Help

Continuing our journey with the Psalms of Ascent, we explored Psalm 121 this weekend at Eastbrook as part of our series, Ascend. In contrast to last weekend’s message, “Peace,” Psalm 121’s striking emphasis on the character and activity of God is so overpowering it is no wonder that it is many people’s favorite psalm. I walked steadily through the text in this message, drawing attention to God’s all-powerful help in every situation and season of life. As I drew to the end of the message, I focused on a four-stage exploration of the life of prayer.

Here is the video and sermon outline of this first message of the Ascend series, “Peace.” You can follow the entire series at our web-site, through the Eastbrook app, or through our audio podcast. We also have a reading plan for this series, which you can access here.

 

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The Holy Pursuit of the Hidden God

IMG_1817To enter into the stillness of God and to attend to the silence of God requires patience. God is not a Labrador retriever who comes when we call. God is like the rain that comes when it will, whether the grass is green or the crops are failing. While it is true that, as Jesus said, if we ask it will be given and if we seek we will find and if we knock the door will be opened (Matthew 7:7-8), but the timing of the giving, the finding, and the opening is not supplied to us. That it will happen is guaranteed, but the when of that event is not determined by the one who asks. Rather, it is in the hands of the One who gives, reveals and opens.

This is at least part of the meaning of Psalm 40:1, “I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry.” So, too, the words of 2 Peter 3:8-9, which address the timing of the parousia, are relevant to this discussion:

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

It is actually the patience of God that causes the delay here, motivated by the love of God over repentant human lives. This reminds us that the distance of God, whether measured in space or time, aims to stir us up toward repentance. The meaning of repentance is richer than simply asking forgiveness from sins, or even turning away from sin. The Hebrew word for repentance is shuv, which throughout the Hebrew Bible means to return relationally to God (Hosea 14:1-3; Zephaniah 2:1-3). The distance of God, even the apparent hiddenness of God — those times when God seems to play hide-and-seek with us — is intended to make us long for God even more. It is a longing that should grip us to the point where our souls are dehydrated with longing for our God. This is the thrust of Psalm 42:1-2:

As the deer pants for streams of water,
    so my soul pants for you, my God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
    When can I go and meet with God?

“Clouds and thick darkness surround him” (Psalm 97:2) not in order to keep us away but in order to incite our desire for Him even more. It is a desire marked by fervent longing that is evident throughout the Psalms (e.g., 42, 63), but it is also more than that.

It is the naivety and dependence witnessed in a child (Psalm 131; Luke 18:15-17). This desire is the last chance of desperation by those who are sick and in need (2 Kings 5; Luke 8:40-56; 17:11-19; 18:35-43). Nothing and no one else can satisfy this desire. It is the desire that keeps us awake at night, singing songs of longing for God (Psalm 77). It is the desire that sends shivers of regret through our souls over the sin and brokenness clinging to us (Psalm 51, 80). This longing burns brighter and stronger, making even the smallest taste of God more satisfying than all other goods or pursuits in life (Psalm 84:1-2, 10). We are spurred on by the promise of God’s glorious presence ahead of us:

You make known to me the path of life;
    you will fill me with joy in your presence,
    with eternal pleasures at your right hand.

It is this longing that sets us on a journey with a focused destination. As in the Psalms of Ascent, we are spurred on from faraway lands to return to the center of all our hopes and joys, which are only satisfied in a holy, loving God. All the distance, all the stillness, all the silence cannot hold us back from giving all for the sake of that holy pursuit.

Bonhoeffer on Praying the Psalms

dietrich-bonhoefferIt’s no secret that one of my favorite theologians is Dietrich Bonhoeffer, author of Discipleship and Life Together. I encountered his writing very early in my faith and while in high school picked up a slim book by him, The Prayerbook of the Bible, I found while browsing a Christian bookstore. That book transformed my reading and praying of the Psalms. As we make our way through the Psalms of Ascent, I wanted to share a few of Bonhoeffer’s introductory remarks on the psalms and prayer.

Praying certainly does not mean simply pouring out one’s heart. It means, rather, finding the way to and speaking with God, whether the heart is full or empty. No one can do that on one’s own. For that one needs Jesus Christ….

If we want to pray with assurance and joy, then the word of Holy Scripture must be the firm foundation of our prayer. Here we know that Jesus Christ, the Word of God, teaches us to pray. The words that come from God will be the steps on which we find our way to God.

Now there is in the Holy Scriptures one book that differs from all other books of the Bible in that it contains only prayers. That book is the Psalms. At first it is something very astonishing that there is a prayerbook in the Bible. The Holy Scriptures are, to be sure, God’s Word to us. But prayers are human words….

In Jesus’ mouth the human word becomes God’s Word. When we pray along with the prayer of Christ, God’s Word becomes again a human word. Thus all prayers of the Bible are such prayer, which we pray together with Jesus Christ, prayers in which Christ includes us, and through which Christ brings us before the face of God. Otherwise there are no true prayers, for only in and with Jesus Christ can we truly pray.

If we want to read and to pray the prayers of the Bible, and especially the Psalms, we must not, therefore, first ask what they have to do with us, but what they have to do with Jesus Christ. We must ask how we can understand the Psalms as God’s Word, and only then can we pray them with Jesus Christ….

The Psalms have been given to us precisely so that we can learn to pray them in the name of Jesus Christ….

Whenever the Psalter is abandoned, an incomparable treasure is lost to the Christian church. With its recovery will come unexpected power.

[Quotations from “Introduction” of The Prayerbook of the Bible, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Volume 5, pages 155-162.]

Peace

We began our journey with the Psalms of Ascent, “Ascend,” this weekend at Eastbrook, spending time with Psalm 120. In this message, I explore themes of the spiritual life with God as a pilgrimage or journey, honesty and hopeful prayer, the need for community, and living in peace instead of hatred or hopelessness.

Here is the video and sermon outline of this first message of the Ascend series, “Peace.” You can follow the entire series at our web-site, through the Eastbrook app, or through our audio podcast. We also have a reading plan for this series, which you can access here.

 

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