Praying a Psalm

Today’s reading is Psalm 31.

If Psalm 31 proves anything, it proves we are allowed to and probably should make it a habit to pray the psalms. That doesn’t necessarily mean picking out a psalm and praying through it (though that would be great too). It can mean adopting the language and the statements of the psalms in our own prayers. There are several statements in this psalm used in other psalms. “Incline your ear to me; rescue me speedily” from vs. 2 is found almost verbatim in Psalm 102:2. “My eye wastes away because of grief” from vs. 9 is found in Psalm 6:7. “Save me in your steadfast love” from vs. 16 is found in Psalm 6:4; 54:1; 106:8; 109:26. Whether these other psalms are quoting Psalm 31 or vice versa, the point is the same. These were standard and stock phrases that could be used in prayers of all kinds. “I am cut off from your sight” from vs. 22 is basically restated in Jonah’s prayer in Jonah 2:4. “Let me not be put to shame” from vs. 17 is Jeremiah’s prayer in Jeremiah 17:18. And “terror on every side” from vs. 13 becomes a mantra for Jeremiah. He repeats it in Jeremiah 6:25; 20:3, 10; 46:5; 49:29; and Lamentation 2:22. And if none of these make the point, “Into your hand I commit my spirit,” was one of Jesus’s seven statements on the cross (Luke 23:46). For some reason, some have developed the idea that we shouldn’t quote Scripture in prayer. God already knows the Scripture, they tell us. Prayer should come from our heart, they tell us. Clearly, they are wrong in what they tell us. God has given us prayers in Scripture to teach us how to pray. Those statements inform our mouths how to express what is in our hearts. Jesus prayed Psalm 31 on the cross because Psalm 31 represented (for the most part) where He was. David’s faith and trust mirrored the faith Jesus had and even taught those who might be listening to His prayer what was actually going on in the moment. Oh, and by the way, that’s another thing we learn from psalms. It is true that when we are praying, we don’t need to preach a sermon. It is true that we are talking to God, not to those who are listening. But sometimes, it is appropriate to pray certain things in order to instruct those who are listening in. If you don’t believe me based on the psalms, check out Jesus’s prayer in John 11:41-42. Keep reading these psalms. You may never end up on a cross, but I guarantee you, you will wind up in plenty of circumstances in which the words, phrases, statements, requests, confessions, praises, and blessings apply to your situation; you’ll want to be able to express them.

Monday’s reading is Psalm 32.

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Riding the Pendulum

Today’s reading is Psalm 31.

Whether this psalm and the last are placed next to each other for this purpose or not, there is a striking contrast between the two. In Psalm 30:6, David wrote, “I said in my prosperity, ‘I shall never be moved.'” in Psalm 31:22, he writes, “I had said in my alarm, ‘I am cut off from your sight.'” In the previous psalm, because of David’s confidence, pride, and swagger, the Lord hid His face and David was dismayed (though, admittedly, the ultimate outcome of that psalm is David’s deliverance). In this psalm, because of David’s humility, penitence, and prayer, the Lord delivers. This contrast shows what happens in our life. We ride the pendulum. One day, we ride high in confidence. The next, we scrape the bottom in terror. One day, our pride is getting the better of us. The next, our humility draws us closer to God. As all this is going on, this contrast draws out something we learned in Psalm 30 as well. We all want the good times, the mountaintop experiences, but often it is the valleys that teach and grow us the most. It’s hard to thank God for His testing and refining fires, but this gives us reason to count it all joy when we meet various trials. After all, the trials produce steadfastness, steadfastness grows us to maturity, maturity strengthens love, and those who love God receive the crown of life (see James 1:2-4, 12).

Tomorrow’s reading is Psalm 31.

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Giving Thanks Forever

Today’s reading is Psalm 30.

Psalm 23 ended with, “And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” But what will we do there? Psalm 30 brings that home. It begins with “I will extol you, O Lord.” It ends with “O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever!” I have now seen one commentator who has noticed the series nature of Psalm 23-29 that we have noted. While I had been thinking Psalm 29 was the conclusion of the series, he suggests Psalm 30 may be. It’s title, which declares it as a song for the dedication of the house (possibly the temple as ESV translates it), may make a connection to this series that has been all about dwelling in the Lord’s house. He may well be correct. The ending of this psalm does call the ending of Psalm 23 to mind. Maybe Psalm 29 was the praise psalm declaring God to be the one who judges but makes distinctions on behalf of His covenant people while Psalm 30 is a thanksgiving psalm for God actually making the distinction and performing the deliverance. Even if it isn’t directly connected, can you see David’s reaction to his deliverance? Not, “I’ll give you thanks the next time I pray.” No, it is, “I’ll give thanks to You forever.” David was going to thank God over and over and over again. He was going to take every opportunity to thank God. And he planned on carrying that thanksgiving into eternity. Paul encourages us to “rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). We don’t certainly know what particular deliverance David was thanking God for (though we might be able to make a good guess), but we absolutely know the deliverance we have God to thank for. In Jesus Christ, we are delivered from sin, Satan, and death. If David was going to thank God forever, what do you think we should do? Have you thanked God today?

Tomorrow’s reading is Psalm 30.

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Like Those Who Go Down to the Pit

Today’s reading is Psalm 28.

Sometimes it is the little words we miss. For instance, it’s pretty easy to miss the word “like” in Psalm 28:1. Almost everyone who reads and comments on Psalm 28 believes David is afraid something is about to happen that will kill him. If God doesn’t act, David will go down to the pit, that is the realm of the dead. Some suggest it is more than being dead, it is the deepest place in the realm of the dead, the dungeon for the damned among the dead. However, catch that little word “like.” David is not afraid he is about to go to the pit. Rather, if God is deaf and silent toward him, he is like those who go down to the pit. Ezekiel 32:24, 25, 30 gives some insight as each verse repeats the statement about those who “bear their shame with those who go down to the pit.” If the Lord won’t listen or respond, David will be in shame like those in the pit. Notice also Psalm 88:3-7 with its fuller description of being in the pit. The pit is a region dark and deep (sounds like being abandoned in the valley of death’s shadow). Those who go down to the pit have no strength. But even worse, and this is likely the part David is calling to mind, those in the pit are cut off from the hand of the Lord, they are forsaken of God. In other words, why does living matter if the Lord won’t listen and respond? David might as well be dead. He is the living dead. The blessing of life is we can call out to God and He will respond. Therefore, David is pleading. “Don’t treat me like the dead in the pit. Don’t treat me like those who have been cut off from Your hand.” And here is the fantastic thing about our God. He really does listen. He is a rock, but only metaphorically. All the idols, they are nothing but rocks, pieces of metal, shards of wood. They are deaf. But our God hears and we will not be ashamed. Praise the Lord!

Tomorrow’s reading is Psalm 28.

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Channeling Moses

Today’s reading is Psalm 27.

Bible trivia: I asked the Lord to let me see His face. He set me on the rock. He covered me. I saw his goodness. I asked the Lord not to abandon me, but to go with me. Who am I?

That’s right! I’m Moses. We can read about this in Exodus 33-34. Israel had sinned with the golden calf and the Lord was threatening to abandon them. Moses interceded and asked to see the Lord’s glory. God explained no one could see His face and live, so He placed Moses in the cleft of the rock, covered him, then passed by and let him see His goodness. Finally, He agreed that he would go with Moses and Israel. Now, here’s the really cool part. God demonstrated His presence in Exodus 40 by having His glory fill the tent of meeting. By day it was a pillar of smoke, by night a pillar of fire.

But wait! Psalm 27 shows that it is David too. David is channeling Moses in this psalm. Why was David so completely confident in his Psalm 27 prayer? Because he knew what kind of God he served. He knew how the Lord had worked with Moses, he was certain God still worked that same way. He knew the Lord would let him see His goodness. He knew the Lord would set him on the rock and cover him with protection. He knew the Lord would not forsake and abandon him but bestow His presence and favor. It’s what God does. It’s what God has always done. It’s what He still does. Praise the Lord!!!

Tomorrow’s reading is Psalm 27.

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David’s #1 Goal

Today’s reading is Psalm 27.

David is surrounded by enemies and violent false accusers. He is facing war. An enemy army is encamped around him. What is his #1 goal? Defeating the enemy? Saving his skin? Prolonging his life? Proving his own manliness, strength, and military might? Returning to kick back in the palace and be served by the masses? Nope! Being in the house of the Lord. Gazing on the beauty of the Lord. Seeing the face of the Lord. Immerse yourself in this picture. The commanding king is on the battlefield and what most upsets him about having to face this battle is not really his own personal danger. The most upsetting part for David is this battle keeps him away from the Lord’s house. Remember Psalm 23:6? David wanted to dwell in the house of the Lord forever. But today, an enemy army stands between him and that house. Peter tells us we can cast all our anxieties upon the Lord because He cares for us (1 Peter 5:6-7). My prayer is that I will grow to the point where I understand that the real issue with every other anxiety, every other attack, every other struggle is that they are distracting me from the beauty of the Lord and drawing me out of the house of the Lord. I pray I will grow to the point that my #1 concern, my #1 goal is to be in the Lord’s house, gazing upon His beauty and favor, glorying in the sight of His face.

Tomorrow’s reading is Psalm 27.

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A Reason to Pray

Today’s reading is Psalm 25.

Today, I want to share with you the second most important lesson I’ve ever learned about prayer. The most important lesson is that prayer, whatever aspect of prayer I’m practicing, is always about God’s glory and not mine. We find that all over the psalms. But the second most important lesson is demonstrated in this psalm. Many commentators talk about how hard it is to get a hold of this psalm. Is it a lament? Is it a meditation? Is it a prayer? Is it a praise? They struggle with the outline and wonder at the mixture of prayer and meditation. But the reality is this psalmist is not only teaching prayer, but teaching one of the number one keys to effective praying. This psalm goes back and forth between prayer to God and meditation on God because the psalmist is praying and then meditating on the reason for the prayer. This is part of prayer that I skipped for a very long time. When we plan our praying and embark on a prayer, we should consider, what about God would remotely make Him willing to respond to what I’m praying right now? What about God’s character, nature, word, will, promises leads me to believe God will remotely want to respond to what I’m laying out before Him? The psalmist anticipates a problem with his trek up God’s holy hill. I’m a sinner. He knows the only way to deal with that is if God forgives him. But why would God do that? Why should the psalmist remotely expect God to respond to the request to “Remember not the sins of my youth”? Why should the psalmist remotely expect God to forgive his sins and then protect him from his enemies? Because of Exodus 34:6-7. Because God had revealed to Moses and to Israel His very nature. His character. His name. His name is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, forgiving transgression, iniquity, and sin. And so the psalmist has a reason to pray this prayer. “Don’t remember my sins, Lord. Remember Your name.” And therefore, the psalmist asks the Lord to act for His name’s sake and pardon his guilt. That was the psalmist’s reason for this prayer. When you bow, what is the reason God should or would respond to the request you are making? Think it through. Tie it to the Biblical reason, and then offer it up to God. You’ll be amazed at what this practice will do to improve your praying.

Today’s reading is Psalm 26.

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What are You Praying For?

Today’s reading is Psalm 25.

Alright. I’ve got a tough and challenging question for you. First of all, let me say, if you are praying, I don’t want to say anything to discourage you. I’m super glad you have a habit of prayer. That is awesome. But now that you are praying, I want to challenge you to think about where you focus your prayers. It is true that you are allowed to bring to God whatever is on your heart. Pray for your needs and your wants. Cast all your cares upon God even when you are not sure if God would even care about that or not; lift it up to Him. He is our Abba, our Father, He wants to hear it. But this psalm presents a challenging question to me. Do I ever pray for what was top on this psalmist’s mind? Think about it, he is facing enemies who are violently hateful. And it is true that the psalmist gets around to praying for protection from them. But do you see where his prayer request first focuses? “Make me know your ways, Lord.” “Teach me your paths, Lord.” Lead me in your truth, Lord.” “Teach me, Lord.” How many of your prayers are anchored here? In fact, while the psalmist gets to talking about protection, it is very clear that the psalmist believes the protection comes not simply from God acting in the lives of the enemies. It comes from knowing the way of God. It comes from knowing God’s word and will. God protects us by showing us His path, His way. And, of course, considering Psalm 1, doesn’t that just make sense? Those who know the way of the Lord are like a tree planted by waters, but the way of the wicked perishes. Too often, I just go about studying and trying to figure things out on my own and then expecting God to pick up my messes. Perhaps I should start with, “Lord, make me to know Your way.” How about you?

Today’s reading is Psalm 25.

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A Prayer Primer

Today’s reading is Psalm 25.

We don’t pick up on it in the English, but this psalm is an acrostic poem. Each verse begins with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Admittedly, the acrostic is not perfect. The letter for verse 2 is missing, two letters are skipped, and the last verse is not part of the acrostic at all. However, it is clear that this psalm is anchored in the Hebrew alphabet. It seems the author of this psalm wanted to make it memorable. He wanted it passed down from the priests to the populace, from father to son, and from mother to daughter to aid in worship and prayer for generations to come. In fact, this may explain that very last verse which seems to be tacked on out of left field. It may be true that some later editor of the psalms added that line about redeeming all of Israel out of troubles. However, it seems just as likely to me that the author broke from the acrostic to call attention to the desire for this psalm to not just be personal but to be passed around the nation so that everyone would learn about prayer and meditation from it. And now it is included in the book of Israel’s Psalms and has come to us. We too can learn to pray to God and meditate on God from it. Since it doesn’t match our alphabet, it may be harder for us to remember, but we can learn great things about prayer from it. Keep reading. Keep learning. We’ll talk more about prayer over the next couple of days.

Tomorrow’s reading is Psalm 25.

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Answered!

Today’s reading is Psalm 22.

The entire tenor of the psalm changes at Psalm 22:22. It started as an extreme lament; so dismal we can hardly find a time to actually place it in David’s life. It becomes an extreme praise and thanksgiving; so exuberant it asserts praise not only from the psalmist, not only from the congregation of God’s people, but from the entire world. It is so intense and amazing, we can hardly imagine anyone whose deliverance and salvation would warrant such reaction from the whole world. What produced such an extreme swing? Read vs. 21b: “Save me from the mouth of the lion! You have rescued me from the horns of the wild oxen!” (ESV). Though that conveys the excitement and reality that would produce such a shift, it actually clouds the really important point David was making. Consider the NKJV: “Save me from the lion’s mouth and from the horns of the wild oxen! You have answered me” (NKJV). I know “rescued” sounds so much more exciting than “answered,” but “answered” is intended to connect us back to vs 2 in which David was receiving no answer. What is the shift? Psalm 22:1-21a is the dismal lament of the one whose request has not been granted though it has been made over and over again, day and night. Psalm 22:22-31 is the exuberant praise and thanksgiving of the one whose requests have been granted. In a very real sense, Psalm 22 mirrors Psalms 20 and 21. Psalm 20 is the prayer for requested blessing on the king as he goes out to battle. Psalm 22:1-21a is the prayer of the king himself in the midst of the battle, but it isn’t going his way. Psalm 22:22-31 is the king’s prayer of thanksgiving and praise when the battle finally turns his way by the grace of God. Psalm 21 is the prayer of thanksgiving offered by the people when the king comes back victorious. Honestly, we likely go back and forth between the two halves of the psalm. Remember, the same God rules in both halves. If you want to be able to offer the praises of the second half of Psalm 22, you have to hang on to God and await His answers while living through the first half of Psalm 22. Yes, He may wait to grant your request until the dogs circle, the mouth of the lion closes, the horns of the oxen vault you in the air. But He will answer. He will deliver. You are not forsaken. You are answered! Hang on!!!

Tomorrow’s reading is Psalm 22.

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