Shepherd of Israel, listen!
You, the one who leads Joseph as if he were a sheep.
You, who are enthroned upon the winged heavenly creatures.
Show yourself before Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh!
Wake up your power! Come to save us!…
You brought a vine out of Egypt.
You drove out the nations and planted it.
You cleared the ground for it;
then it planted its roots deep, filling the land.
The mountains were covered by its shade;
the mighty cedars were covered by its branches.
It sent its branches all the way to the sea;
its shoots went all the way to the Euphrates River.
So why have you now torn down its walls
so that all who come along can pluck its fruit,
so that any boar from the forest can tear it up,
so that the bugs can feed on it?
Please come back, God of heavenly forces!
Look down from heaven and perceive it!
Attend to this vine,
this root that you planted with your strong hand,
this son whom you secured as your very own.
It is burned with fire. It is chopped down.
They die at the rebuke coming from you.
Let your hand be with the one on your right side—
with the one whom you secured as your own—
then we will not turn away from you!
Revive us so that we can call on your name.
Restore us, Lord God of heavenly forces!
Make your face shine so that we can be saved! (Common English Bible)
Let us continually keep in mind that the psalms are quite Jewish. Yes, I often refer to the psalms as the Church’s Prayer Book and unabashedly see them through Christian eyes. Yet, the psalter, at its core, are prayers and songs of the Jewish experience.
The deep longings and yearnings of the Jewish people within a constant stream of hardship, difficulty, and persecution give voice to all humanity. In other words, the bearing of the Jewish soul as the people of God is the crying out on behalf of us all.
The Jews know a thing or two about lament. Today’s psalm is a lament, a prayer, a longing for God to come and restore Israel. It is a cry for the Lord to no longer look upon them with anger. The people knew, in their exposed vulnerability, they needed God. They longed for their God to come and save them and to bring a revitalized nation.
Amid awful circumstances and emotional pain, it can be hard to focus with any sort of concentrated prayer.
The Jews also help us here because they crafted and arranged the psalms in such a way as to enable and foster recall and memory. So, where many of us Gentiles can be rather more like pagans babbling on in our distress, the Jewish psalms offer us the ability of short, succinct, and staccato prayers. Early Christians called them “breath prayers.”
Throughout the day we can utter “Stir up your power, O God; come to save us.” The intention of saying it repeatedly in a day is not to get God’s attention – because we already have it. No, the purpose is to connect us with Divine resources for deliverance; to be in constant touch and continual communion with the One who can ultimately restore, renew, revitalize, and reform the world with justice and righteousness.
Repeated short prayers offer us the opportunity to express our longing for the flourishing of the earth and its inhabitants, as well as to enjoy walking with God in the garden of fellowship, peace, and goodwill.
To pray is to be restored.
Restoration is a beautiful thing. I rarely watch makeover shows on television, but if I notice a program where an old house, seemingly better suited for the wrecking ball, getting restored to its original charm and beauty, I am hooked.
We as people seem to resonate deeply with things being repaired and rejuvenated to looking brand new again.
Again, the Jewish people go before us, through the psalms, with the vision to see the old become new. Whereas some may get lost in the drab discouragement of a gray and dreary environment, forgetting the original shine of how things once were, Asaph, the consummate Jewish song leader, guided the people in remembering how God’s people enjoyed the covenant and the promises of God.
Yet, over time, the relationship was not maintained and cared for; the people gradually slid into disrepair, much like a once grand old house, now merely a haunt for critters and birds. Centuries of neglecting prayer and worship brought a situation where it seemed the only recourse was to do away with the people and begin again.
I certainly do not want to be on the bad end of God’s anger. I would much rather learn my lesson from the Jewish experience and enjoy Divine favor.
I also long to see this old fallen world restored to her original beauty. So, we must come to God – not once – but again and again, over, and over. Like the hammer of perseverance, pounding nail after nail, so we must offer our prayers morning, noon, and night, day after day, crying out to God with the great cry of the Jewish people: “Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved!”
Merciful God of all nations bring restoration to our lives, our families, our faith communities, our workplaces, our human institutions, our neighborhoods, and our shared world. Send your Holy Spirit so that we might enjoy seasons of blessing again. Restore, renew, revive, and rejuvenate our disordered love. May your face shine upon us once again through the mighty name of Jesus. Amen.