Using the Psalter in Prayer

Blessed is the one
    who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
    or sit in the company of mockers,
but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and who meditates on his law day and night.
That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
    which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
    whatever they do prospers.
Not so the wicked!
    They are like chaff
    that the wind blows away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
    nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.
For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
    but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.

  • Psalm 1

Why do the nations conspire
    and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth rise up
    and the rulers band together
    against the Lord and against his anointed, saying,
“Let us break their chains
    and throw off their shackles.”
The One enthroned in heaven laughs;
    the Lord scoffs at them.
He rebukes them in his anger
    and terrifies them in his wrath, saying,
“I have installed my king
    on Zion, my holy mountain.”
I will proclaim the Lord’s decree:
He said to me, “You are my son;
    today I have become your father.
Ask me,
    and I will make the nations your inheritance,
    the ends of the earth your possession.
You will break them with a rod of iron;
    you will dash them to pieces like pottery.”
Therefore, you kings, be wise;
    be warned, you rulers of the earth.
Serve the Lord with fear
    and celebrate his rule with trembling.
Kiss his son, or he will be angry
    and your way will lead to your destruction,
for his wrath can flare up in a moment.
    Blessed are all who take refuge in him.

  • Psalm 2

Lord, how many are my foes!
    How many rise up against me!
Many are saying of me,
    “God will not deliver him.”
But you, Lord, are a shield around me,
    my glory, the One who lifts my head high.
I call out to the Lord,
    and he answers me from his holy mountain.
I lie down and sleep;
    I wake again, because the Lord sustains me.
I will not fear though tens of thousands
    assail me on every side.
Arise, Lord!
    Deliver me, my God!
Strike all my enemies on the jaw;
    break the teeth of the wicked.
From the Lord comes deliverance.
    May your blessing be on your people.

  • Psalm 3

“The Psalter is the vicarious prayer of Christ for his congregation. Now that Christ is With the Father, the new humanity of Christ—the body of Christ—on earth continues to pray his prayer to the end of time. This prayer belongs not to the individual member, but to the whole body of Christ. All the things of which the Psalter speaks, which individuals can never fully comprehend and call their own, live only in the body of Christ as a whole. That is why the prayer of the Psalms belongs in the community in a special way. Even if a verse or a psalm is not my own prayer, it is nevertheless the prayer of another member of the community; and it is quite certainly the prayer of the truly human Jesus Christ and his body on earth.
“In the Psalter we learn to pray on the basis of Christ’s prayer. The Psalter is the great school of prayer. First, we learn here what prayer means: it means praying on the basis of the Word of God, on the basis of promises. Christian prayer takes its stand on the solid ground of the revealed Word and has nothing to do with vague, self-seeking desires. …
“Second, we learn from the prayer of the Psalms what we should pray. …
“Third, the prayer of the Psalms teaches us to pray as a community. …”

  • Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

I know many people who would take exception to some of the Psalms.  I have written about imprecatory psalms, like Psalm 3.  My point was that imprecatory psalms would not be in Scripture if they were not acceptable, but when you put a face on your enemy, it might not be right in asking God to “smite thine enemy,” but in this psalm, Psalm 3, David knows his enemy.  It is his own son, Absalom.  The words do not specifically flow in that direction of getting personal, but to David, at that time, it was personal.  Note: Kicking the teeth in of the enemy is fair game to pray for, but David never wanted Absalom to be killed, not by God striking him down or by foreign enemies killing him.

Of the three psalms quoted above, Psalm 1 talks of good and evil; Psalm 2 talks of God’s sovereignty; and Psalm 3 is a lament, asking for God’s strength and God to show Himself to the enemies.  As some have quipped, if you simply read the Psalms through, you might think that King David was off his medication quite often.  Maybe that view should be taken as a warning to the modern culture.  David did not need medication.  He had a method, and provided us a method, of dealing with the stresses of this world. When David wrote a lament, it contained praise of God. We could learn a lot from the Psalms in that alone when our prayers become a laundry list of supplications.

Mark Lowry, in his comedy routine – turned into a sermonette – about watching open-heart surgery on television, gets around to talking about life, and having life more abundantly, but life is a roller coaster ride of highs and lows.  God can deal with both if we let Him.

And we can express it ourselves by reading, singing and praying the Psalms.

And as for imprecatory psalms, I often pray that God will deal with my enemies, and the best thing that God can do is to have them accept Jesus as their Savior.  They will then instantly not be my enemy anymore. And note that when we ask God, in a humble manner and not in anger, for Him to smite our enemies, if they become smote, that is within God’s will.

And I love the concept that Bonhoeffer brings forth that the psalms are to be prayed as a community.  You may not have that problem, but someone in the community probably does and you can intercede for them, simply by praying the psalm in that manner.  I have been blessed many times over by Scriptures and prayers in the liturgy of the church.  I have often wondered if anyone else heard those words the way I did that day.  I heard them in that way because God knew my need.

Thus, from the singing of psalms and hymns to the praying of the Psalms, both singing and praying in worship within the community.  And for those who have not followed these Bonhoeffer articles from the beginning, a community could be a church, a small group, a family, or a Christian neighborhood.  Bonhoeffer wrote the book for seminary students, but with everyone in mind.  And Bonhoeffer suggests this to be done daily.

God, we praise you.  God, we lift up our praise, worship, and gratitude to you.  Lord, we hurt, and we need a good hug about now.

Yes, we can find those things, and more, throughout the Psalms.

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.

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