Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Reading the Psalms as a Prayerbook for God's Missional People (Part 3)

Read Part One.

Read Part Two.

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 the 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 (because he is faithful, good, and powerful) 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 ("My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"). Missional communities need to reflect deeply on the reality that laments heavily dominate the initial 89 psalms in the Book of Psalms. It is critical for a dynamic and missional faith for God's people to learn to rely on God by remembering to bring all needs and even all complaints to the God who loves his people.

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. Praise reinforces the community's faith and offers to God the adoration and worship of which the LORD alone is worthy.

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 when it happens.

Lament, praise, and thanksgiving are three of the main types of prayers and songs collected in the Psalter, but there are several other types that are important for understanding the Psalter as the prayer book for God’s missional people. We will explore these in the next post.

Continue to Part Four
© 2015 Brian D Russell

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