Monday, February 2, 2015

Reading the Psalms as a Prayerbook for God's Missional People (Part 2)

This is part two. Here is part one.

Psalms 3–145 trace and shape the journey through life of God’s people. Despite the positive grounding of Psalms 1–2, the Psalter’s editors were keenly aware of the realities of living in a Genesis 3–11 world. God’s people were to live as a missional people as clues to the good future that God has promised, but God’s people live in anticipation of this and so face the realities of a broken world. The Psalter provides prayers and hymns for a dynamic worship that takes into account the full spectrum of scenarios that God’s people will encounter this side of New Creation.

Let’s explore the types of prayers that we encounter in the book of Psalms:

First, Laments or prayers for help dominate the landscape of the Psalms. They are the most common type of prayer found in the Psalter. Readers encounter their initial lament with Psalm 3. Remember that stability of Pss 1–2? It’s gone in the opening words of the Ps 3, “O LORD, how many are my adversaries!” Laments provide words for God’s people when they find themselves in times of danger, suffering, illness, and death. The lament is in essence a prayer for help. The assumptions of a lament are that the pray-er’s present circumstances do not line up with the abundant life of God’s kingdom and that God can do something about this. These complaints arise from a deep trust and faith in God; but this faith is matched by the desperation of the pray-er’s circumstances. God’s missional people need laments because our Genesis 3–11 world remains broken and lost. Jesus himself turned to the lament in Ps 22 to find words to express his needs and anguish to God during his crucifixion. Missional communities need to reflect deeply on the reality that laments heavily dominate the initial 89 psalms in the Book of Psalms. Learning to rely on God and remembering to bring all needs and even all complaints to the God who loves his people is critical for a dynamic and missional faith.

Second, through hymns, the Psalms also teach God’s missional people how to praise God for who God is and what God has done. If a lament at its core is the simple prayer: “Help me/us God!”, then the hymn is the jubilant cry of “Praise the LORD.” Examples of hymns include Psalms 8, 66, 98, 100, and 146–150 The praises of the psalter reach profound heights and the images and phrases of the psalms have inspired the lyrics of Christian hymns and songs for millennia.

Third, psalms of thanksgiving synthesize praise and lament by praising God and giving thanks for the resolution of issues afflicting the community of faith. They are more specific than praise songs because they worship God by highlighting particular acts of deliverance that the psalmist has experienced. The thanksgiving psalm is the fitting and faithful response to the God who invites God’s people to bring laments whenever needed. Psalms of thanksgiving include Psalms 118 and 136. The psalms teach us to pray to God in our times of need and to praise him, but they likewise instruct missional communities to practice gratitude openly as part of their worship of God. Thanksgiving psalms are important because they teach God’s people that they do not have to wait for the New Creation to experience God’s deliverance. It is available in the present and must be celebrated.

Learning to pray "help" "Praise the LORD" and "Thanks" are core practices for God's people as they seek to advance the kingdom.

Continue to Part Three

© 2015 Brian D. Russell

For more information on reading the Bible missionally including the Psalms, see Brian's 2016 book (re)Aligning with God: Reading Scripture for Church and World.

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