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.

Psalm 147:1-11 – An Ode to Divine Love

The Lord treasures the people
who honor him,
the people who wait for his faithful love. (verse 11, CEB)
 
            Early each morning I rise, take the dog for a short walk, make a cup of coffee, then open the life-giving message from the God of the Bible.  I read out loud – slowly, mindfully, carefully allowing the words to seep and make their way down into my soul.  The Holy Spirit of God gently nudges, sometimes forcefully hurls, me toward a verse, phrase, or word from the text.  Contemplating, ruminating, thinking about the Holy Scripture begins to set the trajectory of my day.  God is throughout the hours, as I move from one to the next.  Sometimes very much at the forefront of my thinking, other times in the background shaping how I speak and act, and always on my heart enlarging it and filling it with his grace.
            Most of life is lived in the mundane.  The banality of life is the norm.  While others run from prayer to prayer looking for miracles and the next big spiritual hit, the one who is patient… waits… and honors God… has a treasure within which transcends language or outward fanfare.  The settled conviction of the person in continual communion with the God of the universe peacefully waits for faithful, steadfast, committed, divine love.
            There is no description for such a divine/human spiritual relation which exists, giving patience to the penitent and joy to the heart of God.  Such love exists beyond the plane of daily news crises and the continual hum of the crowd.  Indeed, the Lord God Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, has stooped to cup his hands and treasure his creature.
            The great medieval mystic, Teresa of Avila, said: “Prayer is an act of love; words are not needed. Even if sickness distracts from thoughts, all that is needed is the will to love.”

 

            Patience is not a bore, and to wait is to be at peace because God is in it.  It is good to be full of him.

Psalm 35:1-10

            Sometimes you just have to tell it like it is.  There is a time to do your best in putting up a good face and dealing with people who don’t ever stop gossiping, slandering, and trying to get their way.  But there is also a time to call such behavior “evil” and cry out to God for help.
            Psalm 35 is a classic prayer in the category called “imprecatory psalms.”  The term “imprecatory” means to call down a curse on a person or group of people.  Maybe this surprises you that there is such language in the Bible.  In fact, there are 18 such imprecatory psalms which make a clear petition to God for him to turn the evil back on themselves that they inflict (or try to inflict) on others.
            I’m a believer in making simple observations about the biblical text.  Let’s observe a few things about such psalms:
1.      David asks God to deal with the evil behavior of powerful people.
Unlike most of us, David went through a time in is life where there were powerful people who were literally trying to hunt him down and take his life.  As much as we might speculate whether David wanted to take matters into his own hands, the fact remains that he didn’t.  David relied on God to execute judgment.
2.     David did not hold his feelings back in describing exactly what he wanted God to do.
There is nothing sanitized here in the psalm.  David was understandably upset.  He did nothing wrong, yet he was being chased like an animal.  David said it plainly to God: “attack my attackers;” “aim your spear at everyone who hunts me down;” “send your angel after them;” “surprise them with disaster;” and, “let them fall and rot in the pits they have dug.”  Whatever you might think about how a proper Christian ought to say and pray, imprecatory curses might not be your first thought.  But here they are, out there for us to read in the Holy Bible.
3.     The psalms are the prayer book of the church.
That includes the imprecatory psalms.  Yes, they ought to be prayed by us right along with psalms of praise, thanksgiving, and song.  I want you to think what might be a radical thought for you: We ought to include imprecatory prayers in our regular rhythms, routines, and rituals of prayer.
 
            Evil will not have the last word.  God opposes the proud and the arrogant who step on others to get their way.  But he gives grace to the humble, that is, those who look to him for justice and righteousness; are open about their feelings of hurt and upsetedness; and, lift-up imprecatory prayers which are biblically consistent.

 

Saving God, you protect the helpless from those in power and save the poor and needy who cry out to you.  Mighty God, turn back on those with slanderous tongues, gossiping words, and sinful actions the evil they intend to inflict on others.  Let them fall into a deep black hole for which they cannot get out and harm anyone again; through King Jesus, our Savior, in the assistance of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Psalm 111

            One of the great things about the psalms is that they enlighten us about God.  To read and pray the psalter is to have a crash course in Theology 101.
We pray because we believe we will be heard.
We believe we will be heard because we believe there is a God who listens.
We believe there is a God who listens because we believe that the One who listens is always merciful, kind, and good.
The basis of all prayer is our view of God.  Nobody sustains a prayer life to a fickle distant God who is only attentive when he feels like it.  But if God is really God – fair, just, committed, and full of good deeds – then, prayer is an effortless interaction and we are eager to do so.
            Notice the descriptions of God in the psalm:
·         “Everything the LORD does is glorious and majestic”
·         “His power to bring justice will never end”
·         “He is kind and merciful”
·         “He always keeps His agreements”
·         “God is always honest and fair”
·         “He will never break his agreement”
The psalm concludes with the sage observation that the first step to wisdom and good sense is to respect and obey the LORD.  Because God is the very definition of gracious and tenacious loyalty, respect and obedience to Him is willing and joyful.  Entrusting oneself to a benevolent God who makes and keeps promises to His people is easy.  You don’t need to be coerced to have allegiance to such a God.; and, you don’t have to convince other people who God is – all you’ve got to do is declare the good things God has done for you.

 

Loyal and gracious God, you always keep your promises, and there is never a time when you renege on them.  Thank you for promising deliverance from sin, death, and hell through your Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ who with you and the Holy Spirit benevolently reign forever and ever.  Amen.

Psalm 46

            We possess the unconditional presence of God.  Yes, there is never a time when God is not with us.  Wow! What a wonderful and radical thought.  But that’s not all!  God helps us.  He doesn’t just stand by and watch us squirm in tough situations.  Because God is present with you, He is able to help you in times of trouble.
            The psalms, as Hebrew poetry, were designed with a certain structure.  Unlike the way we arrange things with a thesis statement said right up front, Hebrew poetry has the most important statement smack in the middle of the psalm.  What comes before that statement is a growing crescendo that is meant to highlight the central idea.  Everything that comes after is the decrescendo pointing back to that idea.
            So, what do we have in the middle of this psalm? What is the important statement of truth that the psalmist wants to draw attention to?  “The LORD All-Powerful is with us.”  Boom!  This reality is meant to drop its weight on us so that we will feel the impact of God’s presence and power.
            Today is a good day to use the statement, “The LORD All-Powerful is with us,” as a point of thought, contemplation, and deep consideration.  When you’re waiting in line, driving in the car, in-between meetings, or just sitting at home, repeat that statement many times to yourself and to God.  Then, allow God’s Spirit to bring the truth of it home to the depths of your soul.  There is no better security, no better hope that to know that God is with us.

 

God Almighty, great upheaval in this world does not make you nervous because you are above it all.  Thank you that you are with me in all the great upheavals of my life, as well as all the little small things of adversity.  Even if all around me changes, you do not; through Christ my Savior.  Amen.

Psalm 62:5-12

            The Old Testament book of Psalms is the church’s prayer book.  Each psalm has been carefully crafted and designed for repeated prayers by the faithful.  Today’s psalm needs no comment.  Read it slowly and deliberately as many times as you need, allowing the words to wash over you and fill you with the grace and peace which can only come from God alone:
Only God gives inward peace,
and I depend on him.
God alone is the mighty rock
that keeps me safe,
and he is the fortress
where I feel secure.
God saves me and honors me.
He is that mighty rock
where I find safety.
Trust God, my friends,
and always tell him
each one of your concerns.
God is our place of safety.
We humans are only a breath;
none of us are truly great.
All of us together weigh less
than a puff of air.
Don’t trust in violence
or depend on dishonesty
or rely on great wealth.
I heard God say two things:
“I am powerful,
     and I am very kind.”
The Lord rewards each of us
according to what we do.
(Contemporary English Version)
 

 

Amen, and amen.

Psalm 86

            What is your view of God?  For some, God is up there, somewhere, like some white-bearded old guy who is aloof to what is going on down here – there is neither anything personal nor personable about him, at all.  For others, God is a force which binds all things together; he’s there, but you’re never quite sure how to get in touch with him – it’s like a crap shoot trying to connect with him.  For yet others, God is perpetually perturbed about something; he’s got a bee in his bonnet and its our job to figure out what he’s sullen and upset about all the time so that we might appease him in some way.
            But the psalmist, David, sees God in wholly other ways than this.  For David, God is personal, knowable, and very reachable.  Reading this psalm tells us a great deal of how David thought about God.  Notice what we learn about God from the way David describes him: “You willingly forgive,” “your love is always there,” “you listen,” “you perform great wonders,” “you protect me,” “you are kind and merciful,” you don’t easily get angry,” and “you help and comfort me.”
            Now this is a God you can sink your teeth into.  He’s attentive, engaged, and anything but upset all the time.  This is the reason why David has no problem asking God to: “please listen and answer my prayer,” “save me,” “make my heart glad,” and “teach me to follow you.”  With this God, David willingly states without being coerced: “I will serve you.”
            If your view of God cannot support and bear the weight of your life’s hardest circumstances, then you need a different view of God! I invite you to see the God of David.  This God has the ability within himself to satisfy your life’s greatest needs.

 

Great God of David, you are above all things and beside all things and with all things.  You are uniquely positioned and powerful to walk with me through all the situations of my life.  Thank you for sending the Son of David to make real your promises to me.  Amen.