PRAYING THE PSALMS-PSALMS 8 & 13
We are all somewhat familiar with the Psalms. We read them. Some we use regularly or say regularly, like the 23rd Psalm. Others we sing, and our hymnal has quite a few put to music. They are part of the suggested readings for the church each Sunday. But one remarkable aspect of the Psalms is often overlooked. The psalms were prayers of the people together in worship. Some had obviously been used individually and were then collected with other psalms to form the book of Psalms. Ever since over time, numerous people have used the psalms as their personal prayer guide. For this week and again on July 31, I am going to go over some psalms and offer suggestions on how you can use them in your personal prayer life. Unless you have spent a great deal of time with the psalms or taken one of my classes on the psalms, you may be surprised how open the psalms are. They take on all kinds of feelings and events going on in people’s lives and go so far as to demand God take action. Unless you have seen the play or movie Fiddler on the Roof or read the original stories on which the play is based, or possibly been to a Jewish synagogue, you might not know or understand how this demand for action works out. When we get to psalm 13, I will give you some insight.
One theme of the psalms is praising God. Therefore, prayer following the psalms should include praise of God, taking time to praise God. One example is psalm 8. “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” You are God and you are our God, and you are majestic, you are Lord. You are in charge and the earth shows it. Praise be to you. We see your glory everywhere displayed. We know it goes beyond the heavens themselves. You are beyond time and space, praise be to you. We have heard children and little ones praise you, and we know that comes from you. Praise be to you for the fact children can praise you. Seeing and hearing such praise from children even God’s enemies know God is God. Seeing and hearing them praise you silences the evil ones, those who are against you. We know it and have seen it. Praise be to you, O God.
Now the psalm becomes personal, “when I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place….” I myself look up to the heavens, O God, look up into space itself and see what you have done, how you have made the universe possible. I see specifically the moon and the stars and I know and praise you God for all of creation. Despite all the universe is in its vastness and its magnificence, and I see it and know it is from you, the temptation is to see ourselves as insignificant or as meaningless in the grand scheme of things. But no, humanity is special to you. Christians know this deeply as God became human in Jesus Christ. I know this Lord and I am amazed and I praise you for regarding humanity so specially, so wonderfully, and so worthily. I know you God have made humanity and me personally just lower than the heavenly beings and crowned with glory. You do consider us special, valuable, wondrous, and able to share some of your glory. You are the glory, and you give a big portion to us and to me. I am special. I am highly regarded. I am valued, because of you God.
It goes further, you God made humans including me to rule over what you have made. You have put me and all other humans in charge of what you have created. All that is is under our feet, subject to us, at our direction. You have entrusted creation to us, including me personally. I am responsible for what you have done, but I praise you for giving me that authority, for allowing me that responsibility. I know I and human beings are meant to rule, to oversee all that is, and I praise you God that you are. That is a hefty task and you believe in me to do that task. Praise be to you, O God.
Specifically, this responsibility includes all the animals of this earth. I have been given authority over them. I am in charge of them. I am their lord. This is how much you trust me, O God. This is how much you believe in me, O God. This is what I mean to you, O God. I can never downgrade myself, because of how you treat me, how you think of me, how you value me. Praise be to you, O God, for believing so much in me. And as the psalm began, so it ends. O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” Sometimes in prayer, repetition really is necessary. Here because we know how God values us and the responsibility God places on us, we can praise God as we began our prayer with acknowledging that God really is God, Lord and our Lord and anyone who sees and knows this Lord as I do will see and know how majestic is your name in all the earth. Everyone who allows themselves to see will know that God is majestic in all the earth and the name of God is incredible, majestic indeed.
Can you pray that? Or can you pray as Psalm 13 asking for help? This is blunt, tactless, direct language to God, and many people are uneasy about praying like this, but the psalms do it all the time. That is why in Jewish circles you will actually hear people praying like this psalmist prays. Four times the psalmist asks, “How long?” How long, O God, meaning will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me? Look God this is what I am facing now. I don’t see you with me now. You don’t respond to me. You aren’t here for me when I really need you. My mind is going wild as I reflect on all that I am facing daily and it fills me with constant sorrow. My enemy is having a field day with me and is constantly victorious over me. How long, O God, are you going to allow that? How long, O God, are you going to make it possible for me to live like this? How long before I truly feel your presence and your grace in the world for me and I know you are there and really making a difference for me? Or do I have to put up with my sorrow and my terrible thoughts, until you get back in the picture with me. I do not see your presence and until I do I am a mess. You can straighten me out. You can help me in my daily living and in light of what I am facing. You can vanquish my enemy. You can. Will you? How long? This is my prayer bluntly, tactlessly, directly, “How long, O God?” You know the answer and you can do something about this.
Look on me and answer, O Lord my God. Pay attention to me. Turn your eyes on me. See me. Give me an answer. You are Lord, you are in charge. You can do it. You are my God, so I know you can do this for me, if you will just pay attention and listen to me and see what I have to put up with. The alternative is death. If you are not going to let me see with my own eyes what you should and must do for me, then you condemn me to death. Worse, my enemy will see my death and celebrate. The enemy will be affirmed that I deserved it and that he was right and I was wrong. The joy my enemies, my foes will have at seeing me wiped out! Is that what you want, God? Is that your purpose for me, O God?
I can’t believe it. I won’t believe it. How long indeed! The fact is despite the enemy, despite all that has happened to me and still continues, I do trust in your unfailing love, O God. I am saying this to you God in my prayer now. Despite everything you know about and I have told you about, despite what is happening to me in the world now, despite all appearances elsewise, I trust in your unfailing love. Further, I can rejoice, my very heart can rejoice, my whole being can rejoice, because I know you will save me. You are there for me and you will deliver me. I know this with my whole being and everything I am. I say this to you, even despite what I am facing. I can tell you to act and I know you will act. You will take care of my enemy. You will lift me up. You will be there for me. I can anticipate being saved and I know it will happen.
Therefore, I will sing to the Lord, for he has been good to me. In the past, in the present, the Lord has been good to me. In this situation, the Lord has been good to me. Against my enemy, the Lord has been good to me. I say this to you God, you have been good to me. Your love for me is unfailing even despite the fact I have to turn to you and demand you do something. I know you will and you have. You do save me when I ask. You are there when I need you. You have been good to me, I know it. Praise be to you. I sing to you in honor of you and in thanksgiving to you for all you have done.
Two examples of how the Psalms pray to God and how we can pray to God. We pray in praise for how God values us and we realize how important we are to God. In Jesus Christ, that should be a given, but the Psalms reminds us as well. Therefore, we take time to acknowledge this to God and praise God for so valuing us, and me especially, each on you is a me when you pray. Further, we can and should offer to God our real pains, our real needs, what we are really going through, including with enemies. Then we can say, how long? How long, O God, my God, will I have to put up with this? How long, O God, God that you are, will you allow this to continue? I trust in you God, my God that you are, for you are Lord and you will deliver me, you will save me, you will act. Direct, blunt prayers are okay with God. They are in the Bible. They are in the Psalms, and God expects to hear from us what is actually happening in our lives, including the bad, and then we can ask God to do something and trust God to do it.
Praise be to God and God do something are ways we can pray to God. Pray to God openly and honestly. Pray thanking God and pray seeking God’s immediate attention. The Psalms do and so can you.