My professor of Old Testament at Emmanuel College drilled into our minds that the hymn and prayer book of the Bible is the book of Psalms. It is poetry and music woven together in the most beautiful way. Although the book of Psalms, is credited to David, it is likely that many of the Psalms were passed on from one generation to another. Many scholars believe that some of the Psalms predate David and others follow his death. As the Gospels were being written, they did not need to have a book of prayers, because they had everything they needed in the book of Psalm.
In this one book you can find prayers for those who find themselves in trouble, payers of celebration of God’s goodness, prayers of lament for when everything seems to be going wrong and even some acrostic poems! Each Psalm is telling its own story of the ways God is at work in our lives. Think of Psalm 139, “O Lord, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away.” (Psalm 139:1 -2) Or those familiar words from the 23rdPsalm, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul” (Psalm 23:1 -3) In the mode of confession you could pray Psalm 51, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; accord to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. …Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:1, 10)
The words of the book of Psalms are on the tip of tongues and imprinted in our hearts. I’m guessing that is why it is one of the most widely read book of the Bible. It is also why I’m pretty sure that most of you could quote your favourite Psalm. From thanksgiving to lament to confession to praise, the book of Psalms tells the story of our faith. I’m always amazed at how the Psalms that are the most heart wrenching, end with words of praise about God’s abiding presence and mercy.
Psalm 102 starts with these words, “God, listen! Listen to my prayer, listen to the pain in my cries. Don’t turn your back on me just when I need you so desperately. Pay attention! This is a cry for help! And hurry—this can’t wait! I’m wasting away to nothing, I’m burning up with fever. I’m a ghost of my former self, half-consumed already by terminal illness. My jaws ache from gritting my teeth; I’m nothing but skin and bones.” (Psalm 102:1 – 4) The Psalmist is in agony. It seems that everything could go wrong is going wrong. And yet somehow toward the end of this Psalm the writer proclaims, “Write this down for the next generation so people not yet born will praise God: “God looked out from his high holy place; from heaven he surveyed the earth. He listened to the groans of the doomed, he opened the doors of their death cells. Write it so the story can be told in Zion, so God’s praise will be sung in Jerusalem’s streets and wherever people gather together along with their rulers to worship him.” (Psalm 102: 18 – 22)
The Psalm remind us of our longing to be in God’s presence and to worship God. In Psalm 42 we sing, “As the deer pants for the water, so my soul longs after you; you alone are my heart’s desire and I long to worship you. You alone are my strength my shield, to you alone may my spirit yield, you alone are my heart’s desire and I long to worship you.” (Voices United, Psalm 42 page 766). The same theme is found in one of my favourite Psalms, Psalm 16. So many lines stand out for me remind me of my need for God’s presence in my life. “Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge, I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord; I have not good apart from you.” (Psalm 16:1 -2), “The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places. I have a goodly heritage.” (Psalm 16:5 – 6) and my favourite, “You show me the paths of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy.” (Psalm 16:10 – 11)
Psalm 40 reflects on themes of survival and discipleship. The writer of Psalm has clearly been through a difficult ordeal. The psalmist says, “You lifted me out of the horrible pit, out of the miry clay and set my fee upon a rock, making my steps secure. You put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God.” U2 in their song simply called 40 offers this version of the Psalm:
“I waited patiently for the Lord
He inclined and heard my cry.
He brought me right out of the pit,
out of my miry clay.
I will sing, sing a new song” (U2, 40)
The invitation to sing a new song is woven through the book of Psalms. It is our calling as a people of faith to keep singing the Lord’s song in new ways so each generation can hear of God’s abiding mercy. The Psalmist teach us to sing the Lord’s song in times of challenge and in times of joys. Because, as the words of Psalm 121 remind us, God is with us no matter what. I want you to imagine for a moment, you are standing in a place where there seems to be danger everywhere you turn. You look to the hills – danger. You look to the valleys – danger. You look left – danger. You look right – danger. So you pray, “I life up my eyes to the hills – from where will come my help?” (Psalm 121:1) A good question. Sometimes it is our questions. The Psalmist knows the answer. “My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. … the Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.” (Psalm 121:2, 7 -8) In the thousands of years since these words were first written, this truth has not changed. God is with us in going out and our coming in. God is our shelter in the storm and our hope for the future. Let us sing a new song unto the Lord whose love, whose mercy, whose guidance, whose promise will never fail us. Let us sing to the Lord. Amen