Some of you have asked recently about how to access online my dissertation I wrote on Recovering One of the Lost Tools of Christianity Spirituality: Praying the Psalms It can be downloaded by clicking on the above link. Chapters one and eight are the chapters most frequently downloaded.
Psalm 129 is one of the Psalms of Ascent. It is a very fitting Psalm for Good Friday. Suffering is one notable feature of our journey of faith that we’d rather not talk about and certainly not experience. In fact, many religions say that it’s an illusion. Even for many who profess faith in Christ, it causes them to abandon their journey of faith entirely. Suffering is certainly a harsh, intrusive feature of living life in a broken and fallen world. Psalm 129 helps us to understand where to find hope when we suffer!
Here’s the text of this short Psalm:
1″Greatly have they afflicted me from my youth” – let Israel now say—
2″Greatly have they afflicted me from my youth, yet they have not prevailed against me.
3 The plowers plowed upon my back; they made long their furrows.”
4The LORD is righteous; he has cut the cords of the wicked.
5May all who hate Zion be put to shame and turned backward!
6Let them be like the grass on the housetops, which withers before it grows up, 7with which the reaper does not fill his hand nor the binder of sheaves his arms, 8nor do those who pass by say, “The blessing of the LORD be upon you! We bless you in the name of the LORD!”
How do you tend to respond when you suffer? Have you ever said or thought something like the words of Teresa of Avila: “Lord, if this is the way you treat your friends, it’s no wonder you have so few!” Some of us are prone to get angry with God at his apparent indifference to our plight. We tend to charge Him with wrongdoing. We doubt His goodness and question His love and power. Some of us sulk and wallow in self-pity. Others of us take vengeance on our pain with the unrelenting pursuit of illicit pleasure. Others of us blame and shame others.
From Psalm 129, where do we find hope in the midst of our suffering? Our text highlights two things …
- Recall God’s Pattern in redemptive history: Cross and crown… Tragedy and triumph… Sufferings and glories to follow.
Israel – Israel suffered at the hands of the Egyptians, the Babylonians, The Syrians, the Greeks, and the Romans, the Muslim crusaders, and the Nazis. Why such persistent anti-Semitism? Satan absolutely hates Israel as the people through whom God promised to send the Messiah to destroy both the devil and his works.
How? Plowed upon my back. This is a powerful metaphor combining the idea of a vicious, painful scourging with the painstaking and thorough effort a farmer would make to plow a field.
Not prevailed against me (v. 2). Did not gain the victory. Persecutors do not prevail over God’s people. The Lord cuts the cords of the wicked.
Have you ever wondered why God persist in using this pattern of suffering before the glories that follow? This pattern can easily be traced in the life of Israel, in the life of Christ, and in the lives of Christ’s followers. So that the world might know that the power is not from ourselves but from God.
But what would life be like in our fallen world if God eliminated suffering? Malcolm Muggeridge, a noted British author and journalist answers: “Supposing you eliminated suffering, what a dreadful place the world would be. The world would be the most ghastly place because everything that corrects the tendency of this unspeakable little creature, man, to feel over-important and over-pleased with himself would disappear. He’s bad enough now, but he would be absolutely intolerable if he never suffered” (Jesus Rediscovered, 1969. pp. 199-200).
- Recall Good Friday
Indeed, the Psalmist laments the repeated and frequent afflictions of his people, but this Psalm has its ultimate fulfillment in the Messiah on this day that we call Good Friday. For Jesus is the ultimate sufferer whose back is plowed to bring healing to us His sin-sick people. Today we recall our suffering Messiah. We recall His cross, relive the anguish, and renew our vows to live as His followers. Jesus suffered to ultimately end all suffering.
One of the things we remember on Good Friday is that the Messiah had to suffer. Our salvation was contingent upon Jesus’ suffering. The way of humiliation leads to great glory.
Merciful Father, we meet each other today at the foot of the cross. We wait with each other as those who inflict wounds on one another: Have mercy on us.
As those who spurn Your love for other loves: Be merciful to us.
As those who put our trust in power and prestige: Be merciful to us.
As those who pursue only our own personal interests: Be merciful to us.
As those who put others on trial: Be merciful to us.
As those who refuse to forgive: Be merciful to us.
As those who are afraid of the world’s frown and displeasure: Be merciful to us. Amen.
Here’s a brief outline with a few questions that I put together as a resource for our young parents. Click on the link below that contains a pdf file on:
The most perilous moment in a relay race centers on the exchange of the baton from one runner to the next. This fitting metaphor perfectly describes parenting our children.
For a Christian parent, there is nothing more important than passing the baton of faith and teaching our children the praiseworthy works and powerful word of God.
Family worship/devotions doesn’t have to be a herculean task. You can sing a verse or two of a hymn or praise song, read a short portion of Scripture, draw out one simple point of application, ask a question from a children’s catechism and have one or two kids pray. You can do this in five to ten minutes right before or after a meal. For most of us, it will be either breakfast or supper. I would urge you, like Bill Murray in “What About Bob?,” to take baby steps. You might try doing this once or twice a week if you’ve never done this with your family before.
One thing is for sure: A wise son makes a glad father, and it is in hearing and heeding the word of God that will make a son wise.
Click the link below for a brief guide you can download that will take you through Psalm 78:1-9 with some questions on Family Discipleship.
In the seventeenth century Paul Gerhardt and his family had to flee Berlin because of his convictions. As they fled, they stopped at an inn and tried to understand why God was allowing this to happen to them. Gerhardt’s wife was especially concerned about what might lie ahead for their young children.
Gerhardt read Psalm 37 to his family that night. You can imagine him slowing down around verse 16 and emphasizing these verses: “it is better tbe godly and have little than to be evil and possess much…The Lord takes care of the godly…They will survive through hard times.”
Apparently the psalm struck a chord with Mr. Gerhardt himself, because the next day, sitting underneath an apple tree, he wrote a hymn based on this same theme of trusting God in hard times. That evening two messengers came to Gerhardt and offered him refuge and a church position in nearby Merseberg.
This hymn Gerhardt wrote, “Give to the Winds Your Fears,” became popular in Germany, second only in fame to Luther’s “A Might Fortress Is Our God.” School children sang it as a graduation hymn, and in the United States, when the first Lutheran church was opened in Philadelphia in 1743, Gerhardt’s hymn was the first to be sung. Translations into English were made by John Wesley and others. It remains a solid testimony to God’s gracious provision in tough times.
– Taken from One Year Through the Psalms, William and Randy Petersen
Give to the Winds Thy Fears
1. Give to the winds thy fears; hope and be undismayed;
God hears thy sighs and counts thy tears,
God will lift up, God will lift up, God will lift up thy head.
2. Through waves and clouds and storms, He gently clears thy ways;
Wait thou His time, so shall this night
Soon end in joy, soon end in joy, soon end in joyous day.
3. Leave to His sovereign sway to choose and to command;
So shalt thou, wondering, own His way,
How wise, how strong, how wise, how strong, how wise, how strong His hand!
4. Far, far above thy thought, His counsel shall appear,
When fully He the work hath wrought
That caused thy need, that caused thy need, that caused thy needless fear.
Psalm 137 is a notable imprecatory psalm. It reads like this:
1 By the rivers of Babylon,
There we sat down, yea, we wept
When we remembered Zion.
2 We hung our harps
Upon the willows in the midst of it.
3 For there those who carried us away captive asked of us a song,
And those who plundered us requested mirth,
Saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
4 How shall we sing the LORD’s song
In a foreign land?
5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
Let my right hand forget its skill!
6 If I do not remember you,
Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth—
If I do not exalt Jerusalem
Above my chief joy.
7 Remember, O LORD, against the sons of Edom
The day of Jerusalem,
Who said, “Raze it, raze it,
To its very foundation!”
8 O daughter of Babylon, who are to be destroyed,
Happy the one who repays you as you have served us!
9 Happy the one who takes and dashes
Your little ones against the rock!
Here’s one attempt to pray through a Psalm like this that on the surface appears to teach things quite contrary to Jesus’ teaching on loving your enemies and doing good to those who persecute you.
Prayer: Great God and Judge of all, You are the sole source of power when we are powerless. You are the sole source of hope in the midst of our hopelessness. You are a God who welcomes the anguished cry of Your oppressed and exiled people for justice. How comforting it is to know that You will establish justice in this world and that You will judge all those who practice evil. Lord, all of Your enemies are “doomed to be destroyed” (v.8). May all of Your enemies receive the degree of suffering that they have imposed upon Your people, especially the devil and his minions.
But Father, the same evil in the hearts of the Edomites and Babylonians and Islamic Jihadists is just as much in our hearts. Thank You Father that Jesus drank the cup of Your wrath against our evil and sin. Your justice has been fully satisfied by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. Thank You that even while we were yet sinners and your enemies, Jesus died for us so that we might become your friends (Romans 5:8). Therefore, as Your dearly loved children, may we heed Jesus’ counsel and pray for our earthly enemies while praying against all the principalities and powers of darkness that threaten us.
May our sufferings in this present world ignite in us the same desire to see and enter the heavenly Jerusalem even more than these exiles desired to see and enter again their home city of Jerusalem! Their city was destroyed by the Babylonians “down to its foundations” (v.7). We like Abraham are “looking forward to the city that has [permanent] foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:10).
Lord, we pray for justice for our brothers and sisters who suffer under the brutality of evil regimes and terrorists today. Give grace to believers whose families have experienced rape, murder, mutilation, and enslavement. May they not fall prey to the temptation to ‘forget’ their heavenly home (Ps.137:5). Give them strengthening grace to not abandon the faith knowing that “vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord” (Romans 12:19). Utter and total defeat will come by Your hand to all Your enemies. This is pictured for us in the graphic “dashing [of] the little ones against the rock.” As we await that day when Your perfect justice will be dispensed, show all believers now who suffer how to overcome evil by doing good (Romans 12:20-21). Galvanize Your church for deeds of love and mercy so that Your heavenly kingdom might come among us with greater fullness until that day when we see the kingdoms of this world become the kingdom of our Lord and Messiah. And He shall reign forever and ever, AMEN.
Psalm 140:7-8 says: O LORD, my Lord, the strength of my salvation, you have covered my head in the day of battle. Grant not, O LORD, the desires of the wicked; do not further their evil plot or they will be exalted! Selah
You are our strength and our salvation. Would you fulfill these words today for our armed forces around the world – cover their heads in the day of battle? Hinder the evil plots of terrorists around the world. May there be in-fighting, confusion, disorder and mayhem among them. Simply frustrate and foil all of their attempts to kill, steal, and destroy like their father the devil.
Fulfill these verses for us today as our country wakes up to the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. Cover the hearts and minds of your people today with an overwhelming sense of your presence and your peace. May those playing the prodigal come home to you and see that no one can withstand your power. I would especially pray this for our young people.
140:12 – I know that the LORD will maintain the cause of the afflicted, and will execute justice for the needy. Thank you Father that you do take up the cause of those who are afflicted and needy. Do so today with all who have lost loved ones, friends, homes, property, and all their earthly possessions.
141: 3 – Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!
4Do not let my heart incline to any evil, to busy myself with wicked deeds in company with men who work iniquity, and let me not eat of their delicacies!
Lord, I desperately need your vigilance and watchful care over my mouth. You have called me to preach, teach, counsel, evangelize, and disciple. All of this involves speaking and talking. When words multiply, transgressions increase.
141:8 – But my eyes are toward you, O GOD, my Lord; in you I seek refuge; leave me not defenseless! Give all of our governmental leaders this grace gift today – to fix their eyes upon you, your greatness, your goodness, your mercy, your intention to do them good and not evil. Be their refuge.
142:3 – When my spirit faints within me…there is none who takes notice of me; no refuge remains to me; no one cares for my soul. Lord, show me those in our midst who are fainting, growing weary, and are feeling that no one cares. Give all of the leaders of our church the diligence and grace to pursue all those people and care for their souls.
143:5-6 – I remember the days of old; I meditate on all that you have done; I ponder the work of your hands.
I stretch out my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like a parched land.
Create in every person of our church family an intense thirst for you. Give them all the grace to remember, to meditate, to ponder and to know who you are and what you have done for us in Christ. Make them passionate worshippers of you. May you alone quench their thirst and nothing else.
143:8- Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love, for in you I trust. Make me know the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul. 10Teach me to do your will, for you are my God! Let your good Spirit lead me on level ground! Today, as our elders at Trinity Church awake, may they hear in their souls of the sweet sound of your covenantal, loyal, unfailing, persistent love in Christ. Give them grace today to trust you and not to lean on their own understanding. Guide and teach them to do your will. Surprise and overwhelm us with your goodness and your provision.
144:15 – Blessed are the people whose God is the LORD! I assume that the opposite is true as well. Cursed are the people whose god is anything or anyone else other than the Lord. Lord, do not give us over to the lusts of our eyes, the lusts of our flesh, and the boastful pride of life. May you be exalted as LORD in our country and community today.