The early Christians loved the Psalms. They are full of imagery, singable, and relatively easily memorized. In some Christian communities, they would memorize all the Psalms and that would be their shared hymnbook.
The Psalms serve a lot of roles in our devotion to God. They can be inspiring. They can be comforting. They can even be instructive. There’s a lot of good theology teaching in the Psalms!
What I love about the Psalms is they give us words we can pray. What’s so good about that? Can’t we just say what we want? We can, but sometimes we don’t know how to say that. Or whether we should say that. There’s a tendency to treat God a bit like an elderly judge. He’s kind, but will also give us a sideways look if we use the wrong fork at a fancy restaurant or might harrumph if we wear shorts to church.
We think we need to be formal and maybe that even slips into our prayer language. We don’t tend to talk to God like we talk to those we’re close to. Our language changes, and when our language changes, our emotions, openness, honesty can change as well.
The Psalms give us words we can pray. Like Psalm 88, which is oddly one of my favorite Psalms. I like it because it’s honest. I’ve been there, where those were my words. They were my words but I didn’t know I could pray like that because that’s not how I heard prayers in church. There’s no words of hope in that psalm, there’s just a honest confession of brokenness and trouble. The faith, of course, is in the saying of them. It’s a prayer, and so we can say those things to God.
The Psalms give us permission to be sad, or to celebrate, to enjoy life’s goodness or to mourn when it’s so difficult we don’t even know where to turn.
Psalm 70 is a great example of all this, gathered in one relatively small chapter. It’s only 5 verses, but early church leaders saw it as vital teacher of prayer, maybe among the most in the Psalms.
Here’s what Isaac had to say about it about 1600 years ago: “Psalm 70 is the devotional formula… absolutely necessary for possessing the perpetual awareness of God.”
Perpetual awareness. That’s like all the time! Imagine how that would affect our life if we acted like God really was right by our side. Again, not as a stern judge tsking us at every turn, but as our source of hope and help.
Those early Christian’s especially like the first verse: “Make haste, o God, to deliver me; make haste to help me, O Lord.”
“Not without reason,” Isaac wrote, “has this verse been selected from out of the whole body of Scripture. For it takes up all the emotions that can be applied to human nature and with great correctness and accuracy it adjusts itself to every condition and every attack.”
In being suitable for “all conditions” this prayer becomes a tool for men and women experiencing a variety of circumstances, both of need and of success.
Those who are troubled are reminded that God can help. Those who are successful are reminded that they still need God. Everyone, no matter their situation are given hope or they’re given humility in the same words.
Scripture is great like that, speaking to people from different backgrounds and experiences, helping us draw closer to God and closer to each other.
When we read the Psalms we are reading prayers that have been prayed for literally thousands of years. We join in with chorus of those who sought God and join in with chorus of those who still seek God.
The Psalms give us words to pray when we don’t have words. They teach us how to pray better to help us learn more and more. And they give us permission to pray things we might think are too crazy, or bold, or disrespectful.
In Scripture we learn that God is inviting us to hang out, not put on a show, not make ourselves something we’re not, but to hang out and chat, being open and honest.
Read through Psalm 70 this week. It’s short. Go ahead and memorize it. See what happens if you pray this throughout the week. Share your thoughts, reactions, questions below so we can learn what God is teaching through you.
Here’s the text of Psalm 70 in what’s called the Common English Bible (a relatively new translation that I’m using these days).
Want to listen to it, here’s an audio version.