Read: Psalm 30
Anyone who’s every raised multiple children will know the conflict that often arises when it’s time to go somewhere in the car. I’m talking about that inevitable quarrel about who gets to sit where in the car, and it goes something like this:
“I want the front seat!”
“No, it’s my turn to sit up there!”
“You got to ride there the last time!”
“No, I didn’t; you were the last one to sit there!” And so it goes until mom or dad steps in and decides who will sit where.
With that argument still echoing in your heads, can I share with you a variation of this skirmish which is the dream of every pastor? It’s when, at a gathering of church folk, the pastor asks, “Who’d be willing to offer a word of prayer?” and multiple people jump at the opportunity, and of them cries out, “Hey! It’s my turn to pray. Tom got to say the prayer the last time!”
For as much as familiar as most of us are with prayer, doing it—especially out loud in the presence of others—is something that creates a lot of angst. If I were to ask someone here to verbally offer up a prayer on behalf of the congregation, maybe something akin to the ‘pastoral prayer’ you hear every week in worship, many would probably resist, insisting that you’re not sure how to do so. Even though we hear others pray on a regular basis, many of us are just not comfortable doing so ourselves in the midst of others—even other Christians.
To be honest, we shouldn’t be surprised. Even the Disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray (see Luke 11:1). In making this request, they confessed that they weren’t able to pray on their own, that they had to learn how to pray. Keep in mind that these were not Gentiles who were unfamiliar with the sacred Scriptures, and unfamiliar with prayer to God. These were Jewish men who grew up hearing others pray, and most likely repeated prayers that they learned. These were men who knew the prayers of their people—the Psalms. And yet, like us, they realized that they needed training. They, like us, want to pray, but don’t know how to do it.
And so we, like them, cry out: Lord, teach us to pray!
Now, this would be a good introduction to a sermon series on how to pray, wouldn’t it? I wish it were so. I’m actually planning to do such a series, but it’ll be after the new year. Today, however, I want to focus on one specific aspect of prayer, which is praying the Psalms through the lens of Jesus Christ. That is, reading and praying the Psalms as Jesus read and prayed them. And just as importantly, as he “wrote” them in the first place.
The book of Psalms are the prayers of God’s people, both Jewish and Christian. Here’s a question for us: If Holy Scripture is the Word of God to people, and prayers are the words of people to God, how did these prayers end up in the Bible? Are they God’s words as well and our words?
For the sake of brevity, the answer is yes. This is best understood when we consider who Jesus Christ is. (The Gospel of) John tells us that Jesus is the Word of God. “Word,” or the Greek ‘logos,’ means God’s creative nature and force. John reminds us that as the Word, as God’s creative force, he existed from the beginning, before time. And that everything in all of creation was created through him and for him; nothing came into being except through him. Then he makes the remarkable assertion that the Word of God took on flesh became a human being and lived among us. Today we know him as Jesus the Christ—the Messiah.
Jesus was fully God and fully human. As part of the Godhead—that is, the Son—he existed from the beginning. Through him David son of Solomon was eventually born. And in time, this same David authored at least 73 of the psalms in our Psalter. These psalms, though penned by David, and reflected his own life experiences and feelings, were nonetheless inspired by God. There were, in fact, written through the work of the eternal Word of God, who was active in his life.
Jump ahead in time. The Word of God, now embodied in the person Jesus of Nazareth, has grown up going to the Temple with his family, going to synagogue, and eventually becomes a teacher, or rabbi, himself. The prayers of David, the Psalms, are his own prayers. They were inspired years earlier by him when he was still the Word of God in his eternal glory, and now they’re his own prayers as he reads them as a man.
In this very real sense, what we read and pray in the Psalters is both the words of God to people, and the words of people to God. These Scriptures live on a plane of existence that remains outside of the bounds of time; they exist in the past, the present, and the future. Inspired by the eternal Word of God, some of these Psalms reflect not only David’s life experiences and feelings, but they also reflect what will be hundreds of years later– Jesus’ experience. And, if that weren’t enough, they also reflect not only our own current life experiences (which are similar to David’s), but also our own future experience.
Let’s look at Psalm 30. Let’s read the first three verses from the standpoint of King David, an adult who’s spend a lot of time defending himself from adversaries, who had to be nursed back to life after nearly dying, who clearly won many battles. Through this lens we read:
1 I exalt you, Lord, because you pulled me up;
you didn’t let my enemies celebrate over me.
2 Lord, my God, I cried out to you for help,
and you healed me.
3 Lord, you brought me up from the grave,
brought me back to life from among those going down to the pit.
David often exalted and thanked God for pulling him up, for not letting his enemies win, for helping and healing him, and for bringing him back from the brink of death (“you brought me up from the grave”).
How do these verse reflect than man Jesus’ experience? As he grew up, could these three verse have reflected his own experience of life? Verse 1 seems to reflect his experience recorded in Luke 4:28-30: “All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.”
As a human being, we can assume he experienced illness and sickness along the way, so v. 2 would ring true for him. And even v. 3 could possibly speak to a life experience he might have had prior to what’s recorded starting at age 30. It’s quite possible that he faced down a life-threatening illness as a child or as an adult.
How about us? Being “pulled up,” being given victory in some way, crying out and being healed, being brought back from a grave illness or medical circumstance? These first three verse speak to our own life experiences, don’t they?
Finally, how about Jesus’ post-resurrection experience, or even our own future experience as attested to by Scripture? Verse 3 was literally fulfilled when he was raised from the dead. And won’t it be our own experience when we die to this world? Verse 3 speaks to the reality of what’s yet to come for all who believe in and chose to follow the One who is alive forever—Jesus Christ.
Can you see how Jesus as the eternal Word of God inspired these first three verses? They symbolically and somewhat literally fulfilled in David’s and our lives. But they’re ultimately and literally fulfilled in the life of Christ. When we read these verse—and more importantly, pray them—we’re praying and speaking the very words and ideas that Christ spoke into David’s heart, and fulfilled in his own life. His eternal words became David’s words, and when we speak and pray them, them become our own words. And when this happens, we’re praying God’s words, and doing so totally aligns us with God’s will and purpose.
Moving on. Verses 6-7 are David’s confession that’s common to us all, which is this: when life’s going well, it’s easy to forget about God. It’s easy to think that the good that’s happening is our doing, and that I’ll stay this way for ever…or at least for a long time. Here’s how David put it:
6 When I was comfortable, I said,
“I will never stumble.”
7 Because it pleased you, Lord,
you made me a strong mountain.
You tell me, when do we most often cry out to God? When things aren’t going so well…When someone we love is sick…When we’re in financial trouble…When our children are in trouble…When we realize that all of our own efforts aren’t making much of a difference. That was David’s experience as well. He just had the wherewithal to confess this.
But then David’s life takes that inevitable turn for the worse, and the next few verses are his call for help:
8 I cried out to you, LORD.
I begged my Lord for mercy.
9 “What is to be gained by my spilled blood,
by my going down into the pit?
Does dust thank you?
Does it proclaim your faithfulness?
10 Lord, listen and have mercy on me!
Lord, be my helper!”
These verse not only reflect David’s experience, as well as our own, but they certainly experience our Lord’s earthly experience as well. He may not have forgotten about God the same way we do, but he most certainly would have sought his Father’s help during times of need. Knowing that there were many who were after him, even planning his demise, he would have asked, “What good would come of my death at this point in time?” In addition, when he was dying on the cross, it’s quite possible that he may have spoken verses 7-8: You’ve hidden your presence from me, and I’m terrified. I’m crying out to you to have mercy on me. In the account of his crucifixion, we’re told that his suffering on the cross was short-lived compared to most people. His lasted about three hours compared to most who would suffer for days before giving up the ghost. In that light, v. 10, asking the Father for mercy, was fulfilled.
But look at what happens starting in v. 11:
11 You changed my mourning into dancing.
You took off my funeral clothes
and dressed me up in joy
12 so that my whole being
might sing praises to you and never stop.
King David was often given another shot at life, for which he was thankful. He mourned the death of many a-friend, but eventually moved on and experienced joy again. And so it was with the man, Jesus. In John 11 we read that Jesus grieved over the death of his good friend, Lazarus. But then he resuscitated Lazarus, bringing him back to life. And in doing so, his mourning was turned into dancing.
This is our experience as well, right?
How about the experience of the eternal Word of God? Can you see how ahead of time, through the mouth of David, the Christ spoke of the joy he would experience when he was resurrected to life, never to die again? Lord, I will give thanks to you forever. This was the eternal Word of God’s prayer of thanksgiving. It was King David’s prayer of thanksgiving. It was the man Jesus’ prayer of thanksgiving. It is our own prayer of thanksgiving. And it reflects the truth that you and I will give thanks and praise to our Heavenly Father, for eternity in the presence of our resurrected Lord Jesus Christ.
So, here’s my suggestion: set aside some time each day this week to slowly read a Psalm. As you read it, look for how it was “spoken” to David by the eternal Word of God, how it reflects not only the author’s life experience, but also the experience of Jesus Christ. Speak the words of the psalm as a prayer. Sit with the psalm in silence, letting the words wash over you. My guess is that doing so will make them come alive like never before; that they’ll no longer be just words written thousands of years ago, but timeless and contemporary.