This second post on the Psalms will consider three more types of prayers/songs. A quick reminder: we find ourselves in the Psalms, for sure, but we also find others (and ‘the other’) and, most of all, we find the sometimes apparently missing God. Because life is not static, but constantly moving, we find in the Psalms a sharp-eyed, no nonsense expression of our journey through life.
“[H]uman life is not simply an articulation of a place in which we find ourselves. It is also a movement from one circumstance to another, changing and being changed, finding ourselves surprised by new circumstances we did not expect, resistant to a new place, clinging desperately for the old circumstance” (Walter Brueggemann, The Message of the Psalms, 19-20).The Psalms are not embarrassed to expose our deepest needs.
Psalms of the King: Psalm 47. We need a Center. The chaos of human rebellion from God has made aliens of us all. We live on an orphaned planet in sinful disarray. We miss shalom. We get busy and we get scattered. We wobble and lose our bearings. We need a steady focal point. Too many people are telling us who we are and why we’re important. We need a king. Prone to wander, Lord, we feel it. Our hearts need to be sealed for the courts of our King. The voice of our good King changes us for the better and keeps us running a focused race.
Psalms of Wisdom: Psalm 73. We need discernment. The clamoring voices seeking to tell us what is best, the competing pathways angling for our attention, the sometimes traitorous bent of our inward life—all these spotlight our need for discernment, for wisdom. We need skills to live well. Unless we have regular seasons where we contemplate the unseen and eternal, we will make frantic choices and, sadly, a foolish mess of life. Eugene Peterson points out in Tell It Slant that the Enemy’s devious lures are often covered in what is spiritual and good.
Psalms of Torah: Psalm 119. We need direction and instruction. Torah, meaning instruction, comes from the verb yarah which means to hit the mark, to shoot the arrow. Target, movement, skill. God has spoken and his revealed word has been written. Regarding life, we are not left “to make it up as we go along.” Both written Torah (Moses’ law) and living Torah (Jesus the Messiah and his Sermon on the Mount) kept things simple. Two ways: the world’s way (in its endless manifestations) or God’s way. With our lives, we’re either wise builders or foolish builders. Two ways. Two paths. Two eternal endings. Torah is not a road map; it is a compass. Jesus and his Way are always true North.
Out of Egypt comes a compelling story. May we recover the valued place that the Psalms have held in the prayer life of the church. The oldest book of Psalms (a book, not scroll, of 490 hand-written parchment pages between two wooden covers stitched together by leather) was found 85 miles south of Cairo and dates from the 4th century AD. It is written in Coptic and was found under the head of a twelve year old girl lying in her coffin. Valuable person, valuable truth.