When I go to prayer I need all the help I can get. Several years ago Nathan Hall had suggested praying the Psalms as a means of achieving worshipful prayer. For me, prayer can become routine, done perfunctorily and, of course, dull. Not The Sweet Hour of Prayer I would like it to be. I am jealous to have an emotional high each time I pray, but, alas, that seldom happens. I pray for several reasons: I should pray; I think God thinks I’m a better person if I pray; I want to curry God’s favor. Well, actually, praying with those incentives, is not praying at all. If praying were “easy” I doubt Jesus’ disciples would have asked him how it were to be done.
This Psalm is uniquely suited for morning worship – a glance at verse three shows why. I pray this psalm after I have made my petitions – i.e., prayed for all those people and things I am burdened with. I have just listed all my requests to the Lord and the opening line to this psalm is: “Give ear to my words, O LORD, consider my sighing.” How fitting. Let’s go on.
“Listen to my cry for help, my King and my God, for to you I pray.” In typical Hebrew fashion, verse two is a retelling of the opening line of the psalm. I know I need usually to be told more than once to do something. While the same can’t be said of God, still, it addresses a need in me to say again that I need the Lord’s help.
Verse three: “Morning by morning, O LORD, you hear my voice; morning by morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation.” This verse I have designated as the “refrain” and I repeat it after the sixth verse, the ninth verse and the twelfth verse. Well, the “morning by morning…” seems to imply that I would be doing this praying thing every day. I repeat this verse because it emphasizes my own need and my expectation. I actually “expect” the Lord to do something with my requests… and he does. Unfortunately most of us don’t “expect” an answer (or at least the one we’re looking for) and when we get the answer (the one we want) we tend to be surprised; or worse we forget that we had asked. Perhaps we shouldn’t be. “You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” (James 4:2b-3 NIV) I get it. We are supposed to ask more for others than for ourselves!
I suppose if I believed in “Give us this day our daily bread…” I might just be satisfied with what the Lord provides. The fact is that the Lord wants to hear about our troubles and fears and wants. Certainly he does not want us not to ask anything of him. I try to pray with reckless abandon to see what happens. I think it is important to remember who we are because of Christ. Because of Christ we are sons (read sons and daughters) of God – well, that puts us in a very special place. We should be able to ask anything. As for the right motives, I think that as we grow in Christ, he changes our hearts in such a way as we begin to desire what he wants for us.
Verses 4-6 look at how the Lord will deal with the unrighteous. We need to know that the Lord is concerned about injustice: “with you the wicked cannot dwell”. Next follows a short list of who these wicked are: the arrogant (v. 5), wrong-doers (v. 5); liars/deceitful men (v. 6); and, of course, the bloodthirsty (v. 6). Here again, I say verse 3 “Morning by morning …”
Verses 7 & 8 help us to become worshipful: “But I, by your great mercy, will come into your house; in reverence will I bow down toward your holy temple.” I don’t think we appreciate how awesome it is that we can even approach the presence of God – consider what it took to come to God in the Old Testament. Some people in the time before Christ were struck dead because they came too near to God. So as verse 7 indicates: “by your great mercy…” That mercy came at an enormous price – the very death of Jesus. When he died the veil in the temple (which separated everyone from the presence of God – except the high priest but one day a year) was rent in two from top to bottom (see Matthew 27:51). That “rending” gave access to all; the veil being torn from top to bottom, I think is simply from heavenward to earth. So to approach God as matter-of-factly as we tend to is truly less than he deserves. So there is great reverence shown.
Verse 8 (“Lead me, O LORD, in your righteousness because of my enemies – make straight your way before me.”) is very much like the line in the Lord’s Prayer “Lead us not into temptation.” It is also a cry to know God’s will.
Verse 9 revisits the wicked: this time with respect to how they use their tongues. The Epistle of James has much to say about the tongue. While he is addressing the faithful, his words apply to everyone. “The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.” (James 3:6 NIV) Evidently the wicked can’t be trusted in anything.
Repeat verse 3 “Morning by morning…”
Verse 10 is seeking justice for the world because of the evil of the wicked. The psalmist is asking God to declare them guilty. They should be declared guilty – they are guilty. And so were we. But we have been declared not guilty. “When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.” (Colossians 2:13-14 NIV) So these wicked are guilty both with their tongues and in their actions. While it might grant us a measure of satisfaction to say, “Declare them guilty; banish them for their many sins…” we must also remember that it was the forbearance, patience and grace of God which was extended to us. “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9 NIV)
Verse 11 and 12 encourage us to “take refuge in you [God]”. We sing for joy in this security. I don’t think we can help but sing for joy. For me, this is a picture of what life is like after Jesus has restored the earth to what God had intended all along. I think we can live victoriously because of what Jesus has done for us. And is there any one of us who does not think he is blessed in Christ?
Again verse 3: “Morning by morning etc. …” By way of closing the psalm I say the “Glory be to the Father…” the Church’s traditional ending for all the psalms. “… and wait in expectation.”
(by John Tully)