Revealed by Contrast
May the Lord answer you when you are in distress; may the name of the God of Jacob protect you . . . May God give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed . . . May we shout for joy over your victory and lift up our banners in the name of our God. – Psalm 20:1-5 (NIV, adapted)
The psalms often reveal trouble by way of contrast. War-torn times are revealed by prayers for peace. Deepest danger is revealed by prayers for deliverance. In Psalm 20, “may the Lord answer you in distress” reveals long periods when prayer seemed ignored. “May God make all your plans succeed” reveals failure upon failure even after careful preparation.
Most wrenchingly, though, is the last verse of this section: “May we shout over your victory.” It’s the sudden shift from “you” to “we” that does it. This isn’t a prayer for me; this is a prayer for someone else.
Many times, I have prayed this prayer. For a friend who is suffering in ways I cannot change, for parishioners who cannot seem to catch a break, for those dying too soon that God might grant them more life. Psalm 20 is a prayer on behalf of those whose suffering has been longest, whose lives are most devoid of victories.
The weight of the Covid pandemic has not fallen equally. Some have thrived, others have been crushed utterly. Most fall somewhere in the middle. I know I do. If you are somewhere in the middle, would you pray Psalm 20 today? Would you allow your heart to crack open and pour out prayers for the plans thwarted and lives lost?
And if you are among those who have been utterly crushed, will you let the Church pray this psalm for you today?
May the Lord answer you when you are in distress…
John Edgerton is Lead Pastor at First United Church of Oak Park, Illinois.