Crying to God from the Depths: learning to pray with Psalm 130

Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord;
Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy.
(Psalm 130:1-2)

The word translated in Psalm 130:1 as ‘depths’ refers literally to the deep places of the sea. In Isaiah 51:10, for example, the prophet asks the Lord: “Was it not you who dried up the sea, the waters of the great deep, who made a road in the depths of the sea so that the redeemed might cross over?”

Metaphorically, the use of ‘depths’ signifies a place of serious need and vulnerability. In English, we speak of being in deep trouble. Or we say that we’re drowning when we feel buried by the demands of life.

Thus we can easily relate to the cry of the psalmist as he prays ‘out of the depths.’

Think of Jonah’s story, where his descent into the depths of the water – and eventually into the depths of the belly of the great fish – symbolize the depths of his trouble because he disobeyed God. And so he prays:

“In my distress I called to the Lord,
    and he answered me.
From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help,
    and you listened to my cry.
You hurled me into the depths,
    into the very heart of the seas,
    and the currents swirled about me;
all your waves and breakers swept over me.
(Jonah 2:2-3)

There are times when we bring the depths on ourselves and there are times when others bring it upon us or circumstances beyond our control in a fallen world bring us into the depths.

God mercifully hears us with his ‘ears’.

The beauty of this psalm is that is shows us that are experience of the depths is not too deep for God. As it says in Psalm 139, verse 12, “even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.”

We can cry out to God from the depths. If rebellious Jonah can do it, then certainly we can turn to God in the depths of our rebellion and be heard. If adulterous David can do it, then certainly we can cry from the depths of our sin and be heard by God. If rejected Ruth can do it, then certainly we can cry out in rejection and God will hear us. If the enslaved Israelites can call out in Egypt, then certainly we can call to God from the depths of what binds us and God will hear us. I do not have enough breath to gather all the stories of men and women calling to God from the depths and finding God’s ears open to their cry. 

So, too, God hears our cry from the depths. And in hearing, He validates our cries and our suffering. His hearing tells us that our suffering within the depths is not meaningless. God has open ears to us and that is a sign of His great mercy. As one writer says: “The experience of God’s mercy leads one to a greater sense of God.”

So call out from the depths and let your prayers open the floodgates of God’s mercy of into the shallows of suffering.

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