Psalm 143

Hear me, answer me – that’s the two halves of this psalm. They serve to step up the intensity and urgency of the prayer; put the screws on God to shuffle this prayer to the top of the priority list.

God gets a gazillion emails a day marked urgent with a read receipt.

It’s a middle of the night prayer, when everything seems impossible. At one point David asks the morning to bring a word of God’s unfailing love. Seems like there ain’t such a word coming to him now as he prays/panics into the night.

His utter lack of options for whatever problems he’s facing focuses him on having no claim to God’s grace; being totally undeserving. But also how totally reliant he is on it.

I think God probably loves it when we throw his character back at him this way. “Woah, this will certainly display your unfailing love” is a pretty positive way to react to bad news, when your own resources abandon you.

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Psalm 138

“it’s the potatoes” ” no, it’s the way they’re cooked” “no, it’s the potatoes” “no, it’s the way they’re cooked”.

When I was a child I sat through this tedious ad for Smith’s Crisps so many times, waiting patiently at the TV for the next segment of Road Runner or some such. It was supposedly an argument between two painfully exaggerated Irishmen about what makes Smith’s Crisps the best. Oh, and I think they said “praitees” instead of potatoes. Good grief.

Anyway, this psalm of David reminded me of it, because he suggests God’s decrees are more famous than he is. His decree being his love for the lowly and undeserving, including David. “It’s God” “no it’s his love” “no, it’s God” “no, it’s his love”…that means he’s worthy of praise above all the other so called ‘gods’.

David praises Jehovah above all others because of how he engages: this God answers, and the answers embolden him. With one hand he fends off enemies, with the other he lifts David up. He preserves him from trouble.

Out course in just as many psalms David says “where are you!” “Why have you abandoned me?”.

Or “I will wait. Patiently”

Monday morning, which will it be for me today? Everything peachy, everything a disaster, or somewhere in between? (There are a few a few “meh” psalms, but not many… I suppose “meh” doesn’t lend itself to songs).

I’m a bit anxious about work, but excited for the opportunities. I’m determined to function with family, I’m in an organisation mode for things like mess, bills etc, which is good, and very variable.

I had a good break away with Kelly that reminded us how much we love each other’s company, and what relaxation feels like.

Is it him, or his love? I’m certainly sticking with Jehovah!

Psalm 122

Very tired this morning, not great sleep and now a day. Managed to slice my thumb making toast and dripped blood on the shirt I was ironing, sort of day.

The psalm has David imagining pilgrims arriving at the gate of Jerusalem and going up to the house of the Lord. The temple wasn’t built in his time, sacrifices were in the tabernacle in Kiriath-Jearim, about 9 miles from Jerusalem.

He chose the location for the temple, he bought the ark into Jerusalem. He built the city up and started stockpiling materials for the temple. It was a work that would have fired his imagination.

As a choirboy I sang this psalm, a warm and calm setting. Jerusalem felt like home. “O pray for the peace of Jerusalem, they shall prosper that love thee” The word “peace” was given an exotic figure of notes and overlapping parts.

It is a prayer for peace, a place for peace. THE place of peace. The prophets had visions of all nations coming down a highway though the desert all a-bloom to Jerusalem.

Peace. The promise of it, now to calm me. After a restless night, I can’t really move beyond the mantra of that word.

Psalm 74

I feel like I’m back in the book of Job again. There is even a reference to Leviathan!

It’s a psalm of frustration with God. Israel stands in for Job here, it is the victim of seemingly random attack and misfortune.

There is a cinematic image of the destruction of the ancient religion of the promised land like men clearing the forest with axes and fire, except it’s the carved panelling of the sanctuaries that is smashed and burning.

And the psalmist rails against the silence of God. Why won’t he act? It’s full of questions.

In Job the frustration with God has a self serving element that is to be unpacked and repented of. But here the frustration is coming more from a longing on behalf of others.

This verse caught it elegantly: “Have regard for your covenant, because haunts of violence fill the dark places of the land. Do not let the oppressed retreat in disgrace; may the poor and needy praise your name.

It’s deeply compassionate. Like Job we need to learn to trust God’s awesome power and be patient for his plans. But the outcome isn’t a passive life of stoic detachment. It’s right to be longing for others, praying for them. Longing for the violence, hatred, blasphemy and inequality to end.

And, I guess the psalm implies, doing what we can to bring about God’s kingdom. Ironically, I reckon you could argue that when the psalmist is moved by the spirit to call out the desecrations and cruelty, and we are inspired by it, God is not being silent or failing to act. We are the temples now, we are his presence. We all have our part to play, including me.

Psalm 61

David returning to some of the themes that come back again and again. His need for salvation, his agony, his tears.

Asking How long? How long?

His turmoil goes all night.. both the bed and the couch are soaked with tears, nice detail.

Calling on God’s loving, saving, nature, rather than David’s deservedness. Calling on God’s pragmatism – ‘I’m no use to you dead am I?

Starting with his anguish, ending anticipating his enemy’s anguish: going full circle, but also taking us on a journey. Honest and artful at the same time. Well, he did have all night to work on the song…

I’m oddly troubled too, can’t get into gear at work. I should just do the job applications and get them out of the way, they are distracting me.

One job is more demanding, a management position of a national team, another is unclear a project coordination job. Maybe less my bag, but I have to go for it. It would be ironic if I was a chaser upper, a deadlines guy…

Confusing mixture of wanting, needing, not sure about. It would be a much higher level of commitment, though I’m one of those people that never feel like a hot shot, so I’m always insecure about these things until I do them. Argh!

Pray that I can be calm and sensible, not over think things, trust God.

I was so restless that I kept being annoyed yesterday if I could only find written articles, not videos, about things I was researching, because I couldn’t settle to read. Needed to be hypnotised by sight and sound or my brain wouldn’t stop jumping around.

Sounds like David and I are both stuck in loops. I’d still rather be me from the sound of it.

And oh the infinite patience required to be God. Hearing the same prayers day in day out, the same repentances, the same errors, the same lacks of self insight. Dear oh dear! Well I’ll try and sort my little emotional eddy, I can do it.

Psalm 54

David is in trouble again. They pinpoint it to when he was being chased across the country by Saul, who wanted him dead.

David was on one side of a mountain, Saul on the other, and the locals, the Ziphites were helping Saul.

It falls into the pattern of cry before confidence that saying your problems out loud will do.

Starts with the panic part of the brain: ‘Lord help me!’ ‘are you listening?’. Then the calm part starts to reason: ‘you sustain me, evil won’t triumph forever, you’ve saved me in the past, you can do it again’.

Oh the value of prayer! Psychologists preach cognisance, the value of self talk to start processing our reactions. Prayer is cognisance plus… an awareness of a loving higher power working everything in the long run (admittedly sometimes a quite long run) for good. Self talk with extra juice.

I was reminding myself yesterday to trust God in the crisis. So reassuring today to consider that, if you are too in-the-moment to trust yet, merely shouting at God in a crisis can be a good starting point.

Yelling ‘Oh my God!’ when the hammer hits your thumb needn’t always be taking his name in vain.

Psalm 44

God sleeping while we are lambs to the slaughter. What would lead the authors of this psalm, the Sons of Jorah to say that?

Either it’s not time yet or God has other plans.

In fact the sons of Korah were involved in a great victory, that held the invaders at bay for a generation, as the commentator noted on palm 42. Maybe when this son of Korah was writing that hasn’t happened yet… The timing was wrong. Or maybe it had happened way in the past and needed to happen again.

Whatever, there are good times and bad times, as it says in Ecclesiastes.

But even once the timing aligned and the good times came, the meta story around them was the inverse of Joshua, which he refers to here.

The time when they claimed the promised land, the ascent to nationhood and greatness, has gone.

Coming is the time when they will be broken and booted out by Assyria and then Babylon.

God is not asleep, he is actively postponing judgement for most of Kings, to give the people a second chance. But his plan is judgement for the nation, it will only ever be a shadow of itself again.

And he is speaking and acting through the prophets to give a larger, different, understanding of salvation to the whole globe, not just the chosen people.

Is easy to see from our vantage point on history and hindsight that this prayer/song/plea is wrong in emphasis and perspective.

It’s rightness is that it is engagement with God. The holy spirit interprets, still does. Thank goodness God still loves misplaced passion!

It’s good to think and try to get insight, not be creatures of passion, blurting misguidedly. But to God sometimes, our best rational efforts and our rawest emotional outbursts must hardly seem different. I’m sure he prefers either to apathy.

Psalm 43

This is a sequel to 42. Sometimes they were printed as one, but I did like where the other was left.

The psalmist asks for vindication. He asks to be rescued. I liked how the request for rescue echoes Exodus and Deuteronomy. Led by light, to a mountain of blessing.

He’s doing the consistency argument. Reminding God that He saves…

He mentions being back in the temple praising God on the Lyre. He’s a church guitarist! He’s saying ‘Isn’t that we where you want me God? Where I am supposed to be?’ ‘You like praise don’t you? Put me back and you’ll get more praise…’

It’s a bit like a business proposal: ‘I think your interests and my interests could be better aligned if you take certain mutually beneficial steps…’

But its a good test for prayer. This sort of logic prayer seems self serving, almost manipulative at first blush, but the mutuality of it is a check that the prayer is the within the will of God.

The answer could still be ‘no’ of course but if you are saying ‘God, your character has been this, your plans were this’ it’s a good starting point. It’s respectful, acknowledging that God is calling the shots. It’s the revelation thus far.

Psalm 38

Not so neat. This Psalm of David catches a moment when he is in a bad way in multiple senses.

He’s sick, with horrible symptoms that disgust his friends. He is also overwhelmed by guilt over some personal failing.

He’s bringing his shame and his pain to God. It couldn’t contrast more with the alphabetized moral neatness of the previous Psalm, where he said in all his many years on earth he’s never seen the righteous forsaken.

There’s no sermonising, it is a private dialogue addressed to God.

We’ve lost the moral certainty. He says he only wants to do good, but he admits his own sin is like a burden too much to bear.

There is no closure on God forsaking him. It ends with him still pleading with God to come quickly. It’s a messy unresolved cry of doubt, self pity and guilt.

The placement of these psalms next to each other can’t be an editorial accident. So good, it’s the brutal honesty you read Psalms for. A real life example of ‘praying without ceasing’ per 1 Thess 5:17.

…For work I had to write a short video on prayer. I researched lots of biblical prayers and verses about prayer and concluded that relentlessness and honesty was all they had in common. So I settled on that as the summary verse on the subject.

Jeremiah 42

Right so has Judah learned it’s lesson? Find out in tomorrow’s exciting episode!

Infighting within the depleted remnant of Judah has blown apart the order that the Babylonian conquerors put in place. When you are occupied Poland, you don’t want to make the Nazis angry.

The plan is to run away to Egypt before the Babylonian rulers find out and seek retribution.

They know enough to ask Jeremiah at least. And he says”no”. After 10 days God’s voice comes to him, Egypt will mean death, they must stay and face the music.

Will they? See chapter 43, presumably.

“Everything happens for a reason” people say, but when similar situations come up again, have you learned from life? Does the scar tissue of life teach us to pray or harden us to get deeper into trusting our own judgement as we grow older?