Rooted in Devotion: The Book of Psalms
Sermon Series Adapted from “Crash Course on the Psalms” Christianity Today Bible Study
Intro: Seminary: I didn’t know how to pray:
Point: The book of Psalms teaches us how to talk to God
1) Prayer begins in Solitude: Read Psalm 46
Psalm 46 is a dramatic crisis. In it we see the worlds fall apart: mountains fall into the sea and the world falls apart. It is enough to strike terror into the heart of the bravest man. Yet in verse 8, we are reminded that God’s works are even more devastating for God is above all man. In this sort of crises, I tend to react in busyness. But here are ordered, “Be still and know that I am God.” In the context of the psalm, this is actually a rebuke. It is so common in our crises, in the things that tear apart our worlds that we begin to see our circumstances as God, our situation as God. It is an act of faith in those situations to quiet our souls – to be still – and know deep within our hearts that God and God alone is our refuge and our strength, our very present help in trouble. In Psalm 62, David writes of personal conflict. He is being personally attacked by people who wished to throw him down from his position. One may be tempted to respond with bitterness. These people were blessing him to his face, but reaching around to stab him in the back. He writes in 62:5: For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him.
Solitude and Silence, as useful aspects of prayer, are difficult to attain in the loudness and business of today. Steve May, in an article entitled “Solitude and Silence” writes “The first thing we need to do when we get in God’s presence is be still. The second thing we need to do is be still some more. Then we can begin to listen, and then we can begin to hear from him and experience his power in our lives.” Being still is hard, especially amid the distractions from this world – not just the noise but the problems, the needs, the catastrophes. I must admit, when I am faced with crisis, I tend to react in busyness. When I am faced with conflict, I tend to react in bitterness. The lesson is simple, when your world is falling down around you, when those you trust betray you, instead of reacting in busyness and bitterness, react first in solitude and silence.
Is you life full of noise and people? Are you lucky to have a moment even to go to the bathroom alone? The first principle of a prayer life is to carve out time to be still and know that God is still on His throne. It’s not easy. I know of a lady whose mother used to sit in a corner with a blanket over her head to have her quiet time before the Lord. There is a story of a man named Viktor Frankl, who, while in a Nazi concentration camp, would sneak out to a tent in which corpses were kept in order to find privacy. This week, carve out a time and a place each day to spend ten minutes alone in prayer. You might need to lock yourself in a closet, but schedule a time and place for silence, and then attend to it. In order to calm yourself, read psalms 46 and 62.
2) Prayer is to be Honest: Read 73
In this Psalm (which happens to be my favorite) we read Asaph’s shockingly honest confession. He envied the wicked. They had been arrogant, they scoffed, they spoke with malice they were violent and yet they appeared blessed. In verse 13 he basically says, “Is it really worth it to be a Christian?” This isn’t the type of prayer you generally hear in church. Notice in verse 15, he didn’t take his doubts public and air them before the congregation, but he dealt with them by bringing them into the presence of God. Verses 16-17. But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God.” The psalmist found his answer by coming into God’s presence, in that day coming into the temple and hearing the worship of his people, and expressing himself honestly before his father in heaven.
The honesty of the psalms can be very shocking to us as modern Christians. In psalm 137 the psalmist mourns the loss of Jerusalem. He is an exile in an enemy land that killed his countrymen and destroyed his home. They are weeping by the waters of Babylon while they are being mocked by their captors. At the end of the psalm, he cries Psalm 137:8-9 “O daughter of Babylon, doomed to be destroyed, blessed shall he be who repays you with what you have done to us! Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock!” This is a shocking, violent text, yet it invites us to observe the honesty with how we can approach God. The psalmist was furious, and that was his wish for retaliation. However, rather than committing the violence himself, he offered his desires to God to do with what the Lord willed. Do you have a tendency to hide your emotional life from God and others? Look, God knows your heart. If you’re angry, tell him your angry. If you’re sad, tell him of your sadness. If you’re frustrated at your apathetic walk, express your frustration and ask him to energize your spirit. Tell him the details. Don’t be afraid. Write your prayer in a journal and then read it aloud to God.
3) Prayer Involves Asking God for Help and Thanking God for Hearing: Psalm 13
Another honest Psalm. Four times David asks “How long?” He was asking God for help to relieve him from four burdens:
1) feeling forgotten by God
2) feeling cut off from God’s favor
3) experiencing deep depression
4) suffering the humiliation of defeat
Yet David continues to ask and wait, ask and wait. The last couple of verses are an example of faith before God’s answer to prayer is evident: Psalm 13:5-6 But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the LORD, because he has dealt bountifully with me.
In Psalm 116 we see the other side of faith, Psalm 116:1-6 I love the LORD, because he has heard my voice and my pleas for mercy. Because he inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live. The snares of death encompassed me; the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me; I suffered distress and anguish. Then I called on the name of the LORD: "O LORD, I pray, deliver my soul!" Gracious is the LORD, and righteous; our God is merciful. The LORD preserves the simple; when I was brought low, he saved me.
The psalmist cried out for help and God sent aid. Yet his response to God goes beyond a quick quiet prayer whispered under his breath. In response, the psalmist praises God crying “gracious is our Lord, and righteous and merciful”. (5). He confesses his inadequacy reminding himself that it was the Lord, not himself who saved him (6). He also realizes that God’s grace has allowed him new life and he wasn’t going to squander that gift (I will walk before the Lord in the Land of the living” (9). He encourages others to hold firm to their belief in God (10-11). He lifts up the cup of salvation (13): He participates in communal worship – the lord’s supper meant something different to him having experienced the grace of God. (17) In the presence of all the people he brings the sacrifices of thanksgiving and praise, telling of what the Lord has done for him.
This is very counter-cultural. We live in a culture of complaining. We complain about the weather, the price of gas, our jobs, the pastor’s sermons going long, all sorts of little things that irk us. If you have a tendency to complain, write down on your paper the things you most often complain about. Use this list to write prayers for help and or thanksgiving. For example if you complain about the commute home from work, write a prayer asking God to help you overcome obstacles that put you in a situation where you have to commute. Then think of what you can thank God for in your commute. When you’re tempted to complain, use that temptation as an opportunity to ask for God’s help and thank him for his blessings and love. “Every Blessing you pour out I turn back to praise, when the darkness closes in, Lord, still I will say Blessed be your name.”