What a Madman Taught Me About Prayer in Life's Chaotic Times

In the most chaotic times of life, we maintain a white-knuckled grip on anything that remains predictable. It might be a close friendship or a gym routine. It might be something simple like how you fold and stack the towels.

This is not OCD. It’s clinging to a vestige of stability. Unchangeableness. Something or someone to anchor us while we're whirling in a vortex of uncertainty.

If that’s you, I get it. I’ve been there, lots of times, especially during divorce. If your health, career, or marriage feels like one of those vomit-inducing carnival rides, the last thing you need is more of your life unhinged.

I have a suggestion. It might sound strange, but hear me out.

I got the idea from a madman.

The Outlaw Poet

There was once an outlaw who hid in a town full of his enemies. This was risky, but so was returning home. He was hunted man. When his cover was blown, he quickly went to Plan B. He faked insanity. He scratched at the walls with his fingernails. Let saliva run out of his mouth and down his beard.

When the authorities pulled the man before the king, he was dismissive. “Look, I have enough madmen in my town already. I don’t need one more. Away with him!”

And so the outlaw madman escaped. He wrote a unique prayer afterward. The madman’s name is David. And his prayer is Psalm 34.

Praying Your ABCs

We’d expect a prayer from such a man, in such an insanely chaotic season of life, to be barely intelligible. A hodgepodge of gibberish lines that read like the lyrics of a rap song on crack. But, no, it’s not. Quite the opposite.

Psalm 34 is one of a handful of acrostic psalms in the Bible. Acrostic means each line begins with the successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Rendered into [somewhat wooden] English, it would be something like this:
At all times I will bless the Lord…
Boasting in the Lord is what my soul shall do…
Come, magnify the Lord with me…

The psalm goes on, each line methodically, predictably following the unchangeable alphabet of the Hebrew people.

Organized Chaos in Prayer

“That’s interesting,” you might be thinking, “but so what? How is this going to help me in my own chaotic life?”

It seems to me that there is an unspoken but vital truth in this prayer. @@The more out-of-control our lives become, the more stable and predictable prayers can be.@@

You may feel like throwing a fit. Basically coming unhinged before God. If so, go for it. I’ve done that, too. Amens blended with tears and snot and profanity. Thank God he’s got thick skin and a big heart.

But we need more than a release valve for stress. We need methodical, predictable prayers that lead us from A to B to C all the way to Z and back.

And that’s what we have in the Psalms.

When You Pray, Say…

When the disciples of Jesus asked him how to pray, he replied, “Well, you know, just say whatever’s on your heart.”

No, actually, he didn’t. He gave them the Lord’s Prayer, every syllable of it. God supplied the words that God wanted them to say back to him. Isn’t that how we learn a language? By repeating back what was first said to us?

So with all biblical prayers. @@The psalms are God’s words to us that become our words back to God.@@

There’s some wild and untamed prayers in the psalms. But they’re fenced in by order, symmetry, predictability. They organize chaos.

And they bring order and hope and stability to our chaotic lives.

So I have a suggestion. Every morning or every evening, find a few minutes to pray a psalm or two (or three). Don’t pick and choose what strikes your fancy. Start with Psalm 1 and work your way forward. If you’re into charts, here’s a handy-dandy chart where you can cover the whole book in a month.

I think you’ll discover—as thousands have before you—that the psalms give voice to every emotion imaginable. Verse by verse, prayer by prayer, they give you words that you never thought of before.

These words are more than prayers. They are heart-shapers. They mold and shape who you are, how you think of yourself, and how you think of God.

So open up your Bible to the middle, find the Psalms, and let these prayers become your anchor in the midst of life’s most turbulent times.