Psalm 84

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Psalm 84:10, Contemporary English Version

Every now and then I like taking a psalm and doing my own loose contemporary translation of the text (fyi – I’ve had training in the Hebrew language, so this isn’t weird for me, or for you!).  I find this exercise to be exhilarating and helpful for my own soul.  I hope you find this to be useful for you, as well.  The psalmist is talking about the temple.  But I’ve updated it for the Christian who enjoys fellowship with God in the many places where He can be found.  I encourage you to read it over once, then carefully read it again, prayerfully.  Do it both times out loud.  The psalms are meant to be prayed, and they are meant to be said aloud with flavor!

How lovely are all the places where you dwell,
powerful and mighty God of the numerous heavenly forces!

The depths of my soul long, even yearn,
for the intimate backyard gatherings where Yahweh dwells.
My heart and my body, my whole self
shout out loud for joy to the living God!

Yes, the lowly insignificant mother sparrow has also found a home with God;
the swallow has, too, found herself a homey nest
where she can lay her young beside your divine activity,
Large Lord of the numerous heavenly forces, my king, my God,

    You are so big that the lowliest of creatures find shelter in You!
Those who live within Your sacred space are truly happy;
they can’t stop praising you constantly and incessantly!

Those who put their energy in you are truly content;
a one-way road to You is in their hearts.
As they walk through all kinds of dry hard circumstances
they end up making them like a spring of living water.
Yes, even problems become like a gentle rain of blessing.
The biggest of dilemmas become manageable,
as they see the supremacy of God in it all.
Mighty Lord God of the numerous heavenly forces,
hear my prayer to you;
listen closely, O ancient God of my spiritual ancestors!

You are our great protective shield, God;
pay close attention to your chosen one!

Better is one single solitary day in your backyard gathering
than a ba-jillion of days anywhere else!
I would prefer to park cars out in the front yard of my God’s house
than live comfortably in the palatial hangouts of the ungodly!
The Lord is like the brightness of a warm summer day,

and even the suntan lotion protecting me; He’s all that!
God is full of crazy grace and unspeakable glory.
The Lord gives— and doesn’t withhold — good things
to those who walk with integrity of heart before Him.
Powerful Lord of the numerous heavenly forces,
those who trust in you are truly giddy with joy!

Psalm 32

 

            The Old Testament Psalms are the church’s and the Christian’s prayer book.  In any kind of situation, in every trouble, in each trial of life, in all times of joy and celebration there are psalms available for you to pray and use as your own.  That’s why there is a psalm in the Lectionary readings every day, and why the same psalm is repeated at least three days in a row.  Psalms are not only to be silently read; they are to be repeatedly prayed out loud.
            Today, let this psalm be your confession, and allow yourself to receive the forgiveness of a merciful God.  Here’s a suggestion: Pray this psalm at least three times today; morning, noon, and night; or, repeat it three times in a row, each time saying it with some emotional flavor.  We are shaped by Scripture.  We are formed by prayer.  The two come together in the psalms.  Let them do their work of spiritual transformation in your life:
32 Our God, you bless everyone
whose sins you forgive
and wipe away.
You bless them by saying,
“You told me your sins,
without trying to hide them,
and now I forgive you.”
 
Before I confessed my sins,
my bones felt limp,
and I groaned all day long.
Night and day your hand
weighed heavily on me,
and my strength was gone
as in the summer heat.
 
So I confessed my sins
and told them all to you.
I said, “I’ll tell the Lord
each one of my sins.”
Then you forgave me
and took away my guilt.
 
We worship you, Lord,
and we should always pray
whenever we find out
that we have sinned
Then we won’t be swept away
by a raging flood.
You are my hiding place!
You protect me from trouble,
and you put songs in my heart
because you have saved me.
 
You said to me,
“I will point out the road
that you should follow.
I will be your teacher
and watch over you.
Don’t be stupid
like horses and mules
that must be led with ropes
to make them obey.”
 
10 All kinds of troubles
will strike the wicked,
but your kindness shields those
who trust you, Lord.
11 And so your good people
should celebrate and shout. (Contemporary English Version)
 
Amen.

Daniel 9:15-25 – A Prayer for Mercy

            We learn to pray through praying the prayers of the Bible.  One of the great wrestlers of prayer in Holy Scripture is Daniel.  His prayer when disaster overtook the people of Jerusalem is apropos for us in our national disasters of egregious sin.  Today I take the second part of Daniel’s prayer and use it as my own prayer (this is a continuation from yesterday’s prayer of confession).  One of our own contemporary American disasters are the habitual mass shootings, especially at schools.
            Prayer is an act of subversion.  It challenges the status quo.  It looks evil in the face and gives it a name.  Real change begins with the step of real prayer, and real prayer is modeled after the great prayers of Scripture:
Our Lord God, with Your own mighty arm You brought our forefathers from religious harassment to this land. You graced us with a country to call our own, with the freedom to become what we couldn’t in other places.  Through this You made Yourself famous to this very day, but we have sinned terribly. We keep killing one another with words and then with guns.  All the while justifying our behavior through doing nothing about it and instead spending our efforts on spiritual gerrymandering.  Meanwhile, our children keep dying.  
 
In the past You treated us with such kindness, that we now beg You to stop being so terribly angry with America. After all, this nation was intended by our spiritual ancestors to be a city built on your holy mountain, even though it has suffered public disgrace because of our great and many sins.
 

 

I am your servant, Lord God, and I beg You to answer my prayers and bring honor to Yourself by having pity on our grieving families and the people who have forgotten You.  Please show mercy to the United States, not because we deserve it, but because of your great kindness.  Forgive us! Hurry and do something, not only for us, but to bring honor to yourself….Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.

Daniel 9:1-14 – A Prayer of Confession

            Yesterday, yet another mass school shooting occurred here in America.  17 dead.  It is sad, mind-boggling, and just plain unacceptable.  And it happened on a sacred day for Christians: Ash Wednesday, a day when the devout remember they belong to God and enter a season of focused prayer, repentance, and fasting.
            Because it is the season of Lent, the Lectionary readings include prayers.  I have always encouraged folks to adopt the prayers of the Bible and use them as their own.  I also often personalize the prayers for contemporary issues and problems.  This is what I’m doing today with Daniel’s prayer of confession.  Denial is not an option.  Simply wishing things were different doesn’t make it so.  For the Christian, change begins with looking evil square in the face and confessing it.  Daniel did just that because of his people’s indifference.  I ask you to pray with me today.  I have taken the liberty to form Daniel’s prayer as the basis for my own.  It isn’t the entire prayer of Daniel; the rest of the prayer comes with tomorrow’s reading.  But for today, it is confession:
Please, my Lord—you are the great and awesome God, the one who keeps your promises and is truly faithful to all who love you and keep your commands: 
 
There’s no good way to say this: We have sinned and done wrong. We have brought guilt on ourselves and rebelled, ignoring your commands and Your laws to love you, and love our neighbors by not killing each other with guns.  We haven’t listened to Your Son, the Lord Jesus, or to Your Holy Spirit speaking to us in Your Holy Word.  Our leaders and all the people of this land have given You the stiff-arm through the allowance of perpetual evil. 
 
Righteousness belongs to you, my Lord! But we are ashamed this day—we, the people of the United States of America, the inhabitants of this great nation, whether in New York or California, in Texas or Minnesota, in whatever state we reside both geographically and spiritually – we have broken faith with you.
 
Lord, we are ashamed—we, our President, our Congressional leaders, and people everywhere have sinned against you. Compassion and deep forgiveness belong to the Lord our God, because we rebelled against you. We didn’t listen to the voice of the Lord our God by following the teachings you gave us through your messengers.  All of America broke your warnings and turned away, ignoring your voice to love, and not murder.
 
A curse has swept over us because we sinned against you, God.  Our children are dead, yet we continue to bicker and fight amongst ourselves while instruments of destruction continue to abound in the hands of unstable people.
 

 

God, you have brought great trouble on us. What happened in Florida, Las Vegas, Newtown, Virginia Tech, and a hundred other places hasn’t happened anywhere else in the entire world!  All this trouble came upon us, yet we didn’t try to reconcile with You and Your teachings by turning from our wrongdoing or by finding wisdom in the faithfulness of Your loving character and compassion. Lord, You have been right in every move you’ve made in giving us a clear moral code to live by, the Holy Spirit to help us, but we haven’t listened to Your voice….

Psalm 51:1-17 – A Prayer on Ash Wednesday

            Today on this Ash Wednesday the appropriate posture of the devout Christian is to pray.  Specifically, to confess our great and many sins, shortcomings, and moral failures.  This might sound negative and a major downer.  Yet, to not look evil square in the face and call it out for what it is, is at best denial, and at the worst allowing a bitter seed of unforgiveness to gestate in the depths of your soul.
            I believe there is no better way to confront the darkness within than with using the ancient prayer book of the Old Testament Psalms.  I encourage you to pray Psalm 51 out loud, slowly, with a generous amount of emotional flavor – even, and especially, if you don’t feel like it.  Pray it over more than once, and perhaps several times punctuated throughout the day today.  In doing so, you will be joining the faithful across this entire big world who today offer to God a prayer of subversion against the blackness on this earth.
51 Have mercy on me, God, according to your faithful love!
Wipe away my wrongdoings according to your great compassion!
Wash me completely clean of my guilt;
purify me from my sin!
Because I know my wrongdoings,
my sin is always right in front of me.
I’ve sinned against you—you alone.
I’ve committed evil in your sight.
That’s why you are justified when you render your verdict,
completely correct when you issue your judgment.
Yes, I was born in guilt, in sin,
from the moment my mother conceived me.
And yes, you want truth in the most hidden places;
you teach me wisdom in the most secret space.
 
Purify me with hyssop and I will be clean;
wash me and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and celebration again;
let the bones you crushed rejoice once more.
Hide your face from my sins;
wipe away all my guilty deeds!
10 Create a clean heart for me, God;
put a new, faithful spirit deep inside me!
11 Please don’t throw me out of your presence;
please don’t take your holy spirit away from me.
12 Return the joy of your salvation to me
and sustain me with a willing spirit.
13 Then I will teach wrongdoers your ways,
and sinners will come back to you.
 
14 Deliver me from violence, God, God of my salvation,
so that my tongue can sing of your righteousness.
15 Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will proclaim your praise.
16 You don’t want sacrifices.
If I gave an entirely burned offering,
you wouldn’t be pleased.
17 A broken spirit is my sacrifice, God.
You won’t despise a heart, God, that is broken and crushed. (Common English Bible)
 

 

Amen.

Psalm 102.12-28

“God will turn to the prayer of the impoverished;
he won’t despise their prayers.”
 
            When you are destitute and hurting, it’s easy to feel alone as if no one really understands.  The healthy, the wealthy, and the powerful do not often take notice of the needy.  Whether you are in chronic pain, constantly deal with sickness, feel like you’re drowning in bills, or labor long hours in obscurity with little pay, or all of them at the same time, there is good news for you: God specializes in situations like yours.
            Contrary to popular characterizations of the Old Testament, God is merciful, gracious, and kind.  The dominant motif is not a God of wrath, but a God of steadfast love – a God who makes and keeps promises to his people.  His wrath is reserved for those who have the power and privilege to care for others, but, instead, fleeces them of what little they possess.
            This was the situation for the psalmist.  He didn’t have a clue why he was the victim – he just knew he needed God.  So, he turns to him – trusting that God is good for his promises – knowing that God will be attentive to his need.
            It’s interesting that we don’t get a wonderful or miraculous answer to the psalmist’s plea to God.  There is only pain, petition, trust, and hope.
            Sometimes, maybe for you oftentimes, all you have is faith, hope, and love.  Yet, and I’m just throwing out a notion for you to consider, if you have these virtues you are the one who is healthy, rich, and strong.
            God is attentive to your prayer.  God hears you when you adopt this psalm for yourself and pray it with some fervor and some flavor.  That he doesn’t immediately respond does not mean he isn’t planning something spectacular for you.
            To pray in a time of trouble is to dwell in the presence of God; to be in the presence of God is to find an answer to prayer that you might not have been looking for to begin with.

 

O God Almighty, sovereign of all and the One in whom is my hope: Help!  I pray to you alone.  I know you bend your ear to pay attention, so hear my prayer for mercy in the middle of my hardship.  You are always the same, even though everything and everyone else changes.  Be my rock in a time of trouble; in Jesus, through the Spirit.  Amen.

Isaiah 40:21-31 – Resourcing Our Lives

Why do you say, Jacob,
and declare, Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord
my God ignores my predicament”?
Don’t you know? Haven’t you heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the creator of the ends of the earth.
He doesn’t grow tired or weary.
His understanding is beyond human reach,
     giving power to the tired
and reviving the exhausted.
 Youths will become tired and weary,
young men will certainly stumble;
     but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength;
they will fly up on wings like eagles;
they will run and not be tired;
they will walk and not be weary. (Common English Bible)
 
            Strength, endurance, and perseverance are vital resources which come from a reservoir.  One doesn’t simply will it into reality, and, poof! It is there.  No, these resources must be drawn from a source that is reliable and continual.
            Whenever you and I are persuaded to use an unreliable and/or limited resource, like our own, or some slick marketed one, we are not revived or restored to keep going.  It is in such a time we naively think God is absent.  “God ignores my predicament,” is the cry.
            God isn’t sleeping.  He isn’t out to lunch.  Heis not the problem.  It’s just that we thought we could handle our own junk.  We’ve got this.  Maybe for a while.  But then the strength runs out and weariness overwhelms us.  With no steady reliable resource to draw from, our thinking becomes distorted.
            The sovereign and majestic God is the One who gives power and life.   Placing our hope in Him is to plunge into an inexhaustible and gracious pool of strength.  God enables us to fly and soar above our human predicaments and our daily problems.  With the power God provides we can carry-on and follow-through with the demands, duties, and desires of life on this earth which God created for us.
            To draw from the deep well of God, it is extremely necessary to meet with Him on a regular and consistent basis.  If food and drink for the body requires multiple daily attention and time, then filling the soul is just as, even more, important.
            This need for spiritual food and drink is why I choose to engage in the Divine Hours, also known as the Daily Office, or Fixed Hour Prayer.  At certain set times in the day I break away from what I’m doing to give attention to the soul by drawing from the merciful resources of God.  This may be for you a fresh way to address your parched and needy soul.
Here is a link to the Divine Hours, based on the book of prayers compiled by Phyllis Tickle:

 

Set me free, O God, from the bondage of my sins, and give me the liberty of that abundant life which you have made known to me in your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen