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Posts Tagged ‘praying the psalms’

I was thinking today about the feelings and thoughts of someone on death row. And I wondered how I missed the similarities between myself, while I was still isolated away from God/Spirit/Yahweh, while swimming in a sea of self-manufactured detritus. The sentence is the same. The mega-tube slide relentlessly taking me downhill.

break freeI sought the Lord, and he answered me;
    he delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to him are radiant;
    their faces are never covered with shame.
This poor man called, and the Lord heard him;
    he saved him out of all his troubles.
The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him,
    and he delivers them.  [Psalm 34-4-7, NIV]

Once an inmate is on death row, there is no action that can be done on one’s own to stay the sentence. The “help” must come from the outside, others who plead one’s case, a judge who might rule in the inmate’s case, a government official who might vacate the sentence. Salvation is offered. The inmate must choose to accept.

I just say “choose” because it’s not always the case that a person wants to live and it could be that the restraints on that “life” may not be acceptable. You see, despite the reprieve, a convicted criminal who somehow receives clemency will still be bound by a system of checks and balances. Each day and each morning, calls for a choice, to live.

There is a good reason that Moses writes, “This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him.” [Deuteronomy 30:19-20a]

This morning, I attended a prayer breakfast sponsored by our city’s Chamber of Commerce. I find this event so very puzzling as many people attend out of some kind of civic obligation or opportunity for networking and not necessarily for prayer or religious instruction. And yet, the speaker is always clear on the message: God in Christ, the Way, the answer, the hope. It is not watered down. The speaker today was no different from years past. In fact, he called his chance to speak for what it was, “crossover evangelism.” I had never heard the term, but it reminded me of Christian artists who had crossed over into the secular market or country singers who achieved crossover into rock ‘n roll. He was reaching a group that may not have heard a message of reprieve from a life in emotional, relational, or financial chains in such a way.

The speaker, Robert Kossack, is the founder of an organization called Project Crossroad, an organization whose sole mission is to aid youth as they come to one of those many crossroads in life. (Of course, these crossroads happen all along our lives and not just in our teens or twenties.) Kossack spoke passionately and from the heart about his own crossroads and how his choices put him in prison. He, too, was on one of those rapid rides downhill. But through circumstances and epiphany, he chose life in the Spirit of Christ Jesus. And in this place, stopped the spiral downward. My favorite part of his story was when he told of the “walk” he took with a guard in the last minutes of incarceration, a long walk designed for him to remember that place and all that it held (chains and cells and barbed wire and strip searches). The guard insured that Kossack saw these things one more time and told him to “never forget.” And finally, when he had reached the area called R&D (Receiving and Discharge), his family waited for him on the other side. He could see them through the doors. Kossack wanted the guard to remove his chains before he stepped through the door, but the guard commanded him to step aside. And the revelation occurred to him, that the door to the outside would not open until the door to the inside was closed. The only thing that stood in the way was he, himself.

This is so for all of us. Reprieve is offered and we tend to stand in the way of it. We say we want help but then stand in the way of its offer. I am guilty of the same.

The promise is that God will deliver us from our fears and from our prisons. That promise is faithful and true but it is we ourselves who may be missing it. Stand aside for the power of God. Accept reprieve, immunity, and forgiveness.

Choose life.

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How often have you  heard it? Sometimes in church as masses of people clamor after a song or rousing message, crying out, with hands raised, “Praise the Lord.” Or perhaps, you are telling a story to someone and throughout the telling, the listener interposes several “praise the Lords.” It’s as though the phrase has become a kind of “gesundheit” or “bless you.” But have we lost some of its deeper meaning? Light of God

The word praise can be translated into a number of different iterations, but in the Hebrew, most often when it is associated with hal-lu [as in hallelujah] it means  “shine.” The first image that comes to my mind then is “Shine, O God, on this situation” or “shine on me.” It is a plea, a request, a desire. The old song, “Shine, Jesus, Shine” then is really like saying Hallelu Jesus Hallelu.

Praise the Lord.
How good it is to sing praises to our God,

    how pleasant and fitting to praise him!
[Psalm 147:1, NIV]

I have gotten into the habit of thinking of of the phrase, “Praise the Lord” as “good job.” And I suppose, that’s not entirely wrong, but I want  to elaborate on the concept now and think about the Light of God illuminating the moment.

What we are telling you now is the very message we heard from Him: God is pure light, undimmed by darkness of any kind.” [I John 1:5, The Voice]

This is the Hallelujah! This is the praise.

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The phrase, “for your name’s sake,” almost sounds like a last ditch argument. Almost, the psalmist seems to be saying, well, if you won’t help me for any other reason, at least do it for the sake of your own reputation.

From the Blog, Dark Side of the Moon.

From the Blog, Dark Side of the Moon.

For your name’s sake, Lord, preserve my life;
    in your righteousness, bring me out of trouble.
In your unfailing love, silence my enemies;

    destroy all my foes,
    for I am your servant. [Psalm 143:11-12, NIV]

It’s not a concept we use as much in our contemporary culture. Oh, perhaps on occasion, a parent may go ballistic because his/her child has been maligned at school and a number of conferences ensue to protect the family name. And, we saw a little more patriotism after the terrible events of 9/11, when unexpectedly, everyone seemed to raise the American flag in a furor of national allegiance. For that season, we were all proud to be Americans (but, in my mind, the cost for such public spirit was too high).

However, back in biblical times or even later periods of history, it was much more common practice to defend the family name, or the tribe, or the “House.” It was as though the tribe itself had its own honor, its own personality, its own history to which all were responsible for upholding its good name. They were bound together by their faith in their King, a sovereign whose people were being harmed or killed or scorned. Rise up! They called. Raise the banner. Fight the good fight. Defend! And in those efforts, they would inevitably come to their altars and to their gods and ask for favor, in defense of the “King’s” offspring or servants or knights or countrymen. The people were the King’s representatives, for good for for ill.

But there’s another way to look at this verse which becomes more relevant for me today by examining alternate translations. My favorite is actually the NASB (emphasis mine):

For the sake of Your name, O Lord, revive me.
In Your righteousness bring my soul out of trouble.
And in Your lovingkindness, cut off my enemies
And destroy all those who afflict my soul,
For I am Your servant. [Psalm 143:11-12, NASB]

This identifies the enemy: the enemy within. The struggles that happen within the heart and soul. Here is where I can understand fully the cry out to God to save me, to heal me, to protect me by casting out the voices of my past, the ingrained habits that threaten to dissolve my peace and hope, the ancient “enemy.” And for only one reason: because I am a Child of God; I have confessed and committed to the Christ Spirit within me; I yield to the One God and serve God wholly. For these reasons, I ask for help in casting off the “old man.” — “We know this: whatever we used to be with our old sinful ways has been nailed to His cross. So our entire record of sin has been canceled, and we no longer have to bow down to sin’s power.” [Romans 6:6, The Voice]

 

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Sometimes it simply comes down to this basic request of God: Teach me! Even the disciples, in all of their travels and time spent with Jesus, still didn’t get it and all they could say was, “teach us.” [Luke 11:1] But of course, in order to learn, I must be open to the information.

WhichwayTeach me how to do Your will,
    for You are my God.
Allow Your good Spirit to guide me
    on level ground, to guide me along Your path. [Psalm 143:10, The Voice]

First of all, I must know and trust the teacher. In Psalm 143, David identifies clearly his relationship to the teacher for it is God alone who has the ability to teach was David needs in that moment. His life is at a cusp, a turning point and David must figure out what to do next. The only course to take is God’s way, but what is it? This is the eternal dilemma of most believers at one point in our walk or another.

Which way? Where next? What next?

And so, I must turn to God and ask for direction or even better (as translated in the voice), ask for instruction to determine God’s will (both this time and the next time and the time after that).

As part of this request, I am hoping for a little extra help in discerning the way. This time, I say, I really don’t know which way to turn, what to say, how to proceed. Guide me, Lord, and as your Spirit guides me from within, use this opportunity to teach me how you work both inside me and outside me.

So often, I find myself on an uphill climb and I sense it’s not the best way to tackle my issue, my understanding. I may even be making things more difficult than they need to be.

I need to stop striving so. I need to stop, right where I am and confess my “control freak” self has taken over the reigns again and I’ve managed to get myself back into a difficult state of affairs. I didn’t pay attention to the Spirit before I started out on this path. I didn’t even bother to “check in.”

Forgive me Lord. Like Sara of old who thought she had to help out prophecy and gave her handmaiden, Hagar, to Abraham that Hagar  might bear a child whose destiny would be to populate the earth. O Sarah, foolish bride, set a great nation in motion that may have never intended to be one.

Each of us set change in motion by our actions, our words, our decisions: sometimes for good and sometimes not.

I let go of the past. I trust in God’s future for me. Teach me about the now of my life.

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Psalm 143 is filled with urgency and no less in these two verses:

hidingplaceLet the morning bring me word of your unfailing love,
    for I have put my trust in you.
Show me the way I should go,
    for to you I entrust my life.
Rescue me from my enemies, Lord,

    for I hide myself in you. [Psalm 143:8-9 NIV 2011]

I don’t know this kind of urgency very often. From day to day, I live a life of relative ease. There might be emotional upheavals and drama (after all, I have two young adults still living at home with us), but none of these cause me to burrow into the hiding place of God. I do not live in a foxhole as many people do throughout the world today. Instead, for all I know, I may be luxuriating in pot of water on the stove, getting warmer and warmer, but not realizing I am actually dying.

Well, we all are. From day to day, closer each day to some inevitable transformative moment that will take us out of our bodies in an instant or on a journey of pain and disease, a slower but nonetheless equally lethal end. This is part of living, the dying.

There have been several deaths around me of late: husbands of friends, old friends, passing acquaintances, relatives of colleagues, and on and on the list seems to get longer each year. We have a patron who comes into the library every week to look at the local newspaper for one thing only, to check the obituaries. There is always someone she knows, she has lived in this same community all of her life.

Is the shadow of death the only real urgency in a life? Or, is that merely self-serving to the end?

Or, are we to live with empathy for others in their crisis?

No one can sustain the stress of true crisis for an extended time. The body cannot generate enough adrenalin. I could help by if I knew how to envelop this person in need with the love of God, with the touch of authentic human, with the promise of rest. But then, I must really know what it means to shelter in God before I can bring someone else into the hiding place.

Back in my childhood, I was never very good at playing hide and seek. Either my hiding place was too good (and no one could find me so I would come out – who wants to be alone in a hiding place?) or the spot was too easy and I was found right away. Often, I would keep peeking out just to see what was going on around me. Just in case. And of course, this would be another way I would be pulled free from safety.

And there’s the problem, the human tendency to peek. To hide in God works better as a permanent solution, not just in a state of emergency. If I could stay in the hiding place of God, within the Spirit of Christ, my view of the world would be through a completely different lens. I would see more clearly; I would recognize needs in others; I could envelope and invite them in, for the place is large and plentiful. The hiding place of God knows no limits, nor does it include chains. It’s a choice to remain, just as it is a choice to enter.

So, does the hiding place mean I won’t experience urgency and fear and pain? On the contrary, those moments will still happen, I’m sure of it. The difference is in walking out trauma with an ongoing confidence in the Presence: “We are confident that God is able to orchestrate everything to work toward something good and beautiful when we love Him and accept His invitation to live according to His plan” [Romans 8:38, The Voice].

And remaining “in” God. No peeking.

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I love the verbs in this Psalm. If I took those verbs into my heart, I would have a prayer life that could change the world.

prayers are manyLord, hear my prayer,
    listen to my cry for mercy;
in your faithfulness and righteousness
    come to my relief. . . .
The enemy pursues me,
    he crushes me to the ground; . . .
I remember the days of long ago;
    I meditate on all your works
    and consider what your hands have done.
I spread out my hands to you; [surrender]
    I thirst for you like a parched land. [Psalm 143:1, 3a, 5-6]

It’s so simple.

I ask God to hear, listen & come, while the “enemy” pursues & crushes, but I am busy: remembering, meditating, considering, surrendering and thirsting [desiring] after the things of God: voice, heart, peace, and confidence.
If I am to successfully face the trials of life, this must be my mode of operation. There is no trial or circumstance that has not been covered by the promises of God when I am surrendered to God. The deal was struck through the covenant relationship that God has with human. . . . and with me.

Trials and disappointments will still be around. In fact, the world pursues us all, through the evil actions of others which cause hurricanes of pain and sorrow. I cannot stop the flood of terror or violence or stupidity fueled by selfish ambitions and delusion. I cannot always understand what drives others. I can only do my part: remember who God is my life; meditate on the presence of Christ’s Spirit within; consider the implications of living a surrendered life; and desiring God’s way and not my own.

This is what it means to pray.

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We are living within patterns and cycles. Nature teaches about the seasons; each year the same and yet each year different, affected by a combination of forces, some human-made, some divine.

harvestLove and faithfulness meet together;
    righteousness and peace kiss each other.
Faithfulness springs forth from the earth,
    and righteousness looks down from heaven.
The Lord will indeed give what is good,
    and our land will yield its harvest. [Psalm 85:10-12, NIV]

Here’s how I imagine this verse playing out: love and faithfulness are the human response. Out of the meeting of love (unconditional love, that is), faithfulness springs forth. What is faithfulness but trust and dependability and truth. Love is the ground from which these are born. Righteousness is the yardstick that emanates from God. It is only in God that righteousness and peace can dwell and prosper together. But here is the promise in this verse: as our love and faithfulness grow here in this three-dimensional world, God sees and we are blessed.

But what then is the harvest that God is blessing? I remember an old friend was adamant that a believer “bearing fruit” meant bringing more and more people to the Christ. I always felt like he was notching his spiritual guns. But today, I find myself leaning to a different understanding.

The harvest is the result of seeds planted, tended, and reproducing themselves. Wheat makes more wheat. Apple seeds make more apples. I am not a single seed but many. All humans are a composite. We see some of our reproduction capabilities in our families. If we are bitter, we bear more bitterness. If we are selfish, we teach the same (most often by example). But, if I love, then love is born in others. If I am faithful, a synergy is created like an unstoppable wave. Love and faithfulness are the strongest and most powerful forces and yet, the least appreciated. Instead, we have cheapened love to mean sex and heaped faithfulness with a list of exit clauses and “what ifs.”

These are the ones to practice and nurture: love and faithfulness and then righteousness and peace will pour down like rain.

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