McFarland

Wednesday Meditation by Pastor Tim

Light a candle

Read Psalm 46:1-7

Prayer Practice: Psalms

The book of psalms is a collection of 150 prayers in Hebrew, spoken and sung by millions of God’s people over 3,000 years. That’s a pretty good indication of how important they are for praying!

Martin Luther called the psalms a “little Bible. [In the psalmody] is comprehended most beautifully and briefly everything that is in the entire Bible.” (Luther’s Works, vol. 35, p. 254)

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote a book about the psalms in which he said that as we pray them, Christ himself accompanies us. (Bonhoeffer, “Psalms: The Prayer Book of the Bible”)

Using this “little Bible” of the psalms, our forebears have prayed during the highs and lows of the journey of faith, and have been reminded again and again that Christ walks with them.

One of the grace notes of the psalms is that they proclaim God’s goodness and faithfulness, but also make plenty of room for expressing our pain, loss and doubt.

Here are a few examples of how the psalms speak to the range of human experience:

Thanksgiving: “Give thanks to God, for God is good.” (Psalm 136:1)

Forgiveness: “In your great compassion, blot out my offenses.” (Psalm 51:1)

Healing: “Yahweh is my strength and my shield.” (Psalm 28:7)

Lament, where there is doubt or despair: “How long, O LORD? How long shall I have perplexity in my mind and grief in my heart?” (Psalm 13:2)

Comfort and reassurance: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.” (Psalm 23:1) Comfort food for the soul!

The psalms speak to God of the height, depth and breadth of our experiences on the walk of faith. They also remind us that we can bring all these experiences to God, without fear, because we are loved deeply by the Holy One. In the words of Psalm 95, “we are the people of God’s pasture and the sheep of God’s hand.” (95:7)

The psalms are meant to be chanted and sung, and our hymnal offers suggestions on how to do that. There are also many famous hymns based on the psalms, including Luther’s famous paraphrase of Psalm 46, “A mighty fortress is our God.” Try chanting the psalms sometime! In the privacy of your own prayer space, no human being is listening to the quality of your singing!

Most of us will pray the psalms by speaking them. Here’s what I suggest: savor them. Pray them aloud, slowly. Don’t zip through them, but meditate on them thoughtfully, chewing over each phrase or verse. I love sitting in silence meditating on a single image for God, or a word of promise. I often repeat that single phrase from a psalm over and over throughout the day.

It is good to savor the psalms. It’s like taking a bite of delicious chocolate and letting it melt in your mouth. Or a drop of cool water when you are terribly thirsty.

The good news of prayer is that God hears us before we even speak. The Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words (Romans 8:26). When we pray the psalms, we are not alone, because the Spirit of Jesus surrounds us.

In these troubling, anxious, fear-filled times in which we find ourselves, the psalms bring us the promise of the One who hears our struggles and will never abandon the universe that God has made, redeemed and always makes new.

God is indeed our lasting refuge, our limitless strength, and our very present help in times of trouble.

Study Questions

1) What is your favorite psalm? Do you have some or all of it memorized? When do you pray it?

2) Try to pray new psalms. Our hymnal has a daily lectionary that includes a different psalm each day (Evangelical Lutheran Worship, p. 1121). Other devotional books have a similar rotation of psalms. What psalms are challenging? What psalms give you unexpected comfort and grace?

3) The psalms express our deep longing for God, as well as God’s nearness and response. In this time of pandemic, and struggles over racism and other concerns, how does the book of psalms name your spiritual longing and/or suffering? (In particular, look at the psalms of lament such as Psalms 13, 31, 88, 102 and others.)

Prayer

O God, our refuge and present help, thank you for the words of the psalms that express to you our deepest longings, hurts and thanksgivings. As we pray the psalms, help us to hear your voice accompanying us on our journey of faith. Accompany all who are oppressed by evil and injustice, and strengthen the bodies and hearts of all who are ill. Help us to be still and know that you are always with us. We pray in the name of Jesus. Amen.

Extinguish the candle