Psalm 143

persons raising hands
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The Old Testament Psalms are the Church’s prayer book.  For this reason, the Revised Common Lectionary includes a psalm for each daily reading.  What’s more, the lectionary typically repeats the psalm for three consecutive days.  This is to emphasize both the need to internalize biblical prayers as well as to allow us to linger with the problems, feelings, grief, praise, and situation within the psalm.  This allows us to not jump to hasty solutions and to act with careful and deliberate spiritual resolve.

Psalm 143 was crafted by David during a difficult time in his life.  David never was one to shy away from giving vent to God about his complaint; and, in equal measure, his confidence in God to handle the situation.

Since psalms are meant to be slowly imbibed, I began a practice several years ago of translating many of them for my own devotional purposes.*  For today’s translation, I am taking a few liberties with the text by deliberately changing the pronouns from singular to plural; and, naming the mentioned enemy specifically as COVID-19 so that this becomes a communal prayer for a specific circumstance:

Listen to our prayer, Lord!
Because of your faithfulness, bend your gracious ear to our requests for mercy!
Out of the vast storehouse of your righteousness, answer us!
Please don’t bring your people to judgment,
because, compared to you, not one person on the face of the earth is righteous before you.

You full well know that COVID-19 is hunting us down,
crushing life in the dirt,
forcing us to live sequestered
as if we are already in the grave.
Our spirits are growing weary—
our minds are a desert.

We remember the days when we were free of this scourge;
we chatted You up to others about all your awesome deeds;
we would talk about Your divine action in the world.
We did not hesitate to lift holy hands in prayer;
we were like dry earth, soaking up Your presence.

Answer us, Lord—and make it quick! Our fortitude needs to get bolstered.
Don’t hide your face from us
or that will be the end of us, for sure! We’ll die of the virus!

When we wake up in the morning, assure us of Your faithful love

because we’ve pinned our full trust on You.
Show us the next steps we need to take,
because we are looking up to You.
Deliver us from COVID-19, Lord!
We seek protection from you.
Teach us what we’re supposed to learn, what pleases you,
because you are our God.
Guide us by your good spirit
into good green pastures.
Give us life, Lord, for Your name’s sake.
Bring us out of this intense stress because of Your righteousness.
Wipe out COVID-19 because of your faithful love.
Destroy every germ which attacks us,
because we are Your people.

Amen.

We are truly in this together.  Click “Oh My Soul” by Casting Crowns to be reminded that we are not alone; and, that there is a God who listens.

 

*The translation of the psalm is based on an understanding of the Hebrew text and not a transliteration from English.

Hebrews 4:14-5:4 – Our Great High Priest

praying

“Since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.  For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.  Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

Metaphors matter.  That is, how we picture God truly influences the way we live.

Yesterday I met with a young man who was severely distressed, depressed, and had attempted suicide several times in the past months.  After listening to his story, I asked him a question: “How do you see or picture God?”  Without hesitation, he answered, “God is my CO (Commanding Officer).”  He went on to portray and picture General God who gives commands and good soldiers who obey what’s expected of them.

As a soldier, you would never walk up to your CO and vent all your feelings.  You wouldn’t have a dialogue.  There would be no extended conversations.  In the throes of trying to deal with emotional trauma, General God isn’t a metaphor that’s helpful.

Today we are reminded and invited to consider Jesus, the Son of God.  He is pictured as our great high priest.  A priest is a person who intercedes for you with God.  He stands in the gap and effectively communicates your needs, desires, and feelings to a gracious and loving God.  When you are too emotionally tired to face another day, Jesus our great high priest has your back.

No soldier would ever have the confidence to approach General God with their abject weakness or their ongoing temptations.  There is only the giving and receiving of orders and strategies to be implemented.  Far too many Christians have such an understanding of God and think there is something wrong with them when they cannot live up to be the kind of soldier that would make others proud.

But grace and mercy are found through the confidence of approaching our high priest.  Jesus thoroughly, completely, and graciously understands first-hand what you are dealing with, and he is able and desirous to help you.  As our permanent high priest, he is uniquely positioned to hear us, empathize with our situation, and care for us in ways which truly aid us.

It’s easy to get discouraged.  It takes no effort to find yourself on the outside of happiness and on the inside of a black hole.  Living in this broken world can sting and hurt like hell.  Yet, we have a savior who has brought deliverance from hell by taking on hell itself.  Jesus knows better than anyone what brokenness feels like by absorbing all the sin of the world on the cross.

Jesus sits on the right hand of the Father in heaven awaiting your approach with merciful eyes and a compassionate heart.  Jesus is our risen and ascended Lord.  He is much more than a military officer.  He is our ample and able great high priest.  He is awaiting you now….

Ascended and living Lord Jesus, you are my colossal high priest.  You live to intercede for me.  What a privilege!  May you strengthen my nascent faith today and bolster my confidence as I consider your grace and mercy in this messed-up world.  Thank you for your kindness, empathy, and ability.  Amen.

Psalm 46

            For centuries the psalms have been the beloved prayer book of God’s people.  Pious Jews would know all one-hundred fifty of them by memory; medieval monks would recite them all over the course of a week, going over each one fifty-two times a year.  The psalms do more than present sound theology for modern humans; they give voice to our deepest feelings and greatest fears.
             Psalm 46 is one of the finest pieces of Hebrews poetry you will find.  Its message is one of comfort; its God is one who is in control; its prose is simply beautiful.  “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.”  The psalms inspire trust in God, and help relieve the chaos that seems to envelop all around us.
             It is therefore a small thing to recite this psalm many times, and allow it to become part of memory.  Being able to draw from its well in times of trouble and meditate on it can be significant in the heat of a situation.  Knowing this psalm intimately is not a shot that inoculates us from difficulty and brings instant deliverance.  But it can point us to a faithful and trusted God who knows what he is doing and is always with us, even in the cataclysmic events of our lives.
             O God, you are my refuge and my strength.  Bolster my faith in all the difficult situations around me so that I might not fear, but trust you.  I will be still and wait for your deliverance without trying to orchestrate my own.  In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.