Praying Psalm 1 and 2

Psalm 1 –

Father, oh to be the blessed and fulfilled man of this Psalm.  May this portrait of a life of wisdom be the compelling desire of all of our hearts.  Free us from conducting our lives and making our decisions based upon the advice of those who are hostile to you.  May we be kept from the downward spiral of walking, standing, and sitting with those who are called “wicked” … those who oppose Your rule and your Word.

May we have a growing discomfort with sin — in our own lives, in the lives of our family members, and our church, and our culture.  May our delight be in Your Torah.  Ignite our hearts with a desire to meditate upon Your Word with regularity, with intentionality and with resolve.  As a result, may our lives look like the tree and not the chaff.

May we not be driven about by the winds of our circumstances and emotions, but may we be rooted and watered by the streams of Your abundant goodness and steadfast love.  Would you prosper O Lord all that we do today?  May our lives be fruitful for you…godly character and lips that are quick to express thanksgiving and praise to you. May others be brought into the kingdom of Your dear Son through our influence.

Give us the assurance that we will stand on the last day in your presence only because another was judged on account of our sin – Jesus Christ the truly blessed and righteous One. For Him we give you thanks and praise, AMEN.

Psalm 2 –

Gracious Father, thank you for the future hope that all the nations that rage against You will become the inheritance of the Messiah. You have given to Your Son our Savior the ends of the earth as His possession.

He declares triumphantly that all authority in heaven and on earth is rightfully His.  Based upon that authority, we pray that you would supernaturally cause a massive ingathering of souls who would come to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Have mercy upon them, open blind eyes like you did long ago, pour the wine of your love and Word on calloused, stony hearts.  Raise up a group of young people throughout the world who devotedly kiss Your Son as Savior and Lord. May they serve You with fear and rejoice with trembling as they contemplate your loving reign in their hearts as King, but also as a just judge who will come again with a rod of iron to break all those who resist Your reign. AMEN.

When You Walk through Times of Spiritual Darkness

In today’s contemporary church, we speak little about the subject of spiritual darkness, but in the older tradition it was very different. It was recognized that at times God can sovereignly bring upon us episodes of spiritual darkness, in which what is sensed is his absence rather than his presence, his displeasure rather than an assurance of his love and of one’s own future happiness with him.

Sometimes these moments are wake-up calls regarding overdue behavioral changes, and sometimes they are simple tests of fidelity, imposed as a kind of workout through which the saints emerge stronger than before.

Detailed evidence as to what such desertion or abandonment feels like, why God inflicts it, and how to handle it, is found in the Psalms (see 38, 42, 88, 119:67, etc.), in the book of Job and in one key verse from the pen of  the evangelical prophet, Isaiah.

Isaiah 50 verse 10 says: “Who is among you that fears the LORD, that obeys the voice of His servant, that walks in darkness and has no light? Let him trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God.”

Matthew Henry describes how it is that Christians sometimes walk in darkness:

“When their evidences for heaven are clouded, their joy in God is interrupted, the testimony of the Spirit is suspended, and the light of God’s countenance is eclipsed. Pensive Christians are apt to be melancholy, and those who fear are always apt to fear too much.”

He prescribes the two-fold cure from Isaiah 50:

He that is thus in the dark,

(1.) Let him trust in the name of the Lord, in the goodness of his nature, and that which he has made known of himself, his wisdom, power, and goodness. The name of the Lord is a strong tower, let him run into that. Let him depend upon it that if he walked before God, which a man may do though he walk in the dark, he shall find God all-sufficient to him.

(2.) Let him stay himself upon his God, his in covenant; let him keep hold of his covenant-relation to God, and call God his God, as Christ on the cross, My God, My God. Let him stay himself upon the promises of the covenant, and build his hopes on them. When a child of God is ready to sink he will find enough in God to stay himself upon. Let him trust in Christ, for God’s name is in him (Exodus 23:21), trust in that name of his: The Lord our righteousness, and stay himself upon God as his God, in and through a Mediator.

Augustus Toplady crystallized this cure for us in the below hymn text that he wrote during the days of the Evangelical Revival:

Blest is the man, O God,

That stays himself on Thee;

Who waits for thy salvation, Lord,

Shall thy salvation see

 

When we in darkness walk,

Nor feel the heavenly flame,

Then is the time to trust our God,

And rest upon his name.

 

Soon shall our doubts and fears

Subside at his control;

His lovingkindness shall break through

The midnight of the soul

 

His grace will to the end

Stronger and brighter shine;

Nor present things, nor things to come

Shall quench the life divine.

9/11 and the Imprecatory Psalms: Two Opinions

Here’s a list of the Lament Psalms known as Imprecatory (Psalm 7, 35, 52, 54, 55, 58, 59, 79, 83, 94, 129, 137, and 140).

Claus Westermann claims that these imprecatory Psalms “have once and for all been taken away from Christ’s congregation.”[1] Some of them[2] appear rather bloodthirsty, pre-Christian and inappropriate for believers to use.  These Psalms call down divine curses upon the enemies of God and express an intense need for justice.

C.S. Lewis claims that it is these Psalms that “have made the Psalter largely a closed book for many modern church-goers.”[3] He did not accept the Imprecatory Psalms as God’s Word. He wrote, “The hatred is there—festering, gloating, undisguised—and also we should be wicked if we in any way condoned or approved it or (worse still) used it to justify similar passions in ourselves….They are indeed devilish.”[4] He would claim that the intolerant, vindictive spirit that animates the imprecatory Psalms resists domestication and not even the most reckless allegorizing can Christianize them.

May I share a contrary opinion. The Imprecatory Psalm prayers are “God’s own gift, providing us the words to express to God our rage, to cry out for God’s own justice against those who attack [His people], to take seriously a presence of evil that stands opposed to God’s own love and mercy.”[5] At the bare minimum, these prayers “serve as important reminders of God’s concern for justice in this world and of his judgment on those who [persist in practicing] evil.”[6]

It is evident from redemptive history that there is one who can perfectly and rightfully pray the Imprecatory Psalms – Jesus Christ, the righteous one. We are not disappointed since Jesus did not avoid the Imprecatory Psalms during His earthly pilgrimage. One of the most severe of them (Psalm 69) seems to have been one of His favorite Psalms.  Jesus drew guidance, courage and self-understanding from this Psalm.

He asserts from Psalm 69:4 that “they hated me without cause” (John 15:25). He announces from Psalm 69:9 that “zeal for your house has eaten me up” (John 2:17).  He laments from Psalm 69:21 that “they gave me gall for my food” (Matthew 27:24). Indeed, we do not have to resort to reckless allegorizing for we have the clear statements of Jesus himself to guide us. When we view these Psalms as prayers of Jesus Christ, our understanding of His heart and His sufferings on our behalf deepens and our hearts are filled with gratitude.

There are several helpful guidelines for praying the Imprecatory Psalms. We offer the following four guidelines.[7] First of all, a believer’s prayer should never include the motive of personal revenge (Psalm 109:21). Secondly, vengeance belongs only to God (Romans 12:17-19). Thirdly, in rare cases, it is acceptable for believers today to pray for God to defeat those who oppose His kingdom work – if they do not repent (Psalm 59:13; Acts 13:10-11). Fourthly, the foremost prayer of a believer for his enemies should be that of intercession that they might be changed and converted (Psalm 83:16-18; Matthew 5:44).

What are some of the benefits of praying the Imprecatory Psalms? They help believers by channelling these emotions to God rather than expressing them either verbally or physically at others”[8] It is truly a step of faith to only ventilate your anger to God and let him take care of justice against those who have insulted or abused you.

The pandemic of AIDS, the mass murders on American high school and college campuses, and world-wide terrorism have brought about human evil and suffering on such a pervasive scale that frail, human hearts are vulnerable to despair. If the Holy Spirit is to stir believers to concrete acts of justice and mercy, we must hear the cries of the suffering, the persecuted, and the oppressed. To that end, the Imprecatory Psalms may be a timely gift of the Spirit rather than an embarrassment as they awake us to real injustice, abuse, persecution, and suffering.

What will result in the church if we pray them? James Adams declares that “when these prayers are prayed in the power of the Holy Spirit and with understanding, there will come unsuspected power and glory to the church of Christ.”[9]

Raymond Surburg spells this out in greater detail:

When all is quiet and peaceful in the Church, many may not feel very keenly the need for the use of the Imprecatory Psalms…However, when persecution bursts upon the Church, as has been the case in communistic China, in Cuba where Christian pastors and their flocks have been subjected to torture, inhuman indignities and death, when the faith of God’s people is severely tried by the enemies of the Lord, Christians have instinctively turned to these Psalms. Some people may have considered the Imprecatory Psalms an offense in better days, but their relevancy has been brought home to them, when the forces of evil have persecuted and tortured them because of belief in God and faith in the Lordship of Christ.[10]

Derek Kidner reminds us that the Imprecatory Psalms should not be cut out of the Bible. They serve as an important foreshadowing of a dreadful day in the future when the glory of God’s perfect justice will be magnified:

There is “sorer punishment” revealed in the New Testament than in the psalms, simply because the whole scale of human destiny has come into sight. This is very clear from a comparison of Psalm 6:8 and Matthew 7:23, where the words “Depart from me, all you workers of evil” are transformed from a cry of relief by David into a sentence of death by Christ. The principle is the same: truth and lies cannot live together. “Outside” will be “everyone who loves and practices falsehood.” But it is one thing to be driven off by David; quite another by Christ, to the final exclusion which is also the climax of almost every parable in the Gospels.[11]


[1] Claus Westermann, The Psalms: Structure, Content, and Message, trans. Ralph Gehrke (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Press, 1980), 66-67.

[2] Fourteen Psalms have been classified “imprecatory.”  Psalm 69 and 109 are the most significant.  Other Imprecatory Psalms include:  7, 35, 52, 54, 55, 58, 59, 79, 83, 94, 129, 137, and 140. A brief, introductory treatise on the Imprecatory Psalms can be found in Derek Kidner’s commentary, Psalms 1-72:  An Introduction and Commentary, 25-32. James E. Adams has written a small but insightful book on the Imprecatory Psalms entitled, War Psalms of the Prince of Peace: Lessons from the Imprecatory Psalms, (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 1991). A more recent treatment of the Imprecatory Psalms is John N. Day’s, Crying for Justice, (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2005).

Several Helpful Journal Articles:  J. Carl Laney, “A Fresh Look at the Imprecatory Psalms,” Bibliotheca Sacra 138 (January-March 1981): 35-45; John N. Day, “The Imprecatory Psalms and Christian Ethics,” Bibliotheca Sacra, 159 (April-June 2002); 166-86 and Chalmers Martin, “The Imprecations in the Psalms,” Princeton Theological Review 1 (1903) 537-53; Alex Luc, “Interpreting the Curses in the Psalms,” Journal of Evangelical Theological Society, (42.3, September 1990) 395-410.

[3] Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms, 18.

[4] Ibid, 22. Here Lewis seems to embrace the neo-orthodox heresy that the Bible is not the Word of God but rather that it contains the Word of God. Lewis has great difficulty in reconciling the imprecations found in some of the Psalms with the Biblical view of a loving and just God.

[5] Frederick J. Gaiser, “Deliver Us From Evil,” Word & World, (22:1, Winter 2002), 3.

[6] Luc, “Interpreting the Curses in the Psalms, 409.

[7] These guidelines come from Laney, “A Fresh Look at the Imprecatory Psalms,” 35-45 and Greg W Parsons, “Guidelines for Understanding and Proclaiming the Psalms, Bibliotheca Sacra, 147, (April-June 1990), 178.

[8] Parsons, “Guidelines for Understanding and Proclaiming the Psalms,” 178.

[9] James Adams, War Psalms of the Prince of Peace, xiii.

[10] Raymond F. Surburg, “The Interpretation of the Imprecatory Psalms,” Springfielder, 39 (1975), 100.

[11] Kidner, Psalms 1-72, 30.

Praying an Imprecatory Psalm as the 10th anniversary of 9/11 Approaches

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.

When the Darkness Will Not Lift – The Causes of Spiritual Depression

This morning at Panera Bread restaurant, I begin a men’s group focused on the Psalms of Ascent with additional insights gleaned from Euguene Peterson’s book A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society.If you’re not in a men’s group at Trinity, let me encourage to come be a part of ours. It’s a small group focused on studying and sharing life together.

This morning we began by focusing on lifelines for our journey through spiritual depression from Psalm 120. At various times in all of our lives we suffer from spiritual depression. We become overwhelmed with a sense of oppression, negativity, and despair so  much so that God seems absent from our lives.

As he begins his journey, the Psalmist feels far away from God. A spiritual melancholy has enveloped him. Do any of you ever struggle with a melancholy spirit? Does a gloomy state of mind ever plague you? Have you ever felt far from the Lord when no enthusiasm for God’s worship or God’s Word? The thought of doing good for others absolutely wearies you. This malaise that comes upon us from time to time is called spiritual depression.

Martin Luther called it Anfechtung – spiritual assault and distress. Anfechtung is an assault on either the body, mind, or soul, involving fear, conscience, sin, and/or guilt, that always test your faith. It is all the doubts, turmoil, pains, despair, desolation, and desperation which invade the spirit of man.

What is spiritual depression? In verses 1 and 5, the Psalmist describes his emotional state as one of distress. So much so that he pronounces a woe upon himself. Distress – being in a narrow and confining place that causes emotional pain due to unfavorable circumstances.

Secondly, spiritual depression can occur due of Satanic assault. Also, at times our physical and hereditary make-up can make us prone to spiritual depression. It is important that we don’t overlook the physical. The condition of our bodies makes a difference in the capacity of our minds to think clearly and of our souls to see the beauty of the hope of the gospel.

The greatest and the best Christians when they are physically weak and exhausted are more prone to an attack of spiritual depression than at any other time. There are great illustrations of this in the scriptures. Elijah knew spiritual depression. After his great spiritual battle and victory on Mount Carmel against the prophets of Baal, we find Elijah sitting beneath a juniper tree, utterly dejected, despairing and wishing to die (1 Kings 19:1-19).

Where is God in all of this? The two disciples on the road to Emmaus. Spiritual depression often results from the trauma of God’s apparent hiddenness, impotence or unconcern. For example, you believe that God is loving and sovereign and your four-year-old daughter dies of leukemia.

What are the causes of Spiritual Depression?  Spiritual depression can result from many causes. Our Psalm highlights two causes for spiritual depression.

The warring ways of the world (vv.1-2). The sin of others. These warring ways are seen in our sins of speech. Lies…Deceit. Lying lips and deceitful tongues wreak havoc in all our relationships. We cause others to suffer by our harsh, critical, and unloving words.

Samuel Cox wrote on this passage back in the late 1800s. He says that “half of the miseries of human life spring from the reckless and malignant use of the tongue… These tongues wag fastest behind a person’s back.”

Grima the Wormtongue. Grima was the counsellor of Theoden, the King of Rohan in Middle Earth. He betrayed his master by becoming an agent of Saruman. His directive was to weaken King Theoden in preparation for an invasion of Rohan. Theoden slowly succumbed to the whisperings of Grima, the wormtongue. Slowly and deceitfully, he had squeezed all life and health from Theodan with his deceitful lies.  BUT… deliverance was near. Hear the words of Gandalf:

“The wise speak only of what they know, Grima son of Galmod. A witless worm have you become. Therefore be silent, and keep your forked tongue behind your teeth.” But Gandalf comes to reclaim and rescue. And in sort of an exorcism of sorts, he frees Theodan from his pitiful condition.  I love the pastoral counsel of Gandalf to King Theodan: “Breathe the free air again.”

The world is more than just a hostile and antagonistic place for us. Yielding to the world’s allurement. For the Psalmist, rubbing shoulders with other believers and being sharpened had been withdrawn and he was in danger of compromising his faith.

The second huge cause of spiritual depression is the alluring ways of the world (vv. 5-6) as well as our own sin. The sin of worldliness. The verb “dwell”… to be too much at home in this world.

The Psalmist longed to be home in Jerusalem, but for some reason he found himself far away from Jerusalem as it was possible to get. Meshech is thought to be near the Black Sea in what we would call the Baltic Republics. In the south, ‘among the tents of Kedar’ in the Arabian desert. He was in a place and among a people that were far away from Jerusalem and that were hostile to faith!

Isolationism – the holy huddle… Over-accommodation to our culture.

Thirdly, spiritual depression can result from our unwillingness to let go of some cherished sin. This is why we regularly take time in our corporate worships to confess our sin. John Piper writes in his booklet, When the Darkness Will Not Lift: “In doing this, we are all prone to make two mistakes. One is to make light of our sin. The other is to be overwhelmed by it. However, the biblical approach is to take our sin seriously, hate it, renounce it, and trust Christ as our only Savior from its guilt and power.”

 

A Few Nuggets on Praising God from C.S. Lewis

“It is in the process of being worshipped that God communicates His presence to men.  It is not of course the only way.  But for many people at many times the ‘fair beauty of the LORD’ is revealed chiefly or only while they worship Him together.  Even in Judaism, the essence of the sacrifice was not really that men gave bulls and goats to God, but that by their doing God gave Himself to men” (Reflections on the Psalms, p. 93).

“I had never noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise.  The world rings with praise—lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favorite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favorite game—praise of weather, wines, dishes, actors, motors, horses, colleges, countries, historical personages, children, flowers, mountains, rare stamps, rare beetles, even sometimes politicians or scholars.  I had not noticed how the humblest and at the same time most balanced and capacious minds, praised most, while the cranks, misfits, and malcontents praised least.  The good critics found something to praise in many imperfect works; the bad ones continually narrowed the list of books we might be allowed to read.”

“Except where intolerably adverse circumstances interfere, praise almost seems to be inner health made audible.”

“I had not noticed either that just as men spontaneously praise whatever they value, so they spontaneously urge us to join them in praising it:  ‘Isn’t she lovely?  Wasn’t it glorious?  Don’t you think the game was awesome?'”

“The Psalmists in telling everyone to praise God are doing what all men do when they speak of what they care about…I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation.” (p. 95).

“Heaven is a state in which angels now, and men hereafter, are perpetually employed in praising God.”