Saturday, January 31, 2015

Reading the Psalms as a Prayerbook for God's Missional People (Part 1)

The book of Psalms is the prayerbook for God’s missional people. A missional reading of the Psalms focuses on the meaning of the prayers and hymns of the psalter for shaping the identity and ethos of God’s people. 

    The book of Psalms takes its reader on a journey. Psalms 1–2 serve as a hermeneutical introduction to the rest of the book.[1] Psalm 1 beings with the world “Happy” and Psalm 2 ends with “Happy.” Psalm 1 focuses on the individual; Psalm 2 focus on the nations. These two Psalms ground God’s missional people into two core truths. 

First, Psalm 1 calls for each person to allow the words of Scripture to permeate his or her being as the path to success. Success for the psalmist is the achievement of God’s will. Scripture shapes each individual in the ways of God and prepares him or her for the inevitable challenges that arise as one journeys through the world. Poignantly, Ps 1 views life in stark terms. Depending on one’s grounding foundation, an individual becomes either a fruitful tree (v. 3) or dried up chaff (v. 4). The person whose intake is a steady diet of Scripture connects himself or herself with the living waters flowing from the Temple itself (Ps 1:3). This persons knows God, but most importantly God knows and guides the life of this righteous person (v. 6).     

Second, these psalms ground security in God who has secured the future of God’s kingdom through God’s Messiah. This is the message of Psalm 2. Psalm 2 expands the individual focused view in Psalm 1 to include an all encompassing view of the world including the nations who do not yet know or worship the LORD. Psalm 2 recognizes the challenges of living as God’s people in the world. Specifically, Psalm 2 acknowledges that the powers of this world may resist and oppose the movement of God’s kingdom. The good news of God’s missional people is that the power of God is greater than all the gathered strength of the nations. In response to the antagonism of the nations, the LORD laughs and announces that he has appointed his Messiah King to serve as his human agent for administering God’s kingdom. By the time of the Psalter’s compilation, there was no longer an Israelite monarchy.[2] Thus Psalm 2 becomes a bold and audacious prayer and reminder of God’s promises to David and a confident statement of trust in God’s good future. Psalm 2 also reminds God’s people of God’s missional plans for the nations. Psalm 2:10–12 concludes with an invitation for the nations to find happiness and blessing in the service of God’s Messiah and mission.

Now let’s jump ahead to the climax of the Psalter in Psalms 146–150. These five psalms demonstrate that the psalter moves from security to an all creational praise of the LORD (150:6) for who God is and what God has done in achieving God’s missional aims. Now let’s jump ahead to the climax of the Psalter in Psalms 146–150. These five psalms demonstrate that the psalter moves from security to an all creational praise of the LORD for who God is and what God has done in achieving God’s missional aims. Psalm 146:5 includes the same “happy” language with which the Psalter began (1:1, 2:12). This is a crucial word for God’s people. God’s blessing is indeed on God’s people. This is the essence of happiness. It is not giddiness or some ephemeral joy. It is the state of blessedness that is the gift of a faithful God to his people through all of life. Remarkably Ps 146:5–9 details the character of God and how this influences human life. As the Psalms witness, God is powerfully present to save God’s people in all circumstances. The Creator God is more than a God of the status quo who props up the powerful and prosperous. The LORD is God who extends justice, mercy, love, and blessing to the oppressed and lowly. In fact, one of the key takeaways from the Psalter is that suffering is not a sign of shame and God-forsakenness. God’s missional people will suffer from time to time, but God is present to save and advance God’s missional purposes.

It is vital to understand the beginning and end of the Psalter in order to grasp the missional message of the rest of the psalms. Pss 1–2 and 146–150 frame the remaining 143 with a confidence in God. The future of God’s people and mission is secure so God’s people can serve faithfully on God’s mission in the present. When life’s challenges come (and they inevitably will), God’s people have a rich resource of trusting prayers to sustain them in advance of God’s future abundance. Notice that life according to the Psalter begins with a faithful moment by moment walk with God that is fueled by Scripture (Ps 1) and anchored in the hope of a future secured by the true King of the Nations (Ps 2).

Go to Part Two.

© 2015 Brian D Russell

For more information on reading Scripture missionally including the Psalms, see Brian's new book (re)Aligning with God: Reading Scripture for Church and World.

[1] Brian D. Russell, “Psalms 1-2 as An Introduction to Reading the Psalms Missionally.Encounters Mission
[2] This assumes that the final form of the Psalter derives from the post-Exilic period.

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