This has been a busy week... between traveling to So Cal twice this week for consulting projects with the Free Methodist Church of Southern CA, fighting (mostly losing) a cold, and my birthday, I was on the move. While I loved every single part of my week (well, not the cold), it feels good to sit still and reflect.
I continued my series on the Book of Psalms with students at Providence Hall, and as always, to prepare for a study like this blesses me perhaps more than anyone.
I was told by some students that they were recently praying that we would in fact grow in prayer as a school. So this study of psalms seems like an answer to those prayers.
As I told them, it's pretty simple: we can only grow in learning how to pray by… PRAYING. That is easier said than done though. It’s difficult to concentrate during prayer; it’s difficult to find others to pray with who are ready to pray. It’s difficult to know what to pray about.
So I suggested that we learn from the longest book in the Bible, the book of Psalms, which is God’s prayer book.
Psalms is unique in that it’s the only book in the Bible where people’s words are directed to God, rather than the rest of scripture, which is God speaking to us through the various authors.
Even better, we can’t see any particular organization in the five books of the Psalms, other than they are sometimes grouped according to authorship. I've learned that the psalms were a living, open book during the entire Old Testament period, from Moses to after they return to Jerusalem after the Babylonian exile.
Just like our emotions and experiences with God are all over the place, so is each book within psalms. My hope for my students is that as they become more familiar with Psalms during our series that they will learn how to use the prayers to shape their lives of prayer, and more importantly, make that prayer life BIGGER.
In the series we are walking through 7 different genres in the psalms. The first one we examined are known as HYMNS. In other words, these psalms simply thank God for who He is.
The next type of psalm we looked at were psalms of THANKSGIVING, which might seem somewhat similar. But thanksgiving psalms are written about specific things that God has done for us in answer to prayer. And as we give thanks, we are also invited to bear witness to others about what God has done.
We then read a psalm of thanksgiving...
A psalm of David. A song for the dedication of the Temple.
1 I will exalt you, Lord, for you rescued me.
You refused to let my enemies triumph over me.
2 O Lord my God, I cried to you for help,
and you restored my health.
3 You brought me up from the grave, O Lord.
You kept me from falling into the pit of death.
4 Sing to the Lord, all you godly ones!
Praise his holy name.
5 For his anger lasts only a moment,
but his favor lasts a lifetime!
Weeping may last through the night,
but joy comes with the morning.
6 When I was prosperous, I said,
“Nothing can stop me now!”
7 Your favor, O Lord, made me as secure as a mountain.
Then you turned away from me, and I was shattered.
8 I cried out to you, O Lord.
I begged the Lord for mercy, saying,
9 “What will you gain if I die,
if I sink into the grave?
Can my dust praise you?
Can it tell of your faithfulness?
10 Hear me, Lord, and have mercy on me.
Help me, O Lord.”
11 You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing.
You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy,
12 that I might sing praises to you and not be silent.
O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever!
We then spent some time in small groups asking ourselves a simple question of one another: When was a time that God rescued me? When was a time that I cried out to God and He answered my prayer?
As I asked those questions of the students, I had to turn the magnifying glass on my own life as well. I recalled two different times when I have felt called to leave after significant years (one of thirteen years, another of fifteen years) of commitment and ministry. These were agonizing decisions. I could not describe how I finally discerned that it was time to go. But as I reluctantly stepped away both times and jumped into the abyss of "what's next," God caught me. He didn't solve everything and tie it all up in a bow... but he was palpably there.
Then I read Psalm 30 as my own story. This is one of the greatest powers of scripture in my mind. As Tremper Longman says, we learn not only about God as we read the Psalms, we learn about ourselves as well. As I trace my fingers across words that have comforted millions for thousands of years, I still manage to feel known and understood personally. My own struggles and joys are given words that express my plight better than anything I could come up with myself.
O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever!