But then I remember

I have intermittent internet access in my office.  Yesterday, it was mostly non-connected.  I finally began this at 8:30 last night.  Then I had to take a non-expected long distance phone call.  Just to let you know, I really am trying to post. 🙂

I picked up a book at the library–a children’s book–called Psalms for Young Children.  I’m usually wary of “paraphrased” scripture books for children.  I think it’s better to just expose them to the Word of God directly.  On the other hand, I have found concepts so brilliantly distilled in books for children.  So this book caught my attention.  The first page says: “This selection of Psalms, paraphrased for young readers, uses language and imagery appropriate for children while remaining faithful to the spirit of the biblical texts.”

Psalm 13

Sometimes when I’m very sad,
I worry that you will
forget about me, God.
But then I remember that
you love me always.
So I will sing and be happy!

Derek Kidner, in his commentary on the psalms, points out that in almost every psalm in which the psalmist is complaining of trials and hardships, there comes a turning point, a “but” point, when the attitude of the psalmist changes.  One can see that point so clearly in this rendition of Psalm 13.  May it be an encouragement to any of you who are worrying that God will forget about you.  May you remember that He does love you always, and may a song rise in your hearts.

Praying out of the anguish of your heart

A number of months ago, my spiritual director gave me this piece of advice (as I was going through a particularly challenging season of prayer): “Pray out of the anguish of your heart.”  It was one of the most helpful things–among many others–he has ever said to me, and it came to mind this morning as I was meditating on Psalm 69, which begins:

Save me, O God!
For the waters have come up to my neck.
I sink in deep mire,
    where there is no foothold;
I have come into deep waters,
    and the flood sweeps over me.
I am weary with my crying;
    my throat is parched.
My eyes grow dim
    with waiting for my God.
More in number than the hairs of my head
    are those who hate me without cause;
mighty are those who would destroy me,
    those who attack me with lies.
O God, thou knowest my folly;
    the wrongs I have done are not hidden from thee.

This is a man praying out of the anguish of his heart.  David is being entirely honest with God about how he experiences life.  He laments: he expresses his grief, his sorrow, his pain. Michael Card, in his book, A Sacred Sorrow, writes about the importance of lamenting in the Bible–and in our own lives.  “From the beginning, David was no stranger to pain.  And in the end, it was the process of lamenting his pain that led him to unheard of intimacy with God.” (p. 63)  Lamenting before God–truly coming before Him and pouring out our anguish–can open the door to a deeper and much more intimate relationship with Him.  Derek Kidner’s comments on these first verses of the psalms also shed light on the fruit of doing so:

This distracted beginning demonstrates the value of putting one’s plight into words before God, for David’s account of his crisis clarifies and grows more reflective as he prays.  The desperate metaphors of inner turmoil and floundering (vv 1-2) give way to more objective (though still agitated) descriptions of his state and situation (vv. 3-4), and finally to a searching of his conscience (v. 5).  Prayer is already doing its work.  (Psalms 1-72, An Introduction and Commentary, pp. 245-6).

So, don’t be afraid to pray out of the anguish of your own heart–as long as it is done in sincerity–and before God.  Let the prayer of lament do its work in your soul.

“When he was in the cave”

I have just recently been paying more attention to the subtitles of the psalm, and this one caught my eye today regarding Psalm 142: “A Maskil of David, when he was in the cave.  A prayer.”  When he was in the cave.  I feel that way often–do any of you as well?  That you’re in some kind of cave?  So I took some time to read Derek Kidner’s commentary on this psalm.  I can’t go into all of what he had to say in this brief post, but there are a few things I’d like to pass on.  But, first, the psalm:

Psalm 142 [141]

A Maskil of David, when he was in the cave. A Prayer. 1 I cry with my voice to the LORD, with my voice I make supplication to the LORD, 2 I pour out my complaint before him, I tell my trouble before him. 3 When my spirit is faint, thou knowest my way! In the path where I walk they have hidden a trap for me. 4 I look to the right and watch, * but there is none who takes notice of me; no refuge remains to me, no man cares for me. 5 I cry to thee, O LORD; I say, Thou art my refuge, my portion in the land of the living. 6 Give heed to my cry; for I am brought very low! Deliver me from my persecutors; for they are too strong for me! 7 Bring me out of prison, that I may give thanks to thy name! The righteous will surround me; for thou wilt deal bountifully with me.

What I gleaned from Kidner’s comments:

  • Ps 57 is also a psalm David wrote while in a cave.  That one is more “bold and animated, almost enjoying the situation for the certainty of its triumphant outcome.  In the present psalm the strain of being hated and hunted is almost too much, and faith is at full stretch.  But this faith is undefeated, and in the final words it is at last joined by hope.”
  • v. 1: with my voice has the sense of “aloud”.  Made me consider the importance–and “okay-ness”–of calling out loud to the Lord in our distress.  “David, Like Bartimaeus in the gospels, knows the value of refusing to lapse into silence.  That way lies despair.”  That way, lies despair.  Even if all we can do is cry out loud to the Lord, that will save us from despair . . . 
  • v. 2: my complaint can be translated “my troubled thoughts”   Kidner also points out about this verse David’s frankness, indicated by the words pour out and tell. 
  • One last comment on v. 3: The TEV translates When my spirit is faint as “When I am ready to give up.”  But Kidner also points out, there is almost a double emphasis on the word Thou–and, here we find the first of three “modest summits” in the psalm: “Thou knowest my way.”  And doesn’t that–the fact that God knows your way–make all the difference?  Can you find the other two summits in the psalm?

How long, O Lord?

Let us, in the middle of any difficult situations we may be, choose to put our trust not in the quality of our faith, but in God’s desire to deal bountifully with us.

Rate this:

The verse, “How long, O Lord? Wilt thou forget me for ever?” in yesterday’s meditation by Amy Carmichael caught my heart, so I decided to do a little scripture study on the psalm from which it comes, Ps. 113.  I remember distinctly a time quite a few years ago when I was going through a very dark time in prayer.  Not only did God seem distant, I couldn’t even find Him.  I was on retreat at a Trappistine abbey, and I remember a prayer time there when I cried out to the Lord with very similar words to David’s: “Lord, have You forgotten me?”  I did not hear an answer, but, needless to say, there was grace to keep persevering in prayer.

Psalm 13 is short, only six verses.  The first four express the psalmist’s distress, both in his relationship with God, but also with the enemy.  These are verses that we all have, or will pray, someday.  But what struck me the most yesterday as I was pondering the psalm, were the last two verses:

But I have trusted in thy steadfast love;
     my heart shall rejoice in thy salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
     because he has dealt bountifully with me.

Anyone can pray the first four verses, but it takes faith, hope, and a great confidence in the Lord to pray those last two.  Listen to Derek Kidner’s comments on these two verses:

The I of verse 5 is emphatic (as in NEB, etc.: ‘But for my part, I . . .’), and so, to a lesser degree, is thy steadfast love.  However great the pressure, the choice is still his to make, not the enemy’s; and God’s covenant remains.  So the psalmist entrusts himself to this pledged love, and turns his attention not to the quality of his faith but to its object and its outcome, which he has every intention of enjoying.  The basic idea of the word translated dealt bountifully is completeness, which NEB interprets attractively as ‘granted all my desire’.  But RSV can hardly be bettered, since it leaves room for God’s giving to exceed man’s asking.  As for the past tense in which it is put, this springs evidently from David’s certainty that he will have such a song to offer, when he looks back at the whole way he has been led. (emphasis added)

Let us, in the middle of any difficult situations we may be, choose to put our trust not in the quality of our faith, but in His desire to deal bountifully with us.

Of whom shall I be afraid?

How can the psalmist say he is not afraid though a host encamp against him? (Psalm 27)

Rate this:

Though a host encamp against me,
    my heart shall not fear;
though war arise against me,
   yet will I be confident. (Ps 27:3),

That verse from Psalm 27 poses a question: how can you not be afraid if a host encamps against you?  Derek Kidner, in his commentary on this psalm, proposes the answer: look at the next verse:

One thing have I asked of the Lord,
   that will  I seek after;
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
   all the days of my life,
to behold the beauty of the Lord,
   and to inquire in his temple.

 “The best answer to distracting fears: to behold and to inquire–a preoccupation with God’s person and His will. It is the essence of worship . . .”

And so let us try to go about our days, doing our best to be preoccupied both with God’s person and His will.  Then we will shall be confident “though war arise against me.”

(For another take on this psalm, go to Cloister of Love under Blogroll–to the right.)

The saddest prayer in the psalter

What do we make of Psalm 88, the saddest prayer in the psalter?

Rate this:

I have always found it a comfort that Night Prayer in the Liturgy of the Hours is primarily made up of psalms for the sick, the lonely, and the distressed.  The Church includes Ps 88 for Friday night, a psalm Derek Kidner refers to in these words: “There is no sadder prayer in the psalter.”  It is a psalm I have prayed myself in true earnest.  It begins: “O Lord, my God, I call for help by day; I cry out in the night before thee. . . . For my soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near to Sheol.  I am reckoned among those who go down to the Pit; I am a man who has no strength. . .” and ends with this verse, “You have turned my friends and neighbors against me, no darkness is my one companion left.” (JB) 
      I appreciate the honesty of the pray-er of this psalm, for we all have days or seasons during which we can identify with him.  What is most important is that it is a prayer.  It is always better to pray out of the honesty of our hearts than to feel that we cannot pray, that what we have to say is too sad or anguished or distressing and thus not acceptable to our God.  What father would not want to hear the anguish of his child? 
      Some final comments from Kidner:

With darkness as its final word, what is the role of this psalm in Scripture?  For the beginning of an answer we may note, first, its witness to the possibility of unrelieved suffering as a believer’s earthly lot.  The happy ending of most psalms of this kind is seen to be a bonus, not a due; its withholding is not a proof of either God’s displeasure or His defeat.  Secondly, the psalm adds its voice to the ‘groaning in travail’ which forbids us to accept the present order as final.  It is a sharp reminder that ‘we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies’ (Rom 8.22f).  Thirdly, the author, like Job, does not give up.  He completes his prayer, still in the dark and totally unrewarded.

Kidner goes on to point out that, in fact, the author’s rejection was only apparent:

This supposedly God-forsaken author seems to have been one of the pioneers of the singing guilds set up by David, to which we owe the Korahite psalms (42-49; 84f.; 87f.), one of the richest veins in the Psalter.  Burdened and despondent as we was, his existence was far from pointless.  If it was a living death, in God’s hands it was to bear much fruit.

Let your anguish be a prayer.  In His hands it will bear much fruit.