Tag Archives: psalms

with the Word online Bible study: create in me

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Psalm 51:1-12

Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you alone, have I sinned,
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you are justified in your sentence
and blameless when you pass judgement.
Indeed, I was born guilty,
a sinner when my mother conceived me.

You desire truth in the inward being;
therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence,
and do not take your holy spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and sustain in me a willing spirit.

Have you ever done anything so wrong, so destructive, so hurtful, that it was impossible to make it right? That’s the kind of prayer this is. Psalm 51 is the prayer of David after the incident known throughout scripture as “the matter of Uriah the Hittite.” You might recall–David saw Bathsheba and thought she was beautiful, he had an affair with her and she became pregnant…in order to hide the matter, he recalled her husband from his army and tried to get him to go home and sleep with his wife. When Uriah’s honor would not permit that (it was forbidden for those on duty to sleep with their wives, or even in beds, while the army was in the field), David had Uriah sent into the thick of the fighting, where the rest of the army pulled back and Uriah was killed. Then David took Bathsheba to be one of his wives. When we ask the confirmation class to count how many of the Ten Commandments David broke in this one affair, they often come up with more than 10!

On being confronted with his sin, David prays this prayer. He knows he’s in the wrong, and that it’s too late to make amends or practice reconciliation with the people he’s hurt. But God is also hurt–God put a lot of trust in David, and gave him a lot of responsibility. It’s never too late to make amends with God–and after this prayer, God does continue to love David, just as God continues to love us even when we hurt others and hurt God.

This is a classic prayer for Lent, a season of repentance. To “repent” means to Turn–to turn around, do a 180, and decide to change. A new translation of the Bible uses the phrase “change your hearts and lives” instead of “repent” because of the connotations that word has in our culture. It’s not only about apologizing, it’s about changing behavior, changing our hearts and lives.

What is something you need to change? What is something you need to put behind you and walk away from, so you can seek God with your whole heart? Can this prayer help?

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with the Word online Bible study: heart and seek

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Psalm 119:10-16

With my whole heart I seek you;
do not let me stray from your commandments.
I treasure your word in my heart,
so that I may not sin against you.
Blessed are you, O Lord;
teach me your statutes.
With my lips I declare
all the ordinances of your mouth.
I delight in the way of your decrees
as much as in all riches.
I will meditate on your precepts,
and fix my eyes on your ways.
I will delight in your statutes;
I will not forget your word.

The psalms are often called the prayerbook or the hymnal of the Bible. How often do you use the psalms in your own prayer? How often do you use hymns or songs in your prayer? Saint Augustine said that “the one who sings prays twice”–possibly because melody and words combine in ways beyond our own intellectual capacity, perhaps because God just likes music, perhaps because singing is an embodied experience so we pray with not just our voices but our whole selves…do you agree with his statement? Does singing feel like prayer to you?

What are some ways you seek God? How do you nurture your relationship with God? The psalmist suggests meditating on God’s word and proclaiming God’s goodness as two of the ways he seeks God with his whole heart. Those are certainly good ways! What other ways can you think of, or do you practice?

In ancient culture, the Heart was the seat of reason as well as emotion–it was the place of the spirit, the center of the being, the word you would use to say “with the essence of who I am.” Sometimes we use “mind/body/spirit” as a way to say the same thing the ancient Hebrews said using “heart.” How does knowing that change the way you read this psalm?

Try praying this psalm a few times each day–perhaps in the morning, at lunchtime, and before bed–for the rest of this week. How does that change your outlook on your day, your work, your commute, your family, your leisure? When you’re consciously seeking God, what do you see differently?

with the Word online Bible study: glory and strength

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Psalm 29 (NRSV)

Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings,
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory of his name;
worship the Lord in holy splendour.

The voice of the Lord is over the waters;
the God of glory thunders,
the Lord, over mighty waters.
The voice of the Lord is powerful;
the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.

The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars;
the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon.
He makes Lebanon skip like a calf,
and Sirion like a young wild ox.

The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire.
The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness;
the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.

The voice of the Lord causes the oaks to whirl,
and strips the forest bare;
and in his temple all say, ‘Glory!’

The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;
the Lord sits enthroned as king for ever.
May the Lord give strength to his people!
May the Lord bless his people with peace!

~~~

“Ascribe”…not a word we use every day, is it? The Common English Bible says “Give to the Lord…the glory due his name.” A little more understandable, if slightly less poetic! Another possible meaning is “acknowledge”–even less poetic, but equally understandable. But it does start to make sense, at least–the psalmist calls us to give God what God is due–praise and glory and honor–to acknowledge God’s power and place as sovereign lord of all.

Or does he?

The psalmist initially addresses the “heavenly beings”–not the people gathered for worship, not the people using the psalms for prayer or song, but heavenly beings…who are these heavenly beings?

A little background may help us out.

The majority of this psalm is actually a Canaanite hymn to Baal, the god of storms and thunder and also of destruction/victory. The Canaanites who worshipped Baal believed that if they praised him appropriately, he would bring rain for their crops and would refrain from storms that destroyed them…while visiting those storms on their enemies. In other words, if people just pray right, the god will respond in the desired way.

(sounds familiar, doesn’t it?)

The psalmist has replaced Baal with The Lord (God’s name, Yahweh, is used 18 times in the psalm!), and calls on the heavenly beings to recognize the One God’s sovereignty, power, and glory. The whole psalm places God in the spot formerly occupied by Baal…and the heavenly beings–the deposed gods who are proved impotent–are called upon to recognize the True God in their midst.

Only at the end of the psalm do the people in the Temple also cry “Glory!”

The “heavenly beings” and the people join together in the same realization–that God is Lord above all other gods, that we humans are not in control even through our prayers, and that God is much more powerful and wild than most of us are willing to admit most of the time. We’d like to have a God who does our bidding, who is sweet and tame and comforting…and God does comfort, it’s true, and God is a loving parent and a devoted friend…and is also revealed as powerful and decidedly not “safe” (to borrow a word from the Chronicles of Narnia).

What did you hear in this psalm? 

What stories, songs, music, movies, etc came to mind?

How do you go about ascribing to the Lord the glory due his name? 

When have you experienced God’s power…the unsafe kind?

Have you ever used a non-Christian thing (a movie, a piece of art, a story, etc) as a way to experience or talk about God?

learning to pray

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At WEAVE we have been talking about, learning, and practicing prayer. For today’s after-weave…learning from the masters (the psalmists!) and bringing their form into today.

One of the ways we learn to pray is by praying the words that the faithful have prayed for centuries. The Psalms are so wonderful for this, as they encompass the full breadth and depth of human experience, emotion, spirituality, and conversation with God. They offer us words for praising, confessing, thanksgiving, supplication, intercession, dedication…and they have been spoken, sung, set to instrumental music, made into art, etc, for thousands of years.

Today try praying through the words of the psalmist through Psalm 19.1-4 and Psalm 29, both in word and song.

The heavens are telling the glory of God;
and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours forth speech,
and night to night declares knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words;
their voice is not heard;
yet their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.

~~

You, divine beings! Give to the LORD—
give to the LORD glory and power!
Give to the LORD the glory due his name!
Bow down to the LORD
in holy splendor!
The LORD’s voice is over the waters;
the glorious God thunders;
the LORD is over the mighty waters.
The LORD’s voice is strong;
the LORD’s voice is majestic.
The LORD’s voice breaks cedar trees—
yes, the LORD shatters
the cedars of Lebanon.
He makes Lebanon jump around
like a young bull,
makes Sirion jump around
like a young wild ox.
The LORD’s voice unleashes fiery flames;
the LORD’s voice shakes the wilderness—
yes, the LORD shakes
the wilderness of Kadesh.
The LORD’s voice convulses the oaks,
strips the forests bare,
but in his temple everyone shouts, “Glory!”
The LORD sits enthroned
over the floodwaters;
the LORD sits enthroned—king forever!
Let the LORD give strength to his people!
Let the LORD bless his people
with peace!