercessor for those suffering in this pandemic and cultural darkness. Turn this pain, Dan, this anguish—into the fires of prayer. Intercede. I will help you.”
TURNING SUFFERING INTO INTERCESSION
I got up from the floor with a flicker of resolve, leaving my pillow on the ground. I spent the rest of the night prayer-walking my home, crying out to God as an intercessor for any person, any name or face, that came to mind.
You may have been one of them.
Within a few nights, the insomnia lifted, and I was sleeping through large portions of the night once again.
It was Psalm 119:50, hidden away in my heart so many years ago and delivered to me in my dark night of the soul by a worship song lyric, that the Spirit used to awaken the intercessor in me once again.
HIDING THE WORD IN OUR HEARTS —FOR 30 YEARS FROM NOW
Are you hiding the Word in your heart? Or are you slowly backing away from your belief that those inspired words could make a heaven out of a hell you’re in, now or in the future? That a hidden-in-the-heart Word could make all the difference in your own life or the life of someone you love?
Can you embrace again that the Scriptures are the living and active Word of God, the sword of the Spirit, an endless well of light in dark places?
A late author-mentor of many of us, Eugene Peterson, said to “eat this book,” (in his book of the same name). I often pull up to the table of the Psalms, savoring the fragrance and taste of their promises.
The Psalms give me, give us, prayer language for all seasons of our human experience. In eating them, I taste the rest of the Word, and more language breathed from the Father seeps into my prayers.
I’d like to encourage you today to choose one passage to eat this week—to savor it, revel in it, repeat it, and sing it loud in the car with whatever melody comes to mind. Here is Ephesians 3, in the form of a prayer. I’m praying it with you.
Do it for the next 7 days to water it in like a new plant. Sing it until it flowers into worship and sets its strong roots deep, deep into your spirit.
Then, when the moment is right, three or thirty years from now, when you least expect it, a revelation may come to you again in the middle of a dark night—and the Spirit will use His Word to set you free.
Blessings Strong and Hope Rising,
THE SPIRITUAL HABITS & YOU WORKSHOP