Once there was a singer-psalm-writer whose songs brought sweet comfort to many. Early in his career he sang to God about searching for love and looking for the answer. He mastered melody and harnessed harmony to express his struggles with envy and jealousy as well as his desire to hold on tight to God. He and his band of psalmists penned tunes about God’s perfect timing and made sure we would sing for the melody of God’s praise for years to come.
Yet even while his tunes topped the charts of God’s Kingdom, the man was not immune to temptation. This man-after-the-Lord’s-own-heart was a broken man, broken by his own sin and by those who sinned against him. He sang his suffering soulfully. At times he seemed to sing the anonymous confessions of a lunatic friend, but he knew that though his Great Physician prescribed strong medicine, He only meant to heal him from the inside out. The singer taught us that love takes time and that while we wait we must always be on the lookout for traces of heaven because God has promised, “I’ll not forget you.”
By now you may be thinking of King David, and you would be right to do so for the description fits him. But, as Christian music fans may have guessed, I’ve been describing another, more contemporary psalmist, Bryan Duncan.
The words of the shepherd-king David taught us to pray without pretense. His petitions were honest and raw, and yet they were not words meant to push God away but to pull Him up close for a better look at the One with whom David was dealing. With his new book Dear God . . . Really?, Bryan Duncan does the same. In Dear God . . . Really? Bryan leaves the door to his prayer closet open just enough for his readers to eavesdrop on his own honestly raw prayer life.
At just under 120 pages, Duncan’s psalter only records half the number of prayers that David’s does, but if you throw in the prayerful songs found in Duncan’s discography then the rock singer probably has the rock-slinger beat. But while Dear God may be short on words, it is long on lingering questions, high on humor, and wide with wonder at the God he just can’t put in a box.
I recommend Dear God . . . Really? because like David’s psalms, Bryan’s prayers are:
These prayers are are not dressed up in their Sunday best. They are refreshingly real.
Dear God . . . About Last Night . . . Should I be apologizing to you for stuff you knew I was gonna do before I did it? Yeah, I was mostly faking it last night. I just wanted people to think you and I were really tight. I was letting people assume that we’re getting along just fine. It seems a little redundant to admit it to you, though. How does this work in our relationship? I’m assuming you’d just like to hear me say, “I’m sorry, please forgive me,” and mean it. But it’s a little embarrassing that I can’t hide my motives or intentions or even color the implications just a little. You already know that I’m mostly interested in you for what you can do for me. Besides, what can I give the GOD who has everything?
Dear God. . . I’m Not In The Mood. I know I don’t have to tell you what a day this has been. It would be great if we could have this fantastic connection that would make things feel better, but I’m just not there. I can’t summon up a single euphoric thought. I’m just exhausted and a little depressed. I think our dialog together has been pretty one-sided recently, I must say. And to tell you the truth, I’m not getting much out of it. You never say anything, and right when I wish you would… nothing! (page 77)
If your prayers have grown sickly, take two doses of Dear God as you call on God each morning. “Dr.” Duncan’s wit is sure to cure the lamest of morning devotions.
I read that book The Shack by Paul Young, too, where he paints a picture of you showing up at the shack as a large black woman! I haven’t seen large black women the same since. Find myself asking them “big picture” questions like: “So what’s the future lookin’ like for me?” They respond by grabbing their cell phone and dialing 911. First time I asked, I thought maybe they were phoning in a request to angel headquarters to get an answer for me. (page 43)
Bryan is a master at self-inflicted satire. Several of his prayers, while aimed at himself, smacked me in the face along the way. If there is a spiritual gift of sarcasm, Duncan has it.
Dear God . . . Yer Not Followin’ My Plan! . . . No offense here, but your divine intervention seems a little slow. As an immortal, I’m worried that you might have forgotten that I only have maybe seventy years to get things done. I’m falling behind. I could really use your help in moving my plans forward. I’ll give you all the glory, of course.
Every now and then, these prayers asks questions that should make a pastor or church leader take note. These are the kinds of questions the people in the pews (or the folks in the folding chairs) are asking when we preach and teach.
I keep hearing from the pulpit how special I am cause you love me. And how you’ve given me a power to go out and really shine. But then they turn around and talk about how wretched I am for being self-centered and selfish. I’m getting a little confused. What is it? Am I valuable or worthless? (page 16).
That other singer-psalm-writer David once wrote something that describes what Duncan has done in Dear God . . . Really?, “Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts before him” (Psalm 62:8). Just as the Psalms are known for expressing the full range of human emotions, so Dear God . . . Really? expresses the highs and lows of one man’s stumbling pursuit of the God he trusts, but doesn’t always understand.
Thanks for sharing, Bryan D., and thanks for letting us tune in.
[Dear God . . . Really? is due to release on March 7, 2010. The preorder page with new graphics will be up at www.deargodreally.com soon. It will be available there, at www.engagefaith.com , and at www.amazon.com .]
[FOR FUN: How many Bryan Duncan or Sweet Comfort Band song titles can you count in the opening paragraphs of this review? Leave your guess in the comments section!]