This past weekend I went to a women’s retreat with a life-long friend. One of the seminars we attended was on prayer, and the leader encouraged the group to pray using scripture. This concept is not a new one for me, but something mentioned sparked a thought.
How can scripture, specifically the Psalms, help me pray when I have no idea how to pray?
Many times I have taken comfort in the knowledge that the Holy Spirit hears and translates my groaning into tangible requests. Yet, more poignant and profound for me are when God’s inspired Words speak to my personal experiences. A reassuring reminder from this seminar is that I can pray God’s own Words back to Him, sentiments that I might otherwise struggle to put into my own words. Take this psalm of David, for example.
O Lord, oppose those who oppose me.
Fight those who fight against me.
Put on your armor, and take up your shield.
Prepare for battle, and come to my aid.
Lift up your spear and javelin
against those who pursue me.
Let me hear you say,
“I will give you victory!”
Bring shame and disgrace on those trying to kill me;
turn them back and humiliate those who want to harm me.
Blow them away like chaff in the wind—
a wind sent by the angel of the Lord.
Make their path dark and slippery,
with the angel of the Lord pursuing them.
I did them no wrong, but they laid a trap for me.
I did them no wrong, but they dug a pit to catch me.
So let sudden ruin come upon them!
Let them be caught in the trap they set for me!
Let them be destroyed in the pit they dug for me.
Then I will rejoice in the Lord.
I will be glad because he rescues me.
With every bone in my body I will praise him:
“Lord, who can compare with you?
Who else rescues the helpless from the strong?
Who else protects the helpless and poor from those who rob them?”
Malicious witnesses testify against me.
They accuse me of crimes I know nothing about.
They repay me evil for good.
I am sick with despair.
Yet when they were ill, I grieved for them.
I denied myself by fasting for them,
but my prayers returned unanswered.
I was sad, as though they were my friends or family,
as if I were grieving for my own mother.
But they are glad now that I am in trouble;
they gleefully join together against me.
I am attacked by people I don’t even know;
they slander me constantly.
They mock me and call me names;
they snarl at me.
How long, O Lord, will you look on and do nothing?
Rescue me from their fierce attacks.
Protect my life from these lions!
Then I will thank you in front of the great assembly.
I will praise you before all the people.
Don’t let my treacherous enemies rejoice over my defeat.
Don’t let those who hate me without cause gloat over my sorrow.
They don’t talk of peace;
they plot against innocent people who mind their own business.
They shout, “Aha! Aha!
With our own eyes we saw him do it!”
O Lord, you know all about this.
Do not stay silent.
Do not abandon me now, O Lord.
Wake up! Rise to my defense!
Take up my case, my God and my Lord.
Declare me not guilty, O Lord my God, for you give justice.
Don’t let my enemies laugh about me in my troubles.
Don’t let them say, “Look, we got what we wanted!
Now we will eat him alive!”
May those who rejoice at my troubles
be humiliated and disgraced.
May those who triumph over me
be covered with shame and dishonor.
But give great joy to those who came to my defense.
Let them continually say, “Great is the Lord,
who delights in blessing his servant with peace!”
Then I will proclaim your justice,
and I will praise you all day long.
Some might be shocked at David’s audacity. But, this was a man after God’s own heart. This is a prayer of sincere honesty. Only in a deeply intimate relationship can we be this transparent.
I know I want that kind of relationship with my heavenly parent.
Because as I was reading Leviticus this morning, I was reminded I don’t have to bring a tangible offering for my sin. That has been done through Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. Yet, I must follow in principle the rules outlined in Leviticus. Why?
I am culpable for my sin whether it is conscious or subconscious. What should I do as a result?
But, if I am not aware of something I did, how can I confess it? Praying scripture, specifically the Psalms, is one way to confess sin. Psalm 51 is a prime example, and it provides a blanket prayer for unknown sin.
Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
Vague, unknown desires become specific requests when God’s Word is applied within prayer. Clarifying focus returns and banishes clouded judgement. When in doubt of what or how to pray, search His Word for the cry of your heart. Above all,
After reading these words, what type of music comes to mind?
Maybe a familiar chorus? Something upbeat?
Not this time?
That’s okay. Because I think the dedication line throws off many songwriters when it comes to this psalm.
The dichotomy between the tune and the words of this Psalm reminds me of a song I learned during my voice lessons in high school.
The hymn was “I Cannot Tell,” and I sang a combination of verses one and two.
The tune may come easily to those who know the song. But, it may surprise some to know that these words are sung to a well-known tune.
Londonderry Air, a.k.a. Danny Boy
As this lilting melody carries us over lyrics, we can be reminded that not all praise songs require boisterous voicing.
Perhaps it is easier to think of a powerful beat and a mantra chorus when reading the first two verses of Psalm 9, too. But, the rest of the psalm speaks to the dedication.
My enemies retreated;
they staggered and died when you appeared.
For you have judged in my favor;
from your throne you have judged with fairness.
You have rebuked the nations and destroyed the wicked;
you have erased their names forever.
The enemy is finished, in endless ruins;
the cities you uprooted are now forgotten.
But the Lord reigns forever,
executing judgment from his throne.
He will judge the world with justice
and rule the nations with fairness.
The Lord is a shelter for the oppressed,
a refuge in times of trouble.
Those who know your name trust in you,
for you, O Lord, do not abandon those who search for you.
The nations have fallen into the pit they dug for others.
Their own feet have been caught in the trap they set.
The Lord is known for his justice.
The wicked are trapped by their own deeds. Quiet Interlude
We can’t know the original tune itself. Yet, it need not be a dirge or requiem. Rather it can be a song whispered on a whistling wind, much like an air.
We don’t know the identity of the son in the dedication. Maybe the son was David’s. Yet, even as the words speak of a battle, a prayer for victory, and a quiet interlude, the chorus calls for a death-defying resurrection.
Which makes another Son come to mind. His death…and resurrection…are why I sing a different tune about my own demise. It’s one I whisper–even whistle–wherever I go.
God’s poetry is the most divine. It is a source of solace, reflection, and wisdom. These are the songs of the souls who penned them from God’s direct inspiration while they lived through their experiences. They are the words we learn to memorize as children, but more importantly, cling to through our adult circumstances. These are the words we know because they suture our broken hearts.
For these reasons, I have decided that for my weekend posts I will write an expounded lesson about one of the Psalms, another book of biblical poetry, or a portion of poetic prayer set apart from the biblical narrative.
Blessings to all who read and glory to God alone.