Praying the psalms- an introduction

In this mini-series on Praying the psalms, I will look at how we can make use of this part of scripture, that some have described as the Church’s universal hymn book.  There are some glorious psalms of praise.  It is as though the psalmist is singing “God’s in Heaven and all’s right with the world!”  But it does not take long before we realise both those statements are false!

God is not limited to heaven and there is plenty wrong in the world!

If God is just in the heavenly places then He is in danger of being remote.  In Old Testament times, most people imagined God or the gods as being “Up there somewhere!”  The New Testament word is “the heavenlies” which can be taken as referring to place but is more naturally referring to a dimension.  As we read the unfolding story of scripture in the light of Jesus and His teaching, what emerges is not that God is distant and located in a remote place but that heaven is a dimension of reality - the spiritual dimension more real than the physical universe not less.  Heaven breaks through into this physical world of time and space on many occasions in the Old Testament but after the Cross and Resurrection, after the coming of the Holy Spirit, we can live as fully human beings like Jesus.

God is not limited to heaven!  Jesus came as a man in time and a particular place.  But He comes now in the Holy Spirit at all times and in all places.

Also, it is clearly not true that “All’s right with the world!”  The very first psalm paints a wonderful picture of what a righteous person is like but there is a clear contrast - “The wicked are not so.”  As we work through the psalms we find there are many occasions the psalmist is wrestling with the uncertainties of life and the power of evil.

The scholar Walter Brueggemann has written a lot of helpful books and articles on the Psalms, and analyses them into three categories.  There are the “Psalms of orientation” which are songs of praise when everything seems to be facing the right way (oriented correctly).  We can sing or say these as praise to God without needing to change much in the light of a New Testament understanding.

But there are also psalms of disorientation, when things seem to be going wrong.  These are opportunities to explore with God (not on our own) what is happening.  What is Your perspective Lord?  How can we be faithful when things are out of alignment, facing the wrong way and unpleasant.

And then there are psalms of re-orientation.  In the presence of God we find His perspective. We may be surrounded by troubles but He is here in the midst with us, not remote.  Then we can fight spiritual battles in prayer … with praise and thanksgiving as the starting point.

- Chris Horton 
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