Freedom, Prison and Praise: A 1-Verse Prayer for Desperate Places

What rolls off your tongue when you’re in trouble? What comes out when you’re in a prison or a cave? How do you pray?

Like A Song, It Came

“Help me,” “Heal us,” and “Have mercy,” are desperate prayers my God has heard lately. There’s also been that prayer for a prodigal.

But last night, these words came. Like lyrics from songs we sang in eighth grade, they came.

Set me free from my prison,
    that I may praise your name.
Then the righteous will gather about me
    because of your goodness to me.

That’s the last verse of Psalm 142, “Of David. When he was in the cave.” David prayed those words when he was literally in a cave, hiding from a hostile King Saul who literally sought to end his life.

I’d just texted a few friends to ask them to pray, another SOS. Please pray that God will bring peace to our family.

Then Psalm 142 verse 7 came, like ROYGBIV and All Cows Eat Grass and The Doxology.

Like a familiar, overlearned thing it came. The Spirit sent it and it came.

Because that verse was a go-to prayer during the decade of gut-wrenching infertility, a heart-wrenching church split, and marriage conflict that came along for the ride. Those felt like a prison that I couldn’t escape. I felt helpless and hemmed in.

So I prayed.

Set Me Free From My Prison

We know anything is a blessing that makes us pray. I think thinking of the word prison today triggered it.

David’s prison was a cave. He hid in a hole in the rocks to save his life from hostile King Saul. Derek Kidner explains, “the strain of being hated and hunted is almost too much, and faith is at full stretch.”

Psalm 142 teaches us how to pray when we feel trapped and out of control, when we see no way of escape from our dark cave of troubles. It is a psalm of lament, it is a psalm crying out to God.

There is no cave so deep, so dark, but we may out of it send up our souls in prayer to God.

Matthew Henry

My prison is not a cave. It was my “decade of troubles.”

But today I felt trapped and helpless again. As if there was nothing I could do to escape hostile, hateful words from someone I love, nothing I could do to help him know how much he is loved. I didn’t feel hunted but I did feel hated.

So for freedom, I prayed.

That I May Praise Your Name

During that decade of troubles, I loved to pray this phrase of Psalm 142. Because it grounded my prayer. It turned it from being just about me and my pain to the Lord and his praise.

Bible commentator Albert Barnes, explains, “Not merely for my own sake, but that I may have occasion more abundantly to praise thee; that thus [you] may be honored; an object at all times much more important than our own welfare.”

In other words, we ground our cries for help in the glory and praise of God that will come when he frees us from our prisons. Bring my soul out of prison, not that I may live more comfortably, or insure my physical safety and financial security, but that I may praise your name.

Because God is zealous for his glory and seeks our praise, these prison break prayers are easy to pray.

So for God’s praise, I prayed.

The Righteous Will Gather Around Me Because of Your Goodness to Me

The Hebrew verb for “praise” means to confess or acknowledge. David wants to extol God’s power, goodness and mercy in the company of the saints. In other words, he wants God to answer his prayer so that he can glorify God publicly.

Here, Derek Kidner notes, David “dares to visualize the day when he is no longer shunned or hunted, but thronged, or even crowned.” David visualized a good end. In Christ, with him as our refuge and portion (verse 5), we can be sure of a good end (Romans 8:28). But we can’t be sure when.

I believe we have biblical warrant to take our cues from David and visualize a good end.

Do you visualize how answered prayer would look? Because it does seem like that’s what David is doing. He’s picturing his faithful friends, like the friends I texted who pray, coming around him and rejoicing at God’s goodness to him in freeing him from prison.

David’s visualizing is hoping.

So in hope, I pray.

Faith Joined By Hope

David’s faith was tested in the cave. It was “at full stretch,” as Kidner said. But it was “undefeated, and in the final words it is at last joined by hope.”

Sixteen years ago, God broke me free from a childless prison. Six years ago, he brought me out of an estranged prison. Today, God is building our marriage. I am a prisoner of hope.

Now I am visualizing deliverance. It’s hard, but I picture a day when the relationship filled with hurt and hate is marked by love and laughter. Then the righteous will gather around us and celebrate because of God’s goodness to us.

Friend, tell me if I can pray for you. Because I’d like to get in on the party. Because there will be a party.

The righteous will rejoice in God’s goodness to us. He has done great things, we will say together.

So together, we pray.

We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.

1 Corinthians 1:8b-11 (ESV)

Make A Name, Or Praise His Name

Peter Bruegel painting Tower of Babel make a name
The Tower of Babel, by Peter Bruegel the Elder

We grow small trying to be great.

E. Stanley Jones

The whole earth had one language and the same words. And as the people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there…Then they said, “Come let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heaves, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” Genesis 11:1-2, 4

Fame… I Wanna Live Forever. Baby Remember My Name

Who doesn’t want to make a name for himself? Who doesn’t desire a little bit of fame? Not enough to attract the paparazzi. But just enough so people remember you, colleagues quote you now and then, and your name carries weight; so that with you can enjoy “Basking in the glorious wake of modest achievement”?

Who wouldn’t want that? (If you tend to agree, you might enjoy 9 Quotes for Glory Seekers).

Remember hunting through honor-roll lists to find your name?  Or buying the paper just to see it in print? We’re hardwired to seek significance. At least since Babel, we sons of Adam and daughters of Eve have sought to make a name for ourselves.

Juxtaposed Names

Many of us learned about the Babel confusion in Sunday school. And we’ve known Father Abraham had many sons for just as long. But have you ever noticed how God set the two side-by-side, juxtaposed?

Juxtapose means to place close together for contrasting effect. I think God uses juxtaposition for our instruction, to make things more obvious. And re-reading Genesis this week has me thinking that Babel and Abram can teach us a lot about making a name.

Maybe they way they’re placed is supposed to teach us that making a great name is bit like catching butterflies. If we run straight at them, they flit away.

Here’s what I mean.

Genesis 11 begins like this: Let us make a name for ourselves. Chapter 12 begins like this,

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.  And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.  

Striving for fame, the tower building, name and fame seekers were dispersed. But Abram who by faith obeyed receives God’s unsolicited blessing: a great nation and a great name.

Do you see? Do I see? For the Christian, a great name is not self-made. It is given. 

We Don’t Make A Name—It’s Given

Throughout Scripture we see that great names are given by God, not made by man. After all, it was our Lord Jesus himself who said, whoever would lose his life would find it and whoever would be first must be last. This is our God, the Servant King.

The book of Ruth reveals the same. Do you recall the name of the guy who had first “dibs” on marrying Ruth? The name of the man who “took off his sandal“? The fellow who rejected Ruth for fear it would compromise his own name, his own inheritance?

Stop racking your brain. His name isn’t recorded. My Bible footnote says the Ruth’s narrator references this man with an indefinite, like “So and So.” In order that his name wouldn’t be remembered at all.

But you do know the name Boaz, don’t you?

Then Boaz said to the elders and all the people,”You are witnesses this day that I have bought from the hand of Naomi all that belonged to Elimelech and all that belonged to Chilion and Mahlon.  Also Ruth the Moabite, the widow of Mahlon, I have bought to be my wife, to perpetuate the name of the dead in his inheritance, that the name of the dead may not be cut off from among his brothers and from the gate of his native place.  You are witnesses this day.” 

Unconcerned with his own fame, unfazed by maintaining Mahlon’s name, it is the name of Boaz is remember. Boaz, the father of Obed, the father of Jesse, the father of David.

Judas And Mary: 2 More Juxtaposed Names

Mark records a gathering at Simon the Leper’s home. Mary the sister of Lazarus (John 12:3) and Judas were there with Jesus. Mary pre-anointed Jesus for his imminent burial with, “an alabaster flask of pure nard worth a year’s wages.”

What about Judas? On the verge spectacular sin, he scolds Mary for “wasting” the perfume. To which Jesus replies,

Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me.  For you always have the poor with you and whenever you want you can do good for them.  But you will not always have me.  She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial.  And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.  Mark 14:6-9

And so Mary’s name is memorialized. Which explains why for ages “Mary” held the top honors for girls’ names, while, last I looked, “Judas” has never made it to the top 3,792 in boy names.

Mary’s name is remembered not because she sought fame but because she loved the One whose name is truly great. We don’t know who designed the Tower of Babel, but by faith Abram obeyed and God made his name great. We don’t know who the Sandal Man was, but we know Boaz. He was the great-grandfather of King David.

And we all know the name of Great David’s Greater Son. Because it is the only Name by which we must be saved.

Praise that name and you will live forever.

Oh, magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together!

Psalm 134:3

10 Reasons I’m Glad I Married Him & 1 Marriage Tip

Bride and Groom married walking down aisle, hand in hand
January 4, 1997

1 Marriage (& Friendship) Tip

Hair fades, brows crease, and it is all grace that our marriage has endured to year 25.

But even with 24 years under my belt, I’m no marriage expert.

I do have one quick tip, though. I call it the THAT’S WHY I MARRIED YOU game; AKA: CALL OUT THE GOOD, or I LOVE THAT ABOUT YOU.

Single? No worries. It works with friends, too. Just call it, THAT’S WHY YOU’RE MY FRIEND.

In fact, I advise my single friends, Keep your eyes wide open before marriage, then half-closed after the wedding. This, I think, is an active way of keeping our eyes half-closed—closed to negatives we can’t change in others—and wide open to their praiseworthy ways.

To clarify, calling out the good does not mean we don’t see the bad. It only means we choose to dwell on the good, à la Philippians 4:8,

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Not Blind, Just Focused

So playing this “game” doesn’t imply you’re smitten down to the pinky toes. It just means you’re choosing to see the good in them. It’s not blind devotion. It’s proper focus.

But maybe you feel like you made a mistake in choosing your marriage partner. I hope this surprising quote from lessons for incompatible soul-mates encourages you.

Nearly all marriages, even happy ones, are mistakes: in the sense that almost certainly (in a more perfect world, or even with a little more care in this very imperfect one) both partners might have found more suitable mates…But the ‘real soul-mate’ is the one you are actually married to.

Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, pp. 51-52

And you’re real soul-mate will thank you and feel more like your soul-mate if you practice this one tip.

Don’t save your loving speeches for your friends till they are dead; do not write them on their tombstones, speak them rather now instead. 

Ana Cumens

Do Not Withhold Good

Directions for use: Simply call out the good when you think it. You notice when a friend keeps her word when it hurts, call it out. Your husband unloads the dishes, acknowledge it.

Don’t save you loving speeches. Praise the praiseworthy. Don’t be stingy with it. If you think a complimentary, affectionate, kind-hearted thought about your husband (or friend) share it.

Bonus Points: Call out the good in front of others. I try to play “that’s why I married you” in front of the boys. It sounds like, “He gives great hugs. That’s why I married your dad.” Or when you’re having coffee with Meg and some mutual friends you casually ask, “Doesn’t Meg give the most thoughtful gifts?”

And without any more ado, here’s why 24 years after the wedding, I’m glad Jim’s my man.

10 Reasons

In no particular order, here are 10 reasons I’m glad I married Jim:

1. He makes me laugh. Refer to the infamous Stanley Park incident and ask him Inspector Clouseau at Walgreens.

2. He is a handyman of handymen. Look what he installed for forest-dwelling, sun-loving me.

3. He fears God. He greatly delights in his commands.

4. He is kind. And—shhh— I don’t even think he even knows about the 30-Day Challenge.

5. He is a tidy. He puts dirty clothes in the bin, though I still struggle to put the clean away.

6. He forgives me. Yes, to #7 of those 8 marriage quotes: A good marriage is the union of two good forgivers. 

7. He gives the best back rubs. ‘Nuff said.

8. He plays games. With the boys and with me, he plays to win (and usually does) and for that I’m glad.

9. He reads to me. It was Churchill’s Trial in bed last week.

10. He keeps his word. Jim’s word is golden; never have I ever doubted that.

That’s how CALL IT OUT looks around here on our 24th anniversary night. But remember, it also works wonders with friends.

Before I close, I’ll let you in on a little secret about this “game.” Playing it is a gift. But the gift of gladness is as much to yourself as it is to your spouse or your friends.

So do not withhold. Call out the good.

Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.

Proverbs 3:27

When Opportunity Doesn’t Come Knocking


I’ve been arguing with myself a lot lately.  
Maybe you’ve had a dual like this too? It goes something like this.

Play By Play

Ready? Allez!

You so enjoy the ministry stuff you do. Counseling and teaching and online- it’s so fulfilling. Just think what could be done with better PR and another degree!  Greater opportunities for the message you love to share. 

Then Me-Two interrupts Me- usually long before that’s all out- and lunges.

If God wanted that for you, someone down here would have made it perfectly clear. When was the last time a Leadership Development Head tapped you on the shoulder? And when was the last time you got asked to speak?  Leave well enough alone. 

But I don’t. Not yet anyway.

I’ll go for it- God can always close the door, says Me.

Don’t get too big for your britches, thrusts Me-Two.

But good desires can be from God, gingerly sidesteps Me.

Mid-life crisis, jabs Me-Two.

Nah- This  degree has been on my mind since I was 23, parries Me.

But God’s using you without those extra letters behind your name, says Me-Two.

Yes, but God ordains means- including training and degrees, strikes Me.

Me-Two lunges, now, sharp and true, Be content with what you have.

I am grateful, says Me, disengaging sheepishly.

That’s about it, how the match plays out.

Get Out Of God’s Way

Enter Pastor Crawford Loritts and his right-on-point, 90-second broadcast, I just so happened to catch.

Loritts has spoken a ton and led a whole lot. But he says he’s never asked for a speaking engagement or sought a leadership position. “While that sort of self-promotion may be appropriate for others,” Loritts said, “it’s not for me. God won’t let me do that. Maybe to keep my pride in check.”

He cited Galatians 1:22-24 to show how God prepared the way for Paul, without Paul doing a bit of his own PR.  And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. They kept hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” And they glorified God because of me.  

“They kept hearing.” The Judea Christians were hearing good words about Paul- praise of Paul-  without a bit of self-promotion from Paul. God went before Paul. He prepared the way for his messenger Paul. God set the stage and Paul obeyed the call and climbed on.

Then Loritts shared this principle: When God wants the Word to be spread, He’ll get it done. PR can be a tool in God’s hands, but we need to get out of the way and make sure what we do honors and glorifies Him. 

Me-Two was right. But it wasn’t the end.

Put in a Good Word

Because the very next day, I tuned inagain.

This time, in a message called, “Help Others Be Used By God,” Pastor Loritts explained how God raised up leaders who put in good words for him. Loritts credits his ministry opportunities to the goodness of those who came along and said, I like Crawford. Give him a chance.

Pastor Loritts described a time when this happened for Paul. And when James, Cephas, and John who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship that we should go to the heathen and they to those of the circumcision.  

The right hand of fellowship, explains Loritts, was an endorsement. It was leaders saying, We stand shoulder to shoulder with you. We’re gonna speak up for you and what you’re all about. Then with God’s big grace, and the leaders’ good words, Paul began a ministry that shaped the history of the world.

God uses encouragers to propel us and open doors. Their handshakes and ‘Atta boy’s” and “You go girl’s” push us on. God has marked every one of His children for usefulness, Loritts said. So let’s help them to be used.  

We all stand on the shoulders of others. Who of us can’t name a teacher (Mr. Baughn, English Lit), coach (Koceja, Track and Field), co-worker or friend (Traci, “Maybe start a blog.”) who encouraged a gifting or put in a good word? Their praise then pushed us to enter that race or hone that skill or take that class.

So don’t save your praise. When the opportunities we await don’t come knocking, we can still use what influence we do have to put in a good word where we can. 

Let’s help them be used. 

Do Unto Others: Encourage

Me and Me-Two still fight sometimes, about knocking on doors and doing more.

I could wish I had leaders opening doors for me the way Crawford Loritts had for him. I could. 

But I will do what I tell my boys to do, when they wish they’d been treated differently: Do to others as you would have them do to you. And this one’s not holy writ, but Be the change you want to see, also fits.  

The old-time pastor Matthew Henry had it right, There may be a just occasion for us to vindicate ourselves, but it does not become us to applaud ourselves. Proprio laus sordet in ore—Self-praise defiles the mouth. Or, Praise in one’s own mouth stinks. 

Self-promotion might get IN God’s way. But using your mouth to encourage others IS God’s way.

Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips.

Proverbs 27:2