March 17, 2022 • Life for Leaders
Scripture –Psalm 88:1-3 (NRSV)
O LORD, God of my salvation,
when, at night, I cry out in your presence,
let my prayer come before you;
incline your ear to my cry.
For my soul is full of troubles,
and my life draws near to Sheol.
In times of deep despair, we call out to God, honestly, boldly, painfully. Psalm 88 gives us permission to tell the Lord exactly what we think and feel when life is unbearably hard, without holding back. We don’t have to polish our prayers for God, making sure they are shiny and neat. Rather, God invites us to open our hearts fully and freely, holding nothing back.
Psalm 88 is surprising, one might even say shocking, for at least two reasons. One is the utter honesty of the psalm writer, who speaks to God with boldness we don’t hear in church . . . or in our own prayers, usually.
Another reason Psalm 88 is shocking has do to with what seems to be missing. As the psalmist is pouring out his pain to the Lord, we expect a turning, a change from despair to hope, or at least to a confession of God’s faithfulness. But nothing like this appears in Psalm 88. In fact, here’s how it ends:
Your wrath has swept over me;
your dread assaults destroy me.
They surround me like a flood all day long;
from all sides they close in on me.
You have caused friend and neighbor to shun me;
my companions are in darkness.
The presence of Psalm 88 in Scripture gives us amazing permission to be honest with God, even and especially when we’re filled with despair. We don’t have to tidy up our prayers so God will receive them. Rather, God wants us to open our hearts and minds, to offer ourselves without hesitation or fear.
Note: for those who might worry that I am currently feeling great despair in my work, let me assure you that I am not. But I do know this despair from the past. And, as a pastor, I’ve listened to many others who have felt similar desperation. So, today’s prayer reflects my experiences in the past, both as a worker and as a listener to others.
O God, I can’t stop crying out to you. I do so throughout the day. And then, at night, when I can’t sleep, I beg you to hear me, to respond to my desperate prayers. O Lord, hear me even now. Please!
My soul is full of troubles. It feels like I could die. There’s nobody to help me. I’m terribly alone. It seems like even you have abandoned me. “You have put me in the depths of the Pit, in the regions dark and deep.”
Yet, “every day I call on you, O LORD; I spread out my hands to you.” I need your help. I need your deliverance. I need your presence.
I wish I could say I know you’ll help me. Sometimes I have this confidence. But today, Lord, hope seems far away. Truthfully, you seem far away! Yet I cry out to you, morning and night. Hear my prayers, O God. Answer me! Amen.
Ponder Throughout the Day
You never have to hold back with God. You can tell God anything and everything.
For Further Reflection
Read all of Psalm 88.
You might also wish to read Lamentations 3:1-66.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Best of Daily Reflections: A Prayer of Dark Despair
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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, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.