Ancient Mariners, Psalms, and Prayers

by | Aug 27, 2020 | Devotional

I’ve always been intrigued by The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. It’s an old poem. A long, old poem by a guy named Coleridge. Out of the whole thing, I think the part most of us have any knowledge of is this one: 

Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.

Coleridge wrote this all the way back in 1798, but we still remember it. The Atlantic just ran an article in May called “The 1798 Poem That Was Made for 2020: ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ is taking on new meaning during the coronavirus pandemic.” 

This poem tells a story. A strange story. In short, a mariner—or a sailor—shoots an albatross, which it turns out to be a pretty awful idea. The situation turns pretty grim for the sailors at sea. There’s no wind. There’s no water to drink (hence the famous line quoted above). People are seeing frightening sea creatures. And the sailors realize this is all happening because the mariner shot that albatross. That was the cause of all this. So they make him wear the dead bird around his neck. Eventually, the 200 other sailors on his ship die. Everyone dies except for mariner—the one guilty of shooting the albatross. 

I suppose they were the fortunate ones because things keep on getting progressively worse for the mariner, to the point where he just wants to die. But, at last, he learns his lesson to appreciate the beauty of all creatures. He is finally able to pray. And, at last, the curse is at least partially lifted. He’s able to return to land. But now it’s his job to wander the earth and teach others the lesson he learned about loving every creature God made.  In the words of the mariner:

He prayeth best, who loveth best
All things both great and small;
For the dear God who loveth us,
He made and loveth all.

Thinking of prayer, the mariner prayed because he was in trouble. Like the mariner, we pray to ask God to deliver us from misery and difficulty. You see people praying like this all through the Bible. People pray because they’re needy.  Another reason people pray is to praise God. That’s also super biblical. Why else do we pray? Christians pray to confess sin. Prayer should be our response in each of these situations. But one we probably don’t think of as often, if ever, is that prayer should be our response when we read the Word of God. 

Prayer should be our response to reading the Bible. All you have to do is look at the book of Psalms to see this is a biblical pattern. Psalm 119, the longest of all the Psalms, is all about the teaching of God’s Law—God’s revelation—His commands found in His Word.  And you see this response of prayer. Psalm 119 shows prayer is the right response when we’re in trouble. Psalm 119 shows prayer is our response to give God praise and thanks. 

At midnight I rise to praise you, because of your righteous rules (Psalm 119:62).

There’s thanksgiving. There’s supplication. The Psalmist asks God for understanding and deliverance—all based on what He knows about God as revealed in the Word of God. 

Let my cry come before you, O LORD; give me understanding according to your word! Let my plea come before you; deliver me according to your word (Psalm 119:169–170).

And then, how can we ignore the fact that Psalm 119 addresses the Lord directly over and over? Isn’t that prayer—over and over again based on a response to God’s Word? But, so often, we overlook this response. We read Scripture and we’re done. That’s it. Move onto what’s next on the to-do list. But shouldn’t we respond back to God? He’s spoken to us in His Word. Do we leave it at that? Or should we respond to Him with a prayer based on what we’ve read? 

When you read a verse like Psalm 119:12: “Blessed are you, O LORD; teach my your statues!” Pray that back to the Lord. Those words aren’t there just to teach us information. God is blessed. We need to learn His statues. No way! We can pray that to the God who put it in the Bible and knows that this needs to be our prayer too. “O Lord, you are blessed. Teach me your statutes.” 

Tie your response to what you read. And you will find your prayer life enriched by it. Every situation, every action in life is an opportunity to respond to God. The book of Psalms shows us we can respond to God with song, but also with prayer.

Brent Niedergall

Pastor, Grammarian, Runner

Brent Niedergall, MDiv, is Chief Editor at Positive Action for Christ in Whitakers, North Carolina. He’s gone to war in Afghanistan, felled towering trees, and parsed Greek verbs.


Brent Niedergall