Sunday, 25 October 2020
Title: The Psalms is a source to help us to pray
By Abraham Verghese 亚伯拉罕·韦尔盖塞
While the following may not seem to be written as a devotion, I hope the points I picked in the course of my reading will be helpful for us to appreciate that the Psalms is a source to help us to pray. Read and ponder or mediate as needed on the scriptures referred to below.
The Psalms show us the faithful in the Old Testament relating openly and honestly to God. The book of Psalms served as both hymnal and prayer book for ancient Israel. It was the record of how Israel once worshiped and prayed to their God. Prayer is one of the most important things we learn to do. It is important, because it is an opportunity to talk to God. It is sometimes difficult because it can seem to be an awkward and one-sided conversation.
It was the same in New Testament times. The disciples of Jesus noticed that He seemed to be able to pray at any time and place and hence asked Jesus “Teach us to pray,” (Luke 11: 1). The disciples wanted to be able to talk to God as Jesus did. We do as well. But perhaps when we try, we don’t know what to say. Our attention wanders. On various occasions we may get up feeling our prayers have gone no higher than the ceiling.
The Psalms gives us a more intimate look at Israel’s relationship with God, not just a historical record like other books of the Bible do. We begin to appreciate not only what happened, but also the emotions of those involved. This is what makes Psalms helpful as we build our relationship with God.
Here are some important principles from the Psalms to help us pray more effectively:
1) Don’t be afraid to say what’s in our minds.
Weshould always approach God respectfully, and it is always appropriate to praise Him. There are times when we are filled with hope and enthusiasm. We feel close to God, and we appreciate what he has done for us. This is how David felt when he wrote Psalm 65. (Note also Psalms 66 and 67.)
But he didn’t always pray like this. For example, look at Psalms 54, 56, 57 and 59. On these occasions, David was in trouble, and he wasted no time in asking for help. On other occasions, David even asked God to hurry up and help him (Psalms 70: 1; 38: 22). Once, David actually asked God if he had forgotten him (Psalm 13: 1-2).
Similarly, I should not be afraid to tell God precisely what’s on my mind. After all, does He not already know what is in my mind even before I can verbalise it? So why not say it and urge God to intervene?
2) Don’t hide our mistakes.
Some people feel awkward about praying, especially after they have made a big mistake. Or perhaps they have not prayed for a long time, and they think they aren’t worthy of God’s love and acceptance.
At times such as these, it is reassuring to read Psalm 51, written when David had sinned terribly – adultery with Bathsheba followed by the murder of her husband Uriah (see 2 Samuel 11). David had failed miserably as he should have been the moral leader of the nation.
But when David recognised his sin, he went to God in humility and genuine repentance, asking for forgiveness. David knew he was a sinner, and asked God to help keep him from continuing to sin.
In the same way, when we confess our sins, God “is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1: 9).
How could I hide my mistakes anyway from God? After all, would I not feel better as well after I confess instead of thinking I can hide anything from Him?
3) Wait for God’s answer.
Prayer is a spiritual act of worship in which we share our most intimate thoughts with God the Father (Luke 11: 2), through Jesus Christ his Son. It is not a magic formula or shopping list for getting everything we want exactly when we want it (see James 4: 3). We should make our requests known to God (Philippians 4: 6), but we should not expect God to answer our prayers immediately or our way every time.
David’s prayers were not always answered right away. God was working with him across a lifetime.
The Psalms gives some fascinating glimpses into the minds of people as they endured trials of their faith.
In Psalm 73, the author, Asaph, expresses anger and impatience at what seems like God’s indifference. Have you not felt this way at times? I have. He even wonders if living God’s way is worth it (verse 13). God allows this, because as Asaph sorts out his churning emotions, he calms down and his faith and patience is restored (verses 21-26). You’ll find another example of a prayer changing a negative mood in Psalm 10.
God knows that we have emotions. We do not always have to appear before Him cool, calm and collected. A relationship with God is a learning process. Sometimes we need to be guided through life’s trials and tribulations, not just “airlifted out” of every situation. This is a vital part of our spiritual growth. During such times of stress, God will help us sort out our negative thoughts and emotions, and give us peace of mind that “transcends all understanding” (Philippians 4: 7).
God’s answer may be NO! For example, Paul told the church at Corinth: “To keep me from becoming conceited…there was given me a thorn in my flesh…to torment me” 2 Corinthians 12: 7. Paul explained: “Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’” (verses 8-9).
We don’t know what Paul’s thorn in the flesh was, but it hindered his ministry and he asked God to remove it. God did not do so. Paul acknowledged that this “thorn” kept him humble (verse 7). It reminded him of his daily need for contact with God. Likewise, we too, will need the same reminder from time to time.
So, while I should present my requests urgently and fervently to God, I must wait patiently as to God what and when He will answer me is His prerogative. After all He sees the end from the beginning – what can I see but a hazy present?
4) Have confidence in the outcome.
When everything around us seems to be falling apart, it’s hard to walk by faith. But that’s exactly what we are called to do (2 Corinthians 5: 7). God will never forsake those who trust him (Psalm 9: 10). Even so, there will be times when we will feel rejection and humiliation.
I have at times wondered why God allowed me to fall into an extended period of doubt and even disbelief but I am ever thankful that despite the rebellion He protected me which I may not have looked at as such then but is clear to me now on hindsight.
The Psalms can help us understand this, as we share the intimate thoughts of servants of God who have gone before us. They help us talk to God as a friend. They remind us of what we tend to forget when we are discouraged and temporarily disoriented. They are spiritual levees that control the flood of negative emotions and worry.
As we build our relationship and friendship with the same God who listened to the prayers of David and other authors of the Psalms, we shall also grow in courage and faith. We shall feel confident in asking, “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in Your sight”
(Psalm 19: 14).
Heavenly Father, thank You that we can at anyime approach You without fear of saying what is in our minds or having to hide our sins as You know what is in our minds even before we say anything. You see the end from the beginning. Let us patiently wait with confidence as whenever and whatever is Your answer it is the best in accordance with Your will. Let us learn from Your servants of old from what You allowed them to record in the Psalms for our benefit.
May the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts be pleasing in Your sight O God!
In Jesus’ name. Amen.