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Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1347

April 22, 2018 Psalms 1, 51, 13, 107, 150

Rev. Dr. Ed Pettus

(This is an extended outline, not a verbatim transcript.)

 

Prayers of Life”

 

Our worship theme today, as I have mentioned, is prayer. It is probably impossible to number the books and articles and blogs and tweets on the subject of prayer. How to pray, what to pray, when to pray, where to pray...well, you get my point. There are prayers all throughout the Bible and even a prayer Jesus taught us, but the most comprehensive collection of prayers is the Psalms also known as the Psalter. In my humble opinion, the Psalms are the reflection of life in all its aspects from good to bad, praise to protest, joy to sadness, hope to despair. These are the prayers of life and we would do well to pray them, to learn them, to use them, study them, and pray them. I said pray them twice for emphasis! What we are going to do in this preaching moment is quickly run through just a few themes of prayer in the Psalms, hitting the first and the last and three in between. This is not a comprehensive list of themes in the Psalms, we do not have the time in worship to cover 150 Psalms, so we will just touch base on a few example of what the Psalter offers us for a life of prayer. Let’s get started in Psalm 1.

 

  • Psalm 1 - Prayer of the Word

 

Psalm 1 is about hanging out with the right crowd and hanging out with the Word of God. Psalm 1 begins the Psalter and sets the tone for a life of delight and meditation in God’s word. If we want blessing and happiness, joy and good living, then spend it in the source of life, God’s word. But there is another option. The Psalm presents two ways to live – the way of the wicked or the way of the righteous. One leads to death, the other to life. One leads to destruction, the other to blessing.

 

Psalm 1 understands the good life as totally God-centered. Central to that God-centered life is the Word of God. The other way of live, wicked way, is centered on other things like self, idols, or the things of this world. But this Psalm and many to follow show that the way of the wicked goes nowhere and ends up on a slippery slope. But happiness and blessing are in delighting in the teaching of God. All this leads to the goal of life found at the conclusion of the Psalms - to praise God. One scholar has noted that the entire Psalter is arranged to show that obedience to the word of God leads us to praise of God. Psalm 1 is the beginning obedient delight in the Law and Psalm 150 culminates that obedient life in the praise of God. Between Psalm 1 and Psalm 150 is the life of faith. The Psalms represent the journey of life that includes joy and sorrow, praise and lament, blessing and curse, victory and defeat, that is, all the dimensions of our existence.

 

One of the ways we nurture the our lives and souls is meditation, the meditation and delight of Psalm 1. Blessed is the man whose...delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. This suggests a constant meditation, living in and through the Word. This is the same Hebrew word used in Isaiah 31:4, “As a lion or a young lion growls over its prey…” The word growl is the same word for meditate! Eugene Peterson likens this to a dog who growls over a bone. He writes, “What my dog did over his precious bone, making those low throaty rumbles of pleasure as he gnawed, enjoyed, and savored his prize” (Eat This Book, p. 2). Like a lion lost in the glory over his prey or a dog lost in the savory delight of a bone, we meditate, we savor, we taste the word of God and see that it is good. The word is sweeter than honey (Psalm 19:10). We growl over this word that nurtures us for life. This enables us to build a life that leads us to honesty with ourselves and with God, and eventually in all things, to praise.

 

 

Lord, we pray that our lives may be filled with delight in your Word. Give us energy and intentionality toward meditation and study in your Word. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

  • Psalm 51 Prayer of Confession

 

Psalm 51 a prayer of confession. It is attributed to David perhaps after his great sins of adultery and murder. We are all familiar with sin. We know about confession and forgiveness. The beauty of the Psalms is that they give us a voice for prayer and they teach us to pray. For instance in verse 4 is says that this sin is against God alone. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight...” Ultimately that is the truth of all sin. It is against God alone. If I sin against you, it is ultimately against God because God created you in His image and my sin against you is against one in His image. We all sin; we are sinners. This is a prayer on which we should meditate and use regularly in prayer. We can pray it word for word in confession or rewrite it in our own words or use it as a base of ideas and concerns for the ways we have sinned against God.

A second truth we see here and remember from Psalm 1 is about delight. Look at 51.6, Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart. God delights in truth which is perhaps why Psalm 1 calls on us to delight in the Word, that is, in His truth. It may also speak to the delight we have in Jesus Christ who is Truth (John 14.6). We delight in God’s Word and God delights that we are in the truth!

Now if we were to further consider Psalm 1 and Psalm 51 together you might get a prayer like that of Psalm 119.11, I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you. Meditate on the Word day and night is storing the Word in our hearts. Storing that Word so that we will not sin against God alone.

Confession of sin is not a pleasant prayer, if we are truly honest, because we dare to become vulnerable before God with our sin. But we know from the Psalms and many other places in the Bible that God shows mercy – according to His steadfast love and mercy. That’s the prayer of verse 1, to forgive in love and mercy. The rest of the Psalm shows the ways God does it all! He forgives, He cleanses, shows mercy, creates a clean heart, delivers, and restores. He delights in a contrite heart.

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. Not despising is a round about way of saying, God forgives!

 

Lord, may we store your Word deep in our hearts, that we might not sin against you. Amen.

 

 

 

 

  • Psalm 13 Prayer of Protest

 

Psalm 13 is about protest or lament. It is the kind of prayer that most Christians are reluctant to pray because we have been trained to act more piously than the Psalms do. The Psalms are very “Jewish” in that they “have a lot of nerve” to say certain things to God. In this case the prayer questions God about the duration of God’s absence and the exaltation of an enemy. How long? Four times the questions begin with “how long?”

 

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul
and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

 

One does not ask God in prayer in this manner without the notion of protest. The length of time is unjust. The questions bid God to act now. Can’t we also see why, in our time, this might be a good prayer? How long, O Lord, will we have to endure violence in schools? How long will Christians be persecuted around the world? How long will evil and corruption have its way? We can put any number of our own personal issues and political dilemmas and economic forecasts and medical crisis to the question of how long. How long before Christ returns to straighten this mess out?

 

If we are truly honest with ourselves and with God, we need this vocabulary of protest and lament. Life is hard and tough things happen to us and to others and while we might suppress any idea of complaint against God, there may come a tipping point in us that says “enough is enough!” That’s what the Psalms of lament do, they dare to stand toe to toe with God and voice our outrage and even voice our complaint that God has not acted and should act. But that is precisely what we should do with our backs against the wall. Take it to God in prayer. That is the proper response to the complaints that rise up within us.

 

Now the Psalm does not end in protest, but it ends in trust, in rejoicing, and in singing. It ends with what the majority of evidence of the Bible reveals, that God will act, that God will save, that God will deal bountifully with us. But sometimes to get to the praise and the trust, we have to release the protest. We have to expose the anger and pain. The key is this, that our protest is brought before the throne of God in prayer. What happens if we do not bring it to God? Well, it festers in our hearts and minds and when it has festered long enough it will find its way out. If we do not “take it to the Lord in prayer” we will take it out on someone or something. We will bite and devour one another (Gal. 5.15). Or if we don’t get it out to God it might eat us up as well. A lot of things can do that to us, making us bitter and cranky and irritable. Take it to God, because God can take all that from us and handle it as God will, thus giving us freedom to turn to praise.

 

 

Lord, how long shall we endure the sufferings of this life? How long must our family and friends deal with injustice and pain and the utter darkness of this evil age? How long, O Lord? Amen.

 

 

 

 

  • Psalm 107 Prayer of Thanksgiving

 

Psalm 107 is a classic prayer of thanksgiving. It starts off with thanks…

 

Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!
2 Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, whom he has redeemed from trouble
3 and gathered in from the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south.

 

Give thanks. Why? Because God is good and God’s steadfast love endures forever. How is God good and filled with love? Four scenarios are presented in the Psalm that demonstrate God’s goodness and love.

 

In each of these cases, we find a people identified followed by a problem, a cry to God, God's redemption, and thanksgiving. Every stanza will carry this pattern. Starting in verse 4,

 

People identified: 4 Some wandered in desert wastes, finding no way to a city to dwell in;

The problem: hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted within them.

The cry: Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress.

God's redemption: He led them by a straight way till they reached a city to dwell in.

The thanks: Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man! For he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things.

 

We won’t go through all four, but verses 10-16, 17-22, 23-32 each follow the same pattern of problem, cry, redemption, thanks.

 

In every instance, God saves, delivers, or brings them out of their distress. That is, God redeems them all! Let the redeemed say so! Let them give thanks – for God has acted. The final verse in this last case, 107:32, gives us the picture of a congregation at worship, "Let them extol him in the congregation of the people, and praise him in the assembly of the elders." This Psalm was probably used worship just as we have gathered to give thanks.

Like the congregation worshiping in the Psalm, we come to final fulfillment in the realization of the presence of God because somehow in some way, God has made himself known in our lives through life and blessing and we respond with thanksgiving and praise.

We could write our own stanzas reflecting how God has changed or is changing our life. What is our Psalm of thanksgiving? We all have one; we all have a testimony of God’s goodness and love for which we give thanks to God.

 

Lord, we give thanks for your redemption! We give thanks for prayer! We give thanks for You and for all that you do and promise for us. Amen.

 

  • Psalm 150 Prayer of Praise

 

Psalm 150 is the last Psalm, the last prayer of the Psalter, and it is a prayer of praise! It is a prayer that culminates the life of one who began with the prayer of closeness to the Word of God in Psalm 1 and, when a life is well lived in the Word, it will indeed result in a life of praise. A life lived well may indeed have times of prayer that include moments of protest or thoughts of vengeance or sinful ascts against God only, but when all those times are given over to God, when we take those thoughts and feelings and heartfelt pains to God, we have taken them to the right place. Most of the Psalms that begin with trouble of some sort will end in praise because God delivers. Most of the Psalms that begin with complaint end in praise because God redeems. A majority of the Psalms that being with lament end with rejoicing and praise because God is good and deals bountifully with us.

We begin in God’s word in Psalm 1 and this journey leads us to praise, not just at the end of life, but all through our lives. The final word is praise. Praise the Lord!

 

Praise the Lord!
Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens!
2 Praise him for his mighty deeds; praise him according to his excellent greatness!

3 Praise him with trumpet sound; praise him with lute and harp!
4 Praise him with tambourine and dance; praise him with strings and pipe!
5 Praise him with sounding cymbals; praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
6 Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord!

 

Lord, we praise you today, with hearts and hands and voices. We pray that everything that has breath will praise you. May our lives be filled with your Holy Word so that we might remember to bring everything to you in prayer, our sins, our complaints, our thanks, and our praise. Amen.

 

What I want us to see today are the Psalms, the Psalter, as a treasure of vocabulary and cadences and language to give voice to our lives that we might offer our lives to God, all of our lives, not just the parts we like, but everything. In that honest, faithful, obedient voice we give our lives back to God in prayer. These are the prayers of life and within these words are the prayerful springs of life for life. If we pursue the Word (Psalm 1) and live in honest authenticity to self and to God, we will become more willing to give voice to everything offered in the Psalter: obedience, praise, complaint, confession of sin, thoughts of vengeance, joy, hope, proclamation of God’s goodness, and the list goes on and on with as much as life offers. So, take to heart the Psalms as as prayer book for life. In them we will find ways to converse with God, to commune with Him in ways we never imagined possible before. It is, in some ways a fearful proposal. But in most ways, it is the goal of our life to find this communion with God that leads us to the joy of praise. Praise the Lord! Amen.