“By David. To You, O LORD, I lift up my soul.” Psalm 25:1
The Context of Prayer
Lift up – “To You, Yahweh, I lift”. The Hebrew verb is nasa. It has three categories of meaning: to lift up (literally), to bear or carry (used especially of carrying away guilt and sin) and to take away (both literally and figuratively). Context determines the appropriate category. But perhaps David chooses this word because of the possibilities that stretch across all the categories. David lifts up his soul. He performs the mental act of presenting himself before God as though he were offering a sacrifice upon the altar. Have you been there? Have you felt the pain and hunger of offering yourself up to God, knowing that you are willingly placing yourself on His altar ready for sacrifice? This is a moment of deepest surrender and of greatest distress. No one comes to the altar of self-sacrifice with joy because on this altar I must die. If there is to be joy, it must come after the sacrifice when I discover that grace prevails. But at this moment, I lift my life toward the Judge of all Mankind. And that’s why nasa is so appropriate.
Nasa, “to lift”, is also “to carry away” my guilt and sin. Unless I lift my soul to God, He cannot carry away my guilt. But the very action of lifting is at the same moment the act of carrying away. What is most terrifying to me, that I should die on His altar, is in fact what releases me from my terror. “The one who loses his life for my sake shall find it”. Jesus understood the principle intimately. Self-sacrifice is the pathway to freedom.
“To carry away” is connected with the final category of nasa. Genesis 50:17 shows us that the word nasa used in the sense of “take away” is associated with forgiveness. God does more than carry away my sin and guilt. If it were merely carried off to some other place, its presence would still bear on my ultimate fate. Carrying away my sin might temporarily relieve me of its burden and punishment, but if I am to be truly free, my sin and guilt must be dealt with by forgiveness. Nasa does more than temporarily set aside my unworthiness before a holy God. Nasa takes it away forever.
In order for me to say, “by me to You”, the obstacles to intimacy must be removed. And nasa is the only way to remove them. I lift up who I am and God carries away and takes away what I am. I come in humility and surrender. There is no other way to come. When my soul has no other option than to be lifted up in sacrifice, I encounter the God who carries.
There are many days in my life when I need to be carried. It is utter fiction to believe that I can manage my own destiny, that I am the product of my own bootstrap elevation. If I am honest with myself (and that is the basis of all honesty), I know that I cannot cure my own soul ills. Unless I enter into intimate dialogue with the Creator, my soul withers. I long to be carried because the burdens that I bear are oppressive and crushing. “By me to You” is absolutely essential to my existence. The gap between “by me” and “by me to You” is more than I can hurdle. I must be carried across.