At the very points in my life when my soul feels most dry and joyless, I often find myself most spiritually speechless. I'm stuck. And when I get stuck in this inarticulate joyless state I turn to the Psalms. There my plea finds its language.
In a lot of ways, Psalm 86 is like the Lord’s Prayer. It's a ready-made prayer for our daily lives — short and simple, yet deeply profound. In it we read this plea:
Gladden the soul of your servant,
for to you, O Lord, do I lift up my soul. (Psalm 86:4)
Short. Simple. Articulate. And life-giving.
What is the psalmist praying for?
First, he asks to be gladdened, gladdened to his core, gladdened to every corner of his life. He seeks happiness, even in the midst of what appears for him to be painful life circumstances. Like all of us, he seeks joy for his life. And to find his joy, the psalmist prayerfully lifts up his soul to God.
Lifting the soul is a metaphor of childlike dependence and trust. It is also an act of confidence, a focused and single-hearted act that pushes away all rivals. But even more specifically, it is an act of eager anticipation. Lifting our souls to the Lord includes all of this — dependence, trust, confidence, anticipation.
Which is why Psalm 86:4 is such a beautiful and simple prayer for an often-dry, often-speechless, joy-seeker like me. Using the compacted language of the psalmist, my prayer is essentially this: “God, I lift up to you my dry, languishing soul. I turn to you because I believe you can restore its joy. I want you alone. I want you to fill me, to fill my soul — to fill my whole being — with joy. Where else can I turn, if not to you? To you alone I lift up my soul, for in you alone will I find the true gladness my soul longs for.”