The Expansive Prayer of an Expanding Heart
May the nations praise you, O God. Yes, may all the nations praise you. Let the whole world sing for joy, because you govern the nations with justice and guide the people of the whole world.
To be honest, we begin our relationship with God because of what's in it for us personally. We recognize that we need forgiveness and learn that God offers it. We yearn to be saved from our sins and know that God alone is the Savior. We need freedom from addiction or healing for our families, so we turn to the God whose grace offers these gifts and so much more.
The prayers of new believers are usually focused on their personal needs: "God, save me. God, forgive me. God, help me find a job. God, help me not to yell at my kids anymore. God, please mend my broken marriage." There is nothing wrong with such prayers. Scripture teaches us to pour out our hearts to God without holding back. Prayers for personal help are modeled throughout the Psalms, God's "textbook" for prayer. So, I am in no way suggesting that there is anything wrong with asking God to help you. In fact, failing to seek God's help for yourself would border on arrogance, if not foolishness.
But, as we grow in our faith, as our hearts expand through the presence of God's Spirit within us, we find ourselves praying more expansive prayers. We see this very expansion in Psalm 67. It begins with a prayer for God to bless "us" and to smile upon "us." "Us" could be the psalmist's family or clan. In context, it probably means "God's chosen people," which is to say "the children of Israel."
But then the prayerful vision of the psalmist expands. He asks that God's ways and power might be known "throughout the earth" and "among people everywhere" (67:2). He yearns for all nations to praise God. "Yes, may all the nations praise you" (67:3). He envisions a time when the Gentiles will join with the Jews in singing for joy to the Lord because they have experienced God's justice and guidance (67:4).
Thus, in the compressed form of Psalm 67, we see a stirring example of what happens when we personally received God's grace for ourselves. Not only are we blessed. Not only do we thank God and ask for more. But also, our hearts begin to turn outward. We seek God's blessing for those around us, for our families and friends, for our neighbors and our workplace. As we continue to grow in faith, so do our prayers. We find ourselves praying that God will be praised by all people everywhere as they experience the matchless grace of God.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Have you experienced the kind of expansion we see in Psalm 67? Do you feel a passion for God to be glorified throughout the earth? Do you yearn for God's grace and power to transform all creation? Do you pray this way?
PRAYER: Indeed, Lord, today I ask that you bless and guide me, so that I might live fully for you, delighting in your grace.
I ask you to bless my family, including my children who are spread across the globe. Bless my colleagues at work, my church, my city, my friends.
Yet, may your grace be poured out, not just upon me and those I know and love, but upon all humanity. Where there is sickness, bring your healing. Where people are hungry, may they be fed. By your power, may victims of injustice be delivered. And where there is violence, may your peace prevail. As all of this happens, may all nations honor you, recognizing your awesomeness.
May the nations praise you, O God. Yes, may all the nations praise you. Amen.
Image courtesy of Laity Lodge, one of our sister programs in the Foundations for Laity Renewal.