Untidy Prayer

By Mark D. Roberts

September 21, 2018

Too long have I lived
among those who hate peace.

Psalm 120:6


Do your prayers ever seem too untidy? Do you worry that they might be too messy? If so, be encouraged by the example of Psalm 120.

A table set with a coffee and cookies.Psalm 120 is the first in a series of psalms known as the “Psalms of Ascent.” They were used by the Jewish people as they ascended to Jerusalem for worship in the temple. The Psalms of Ascent include a broad spectrum of poetic types. Psalm 120, for example, is an individual lament. It reflects the experience of someone who is far away from Jerusalem. Long distance from home accentuates the psalmist’s pain as people slander him (120:2). Thus he laments, “Too long have I lived among those who hate peace” (120:6).

Interestingly, Psalm 120 ends on a somber note. Even though the psalm writer seeks peace, his enemies “are for war” (120:7). There is no resolution here, no word of hope, no confession of God’s ultimate deliverance. Though the psalmist has cried out to God for help, we don’t even learn if his prayers were answered (120:1-2).

Thus, this psalm reminds us that sometimes our conversation with God is messy, and that’s okay. Though it makes sense to begin our prayers with thanks and praise and to end them similarly, there is no biblical mandate for such a structure. At times, we simply cry out to God from our place of pain, loneliness, and despair. We don’t come to a sense of resolution when we run out of words. We simply stop praying and wait upon God, whether we like it or not. The fact that Psalm 120 is included in the Spirit-inspired canon of Scripture reminds us that it’s right to pray this way. Through the example of this psalm, God invites us to come before his throne of grace as we are and to say anything and everything on our hearts, without holding back.

Something to Think About:

Have you ever prayed along the lines of Psalm 120?

Do you feel freedom to tell God what you’re really thinking and feeling? If so, why? If not, why not?

Something to Do:

Is there something you’d like to say to God but haven’t said because it seems too untidy? Be inspired by Psalm 120 and tell God exactly what is on your heart. He can take it. In fact, God invites this very kind of prayer (see Hebrews 4:16).


Gracious God, my first response when I read Psalm 120 is to think, “Well, that’s a downer.” I’d rather hear words of encouragement that testify to your faithfulness and mercy than the honest lament of a discouraged psalmist.

But the more I reflect on this psalm, the more thankful I am for its presence in the Psalter. Psalm 120 sounds a lot like my own prayers when I am discouraged. It is so honest, so vulnerable, so unpolished. It suggests that I can approach you as I am, without having to clean up my act and my speech.

What Psalm 120 exemplifies, Hebrews 4 proclaims. There, you invite us to approach you with boldness, with full openness, confident of your mercy and grace. What an amazing invitation! How reassuring it is to know that I can come before you “just as I am.”

All praise be to you, O God, because you invite me to share my whole self with you, holding nothing back. Amen.


Explore more at The High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project:
Seeking Peace in a Peace-Hating World

Mark D. Roberts

Senior Strategist

Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders,...

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