Prayer as Lifting Up Our Souls to God

Praying Together
February 1, 2021
Douglas Allison

To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul. - Psalm 25:1 (ESV)
Perfunctory is not an adjective we should like to be an accurate description of our prayer lives. The term perfunctory refers to an action or gesture “carried out with a minimum of effort or reflection” (New Oxford American Dictionary). If we break the word down into parts, it sounds like a description of something a robot would do (per-function). Tying a shoelace or pumping gas may be perfunctory because there is no particular relationship involved. But when it comes to going on a date with your spouse or talking with a friend or child, we understand that to do it in a perfunctory way shows a lack of real interest and connection. A relationship that is mostly perfunctory is not much of a relationship at all.

Clearly, prayer should not be perfunctory because prayer is a means by which we relate actively to God as individuals and as a church. Yet prayer can become perfunctory like any other form of worship, something we do with as little involvement and thought as possible. It may become like paying cash for gas. When you enter the gas station, you’re not looking for a relationship with the attendant; you’re only there so she’ll give you 20 bucks’ worth on pump #3. So, how do we avoid perfunctory prayer?

One biblical answer is found in the phrase, “lifting up our soul”. David begins the 25th psalm this way. I believe this phrase and others like it offer helpful insight into how to pray.

“To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul” is a striking phrase because it seems paradoxical. If I am my soul, then how can I lift it up? Nevertheless, we read in Scripture other phrases like, “Bless the LORD, O my soul” (Psalm 103:1; emphasis mine). The biblical example is that people are capable of speaking to and exhorting themselves to action, and we do well to follow it.

Consider the sentence, “To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul.” This is language of total involvement. This is the opposite of perfunctory. Just picture a person moving from a sitting to a standing position. Our bodies are designed to be able to lift themselves up, and when we do so the whole body is involved in the task. It is really an incredibly complex process, but one which we intuitively understand.

So it is with prayer. As men and women made in God’s image, we have inherent abilities or faculties beyond the merely physical. And when we go to pray, it is possible to say words with the mouth without engaging any of the faculties of our soul.

As we pray together, let’s not be content with perfunctory prayer. Instead, let’s lift up our whole selves to God, body and soul, devoting every faculty our Creator gave us to engage as deeply as possible in the act of communing with God.