If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill.
Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you,
if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy! (Psalm 137:5–6)
Every Christian wants a deeper life of prayer in this new year. Who, after the close of one year, looks back over the time in his closet and thinks, “Yeah, I’d better cut back on all the praying this next twelve months”? We all want to grow, to enjoy richer fellowship with God — the question, though, comes down to how we think it will happen. Might it mean that we pray more consistently? Absolutely. Might it mean that we intercede more for others? Most likely. Might it mean that our petitions are more passionate? Maybe, depending on what we mean by passionate praying.
Passion Far and Wide
For some, passionate praying sounds like making more audacious requests. If we are really praying passionately, we are asking God to move mountains, to swing open closed doors, to bring something out of nothing. In one sense, this makes sense. Passion, boldness, and faith converge to petition God for the things that he alone can do. We are honoring the Giver by praying this way, right? We look out over our cities, over the continents of this world, and we should ask God to do mighty works. We find an unengaged, unreached people group and we pray, “Save them!” We learn about the Planned Parenthood centers in our communities and we beg God to shut them down. We think of an unprecedented high number and ask God for that many baptisms in our church the next six months.
Passion, in this sense, means we step back, look forward, and pray big. Most of us could use a little more of this God-sized dreaming in our prayers — but only if it’s not at the expense of another kind of passion.
Deeper still than praying with passion far and wide, is a passion of singular intensity. It’s a passion that starts in the beautiful posture of a heart not lifted up, eyes not raised too high, minds not occupied with things too great and marvelous for us (Psalm 131:1). It’s a passion that knows God can do whatever he pleases (Psalm 135:6), that longs for his promised kingdom of unceasing peace and praise (Psalm 135:19–21), and that prays, face to the floor in earnestness, “God, don’t let me forget you.”
Passion Fierce and Simple
This is the passionate praying that, moved mountains aside, audacity put on hold, simply wants to remember God. The passion is seen not so much in the request itself, but to the degree that the one praying desires it. If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill, the psalmist petitions God (Psalm 137:5–6), and teaches us! “Jerusalem” stands for more than any old city. The vision here is the reign of God. To remember Jerusalem is to remember the promises of God and his coming rule. Said positively, the psalmist wants to know God and have him take the lead in his life. But he wants it so badly. Consider the rawness of his asking. The psalmist is talking about losing the use of his dominant hand, and therefore his livelihood. He is talking about his tongue sticking to the roof of his mouth, and therefore starving. How in the world can he really pray this way? This seriously?
The psalmist prays this way because he cannot imagine a worse reality than what he is praying against. The worst place for the psalmist is being anywhere without God. Scariest to him is to forget God, to lose faith. And we understand what he’s getting at.
Our Worst Fear
There are darknesses that we have all walked through, or are walking through, or will walk through — and the only thing that makes walking through the darkness possible is that God walks through the darkness with us. The most frightening reality becomes not the darkness, but being separated from God in it. We don’t want to lose him, to turn from him, to go cold. Apostasy becomes the real hell, not our suffering. This is especially scary because we know we are “Prone to wonder, Lord, I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love.” So we pray, simply but fiercely: God, no! Don’t let it happen. Before I would forget you, before my heart would ice over, take away my livelihood and seal my mouth shut.
That is a passionate prayer, and it’s one we should pray. But we shouldn’t pray with this kind of passion only because God is our greatest treasure — and we can’t imagine a worse reality than forgetting him — but also because we know that God won’t let us forget him.
Part of the perseverance of the saints is the saints praying, “God, make us persevere!”
The psalmist prays as passionately as he does because he knows that God is faithful and mighty enough not to let it happen. God won’t let his people forget him and the promised Jerusalem to come. This kind of praying is actually a vivid expression of faith. It is by faith that the psalmist (and we) pray against faithlessness. Part of the perseverance of the saints is the saints praying God, make us persevere!
Passion Made Secure
God has ordained prayer to work that way. United to Jesus by faith, we pray to the Father, and the Spirit prays for us according to the Father’s will (Romans 8:26–27). Which means, when we pray for perseverance we are not flipping a coin or thinking that it’s all up to us. Prayer does not mean we wring our hands in worry, or that we’ve come to a last resort. That is restless anxiety, not passion. Instead, foundational to the passionate prayer “God, no! Don’t let us forget you!” is the glad affirmation that Yes, Father, you are faithful. I can’t imagine a worse reality than forgetting you, and you are faithful never to let me forget. In fact, you watch over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without your will, and every little thing that comes into my life works together so that I might enjoy more of you forever.
Forgetting God is so frightening to us, and the assurance that it will never happen is so secure, that we pray If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill.
“God, this much, don’t let me forget you.”
It isn’t a flashy prayer, but it’s passionate, and I need more of its kind in 2015.