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.

Colossians 1:9-14 – Developing the Skill of Wisdom

wisdom quote

Be assured that from the first day we heard of you, we haven’t stopped praying for you, asking God to give you wise minds and spirits attuned to his will, and so acquire a thorough understanding of the ways in which God works.

 We pray that you’ll live well for the Master, making him proud of you as you work hard in his orchard. As you learn more and more how God works, you will learn how to do your work.

 We pray that you’ll have the strength to stick it out over the long haul—not the grim strength of gritting your teeth but the glory-strength God gives. It is strength that endures the unendurable and spills over into joy, thanking the Father who makes us strong enough to take part in everything bright and beautiful that he has for us.

 God rescued us from dead-end alleys and dark dungeons. He’s set us up in the kingdom of the Son he loves so much, the Son who got us out of the pit we were in, got rid of the sins we were doomed to keep repeating. (The Message)

 When I was younger, I played a lot of ping-pong.  I got good at it.  In fact, during a several months stretch back-in-the-day I had a record of 156-2.  Not bad, Tim.  That kind of record was only possible because of the two reasons that make any skill an accomplishment: knowledge and experience.  I learned the game of ping-pong and eventually knew it inside and out; and, I had hundreds (if not thousands) of hours playing and developing my technique.

When it comes to prayer, there isn’t a need to invent a new game; we just need to learn the one we’ve got.  Today’s New Testament reading is a prayer from the Apostle Paul to the Colossian Church.  His prayer for them was singular: To have wise minds and spirits, that is, to have knowledge of God – an understanding of his ways and how he operates.

Paul prayed this for a reason: so that we might live our lives in a way which pleases God and enables us to sustain a lifetime of spiritual growth.  As people created in God’s image and likeness, we are hard-wired with a spirit which needs strengthening and exercise.  That happens as we put in the constant repetitions of connecting with the divine and putting in the time on our knees – praying daily for ourselves and others to mature in faith so that we might all together act wisely and justly in this world, for the life of the world.

A good place to start is to use Paul’s prayer as our own.  Never has there been such a need than now for us to know how to apply wisdom in places and circumstances we’ve never been before.  For wisdom to happen, we must grow in our knowledge and put in the hours of prayer.  The skill of wisdom doesn’t magically happen; it is the culmination of acquired understanding and much practice putting knowledge into loving use.

Direct me, O Lord, in all my doings with your most gracious will and wisdom.  Further in me your continual help – that in all my work and in all I do and say, I may glorify your holy name; and, by your mercy, obtain the life that is truly life; through Jesus Christ, my Lord.  Amen.

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.