or, Pselected Psalms
Stretching increases flexibility.
One type of flexibility exercise is frequent, varied, one-sentence prayers. These one-liners take several forms: Flash prayer, "can I help you" prayer, reflexive prayer, Practice of the Presence of God prayer, arrow prayers. Haven't heard of these? A frequently-cited Biblical example of a flash prayer is in Nehemiah chapter 2.
The king said, “Why do you look so sad? You’re not sick. Something must be bothering you.”
Even though I was frightened, I answered, “Your Majesty, I hope you live forever!
I feel sad because the city where my ancestors are buried is in ruins, and its gates have
been burned down.”
The king asked, “What do you want me to do?”
I prayed to the God who rules from heaven. Then I told the king, “Sir, if it’s all right with you, please send me back to Judah, so that I can rebuild the city where my ancestors are buried.”
Nehemiah also prayed long prayers,. But you don't want to pray a long prayer while a scary king is staring at you.
So, like Nehemiah and many others, pray for what you most need right now. Take 10 seconds to pray for someone you meet. Hear an ambulance? Pray. Thank the Almighty for whatever good thing you’re experiencing.
We see further examples of these streaming and steaming prayers throughout the Bible. One-breath prayers are the only practical way to pursue Paul's directions in 1 Thessalonian's 5:
"Always be joyful and never stop praying.
Whatever happens, keep thanking God because of Jesus Christ.
This is what God wants you to do."
All that said, I've been yammering for several blog entries about preparing for prayer, about improving prayer by stretching my grasp of what prayer can be. We've considered prayers Jesus approved. Another rich source of prayer stretches is one Jesus used, the book of Psalms.
Not all psalms are prayers. For example, Psalm 1 is not addressed to God but aims to instruct believers:
"God blesses those people who refuse evil advice and won’t follow sinners or join in sneering at God...." .
Psalm 2 is addressed to non-believers: "Be smart, all you rulers, and pay close attention. Serve and honor the Lord; be glad and tremble. Show respect to his son..."
Psalm 3 is a prayer to God. However, David’s prayer is not entirely my prayer: "Ten thousand enemies attack from every side, but I am not afraid. Come and save me, Lord God! Break my enemies' jaws and shatter their teeth, because you protect and bless your people…." Many of David's prayers are like this; hyperbole about ten thousand enemies and asking God to punish said enemies in painfully memorable ways. Should I pray this about the handful of knaves who irk me? In Matthew 5, Jesus said, "You have heard people say, 'Love your neighbors and hate your enemies.' But I tell you to love your enemies and pray for anyone who mistreats you." Not all prayers in the Bible speak to me or speak for me.
Jesus applied some of David's prayers to himself, for example Psalm 22: "My God, my God, why have you deserted me?... Brutal enemies attack me like a pack of dogs, tearing at my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones, and my enemies just stare and sneer at me. They took my clothes and gambled for them...." Maybe I need to be more like David in earnest defense of God’s people and more like Jesus driving the money-lenders from his Father’s house. Psalm 22 serves to build my appreciation for Jesus but not yet as my own prayer.
When David or the other Psalmists simply ask God for mercy and grace, those are prayers from which I can learn, prayers I can make my own. Take Psalm 6: "Don’t punish me, Lord, or even correct me when you are angry! Have pity on me and heal my feeble body. My bones tremble with fear, and I am in deep distress. How long will it be?..." . Such psalms encourage me to boldly confess and request.
The Psalms, like much of the Hebrew Bible, use words that identify something that can be seen, touched, smelled, tasted, or heard, rather than abstractions. Once in a while a Psalm lapses into Greek-style abstraction, as in Psalm 103: "The Lord is merciful! He is kind and patient, and his love never fails." As though the psalmist realized his lapse, he comes roaring back with specifics:
"How great is God’s love for all who worship him? Greater than the distance between heaven and earth! How far has the Lord taken our sins from us? Farther than the distance from east to west! Just as parents are kind to their children, the Lord is kind to all who worship him, because he knows we are made of dust. We humans are like grass or wild flowers that quickly bloom. But a scorching wind blows, and they quickly wither, to be forever forgotten...."
People love such sensual Psalms even when they are outside their experience.
"The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures...."
Raise your hand if you’ve herded sheep or even just chickens. Have you smelled a sweet meadow after a rain or after mowing? Rolled around in it? Have you known someone you can 100% trust? Not many urbanites have had such earthy privileges, but still can kind of appreciate them.
No more than the rest of the Bible, most of the 150 Psalms do not prepare me for the modern prayer requests which tend to be about medical and relationship problems and progress. Psalms that do touch on such matters include Psalms 6, 16, 31, 34, 35, 38, 41, 73, 107, and 147.
Many psalms praise and thank God. These speak to me and speak for me. They encourage me to be demonstrative in worship. These include Psalms 7-9, 34, 40, 65, 89, 92, 95-101, 103-118, 135-139, and 144-150. The Psalm writers were emphatically ecstatic about God’s goodness. How much more can I, with a clearer perspective of Messiah’s work, sing Joy to the World!
At The Surge we love doing things together... that includes writing a blog! Here are a few of our main contributing authors:
Our fearless leader, Dwaine is the lead pastor at The Surge. His experience in counter terrorism with the CIA prepared him for ministry and he likes dogs and babies even more than E does.
E (short for Eric Reiss) is the Wingman at The Surge and likes dogs, music, Mexican food, his wife Karen and his little girl Evangeline... not necessarily in that order.