Category Archives: Praying the Psalms

How can we dwell with God? (Psalm 15 Bible study)

To live with God is something that most people in the world are fixated upon (whether their god is the right one or not).  We are all created to worship something bigger than ourselves, and were were made by the God of the Judeo-Christian Bible to live with Him, and He with us.  So how is that possible?  Is it simply a matter of just believing in Jesus Christ: what else are we meant to do?  Here is my Psalm 15 Bible Study about this topic

God bless, Pastor Haydn.

 

Advertisements

Getting past distress and doubt in thankful prayer (Psalm 77)

No life goes smoothly, not even for God’s children; in many ways, their woes seem to get bigger once they do follow God because Satan, the enemy, is on their case.  But no matter how deep we get into distress and doubt, we can bring it to God in prayer and get out of it by remembering God’s kindnesses towards us, both cosmic (e.g. Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection) and the smaller, everyday ones (e.g. living in affluence and having access to clean drinking water).  Here is my Bible study on a passage on this – Psalm 77 Bible Study

God bless, Pastor Haydn.

 

I asked the Lord that I might grow

In faith and love and every grace,

Might more of His salvation know

And more earnestly seek His face.

‘Twas He who taught me thus to pray,

And He, I trust, has answered prayer;

But it has been in such a way

As almost drove me to despair.

I thought that in some favoured hour

At once He’d answer my request

And by His love’s constraining power,

Subdue my sins and give me rest.

Instead of that, He made me feel

The hidden evils of my heart,

And bade the angry powers of hell

Assault my soul in every part.

Nay more, with His own hand He seemed

Intent to aggravate my woe.

Crossed all the fair designs I schemed,

Blasted my gourds, and laid me low.

“Lord, why is this?”, I trembling cried.

“Wilt Thou pursue this worm to death?”

“This is the way”, the Lord replied,

“I answer prayer for grace and faith.

These inward trials I employ

From self and sin to set thee free,

And cross thy schemes of earthly joy

That thou might’st find all thy in Me”.

–  pp. 23-24 of Spiritual Maturity by Oswald Sanders (Moody Publishers: Chicago), 1994.

.

Praying the Psalms Over 30 Days

One thing that I am very big on, it’s prayer and particularly praying the Psalms.  If you want to get your heart, mind, soul, and spirit into the heavenly realms, pray the Psalms.  If you want heaven to enter your heart, pray the Psalms.  If you want to be really open with God and feel intimate with Him, pray the Psalms.  If you want your prayer to be more alive than the boring ones offered during the Sunday service, pray the Psalms.  If you want the Sunday church prayers to be more dynamic, pray the Psalms.  The good thing is that you can actually do this in one month!  During the Reformation, English bishop Thomas Cranmer created a schedule of praying through the Psalms in one month.  I thought I would mention it here for the edification of others.

In a sermon I heard on Psalm 1:1-6 and 150:1-6, the preacher made an allusion to the Lord of the Rings, where Pippin stands next to Gandalf, whose face looks careworn. Tolkein wrote, “Yet in the wizard’s face he saw at first only lines of care and sorrow; though as he looked more intently he perceived that under all there was a great joy: a fountain of mirth enough to set a kingdom laughing, were it to gush forth”. For me, the parallel in Scripture is that even when sorrow and evil seem overwhelming, there is something beyond it that will hold me onto my Rock.  I want to make Psalms my prayer book so that my soul is anchored to Christ, that what I learn in my mind percolates down into my heart and permeates my life and strengthens my love of God so that nothing can toss me about so that, like Gandalf, I can set a whole kingdom laughing (Prov. 17:27).  May it bless you too  🙂

Day Morning Evening
1 1 – 5 6 – 8
2 9 – 11 12 – 14
3 15 – 17 18
4 19 – 21 22 – 23
5 24 – 26 27 – 29
6 30 – 31 32 – 34
7 35 – 36 37
8 38 – 40 41 – 43
9 44 – 46 47 – 49
10 50 – 52 53 – 55
11 56 – 58 59 – 61
12 62 – 64 65 – 67
13 68 69 – 70
14 71 – 72 73 – 74
15 75 – 77 78
16 79 – 81 82 – 85
17 86 – 88 89
18 90 – 92 93 – 94
19 95 – 97 98 – 101
20 102 – 103 104
21 105 106
22 107 108 – 109
23 110 – 113 114 – 115
24 116 – 118 119:1 – 32
25 119: 33 – 72 119:73 – 104
26 119:105 – 144 119:145 – 176
27 120 – 125 126 – 131
28 132 – 135 136 – 138
29 139 – 140 141 – 143
30 144 – 146 147 – 150

You needn’t memorise the passages: just pray them. On the morning of the first day, for instance, you pray through Psalms 1-5. Then in the evening, pray through Psalms 6-8.  Read through the whole Psalm to God and then adapt it to your own circumstances. So, for instance, pray through Psalm 1 and choose maybe one big prayer point that strikes you (e.g. the need to pray to God morning and evening). Then move onto Psalm 2 and do the same. With Psalm 2, you can praise Jesus that He is God’s king in whom we find mercy from God’s wrath, etc. You need not stick too rigidly to this schedule either but move around various Psalms to different times and days … not every Psalm and verse will impact you in quite the same way.

Once you’ve gone through them all in a month, go back and pray them at a much slower pace, maybe one psalm in the morning and one in the evening.

God bless, Pastor Haydn.

Jesus Christ & our fear of abandonment (Psalm 22 Bible study)

Abandonment is one thing that human beings are absolutely terrified of, and that’s because we are made in God’s image, and therefore designed for relationship with Him and one another.  It can occur when a parent leaves home, a death happens, or a divorce.  It can result in work-a-holism, obsessive behaviour, addiction, fearful attachment, and anger.  God understands that, and Jesus does too.

Jesus Christ experienced abandonment on the cross when God the Father put all His wrath for sin on Jesus.  Why?  Because every man, woman, and child has rebelled against God – and therefore deserves His anger for that disobedience.  That consequence is Hell, where people are abandoned by God forever.  Yet Jesus experienced abandonment on the cross 2,000 years ago so that those who trust in Him will not experience Hell, but have friendship with God forever.  It also means that when Christians experience sorrow, betrayal, and abandonment, that Jesus Christ completely sympathises.  Here is a Bible study that I went through with my church today on this subject, based on Psalm 22 and Matthew 27-28: Psalm 22 Bible Study

God bless, Pastor Haydn.

Anger, Reflection, Calm, and Peaceful Sleep (Psalm 4 Bible Study)

Anger is a secondary emotion – it usually comes from a deep sense of hurt and injustice.  It’s a cry of unresolved pain that seeks justice and comfort.  Yet if we ignore it, suppress it, and try to shove it away it still stays there before it oozes out in ways that harm others in aggression.  Aggression doesn’t need to be ‘hot’ and violent – it can manifest in passive ways such as brooding silence.

But is anger a sin?  Surprisingly, the Bible doesn’t say that.  Our world insists that it is, especially in the West, and tells people to hide it all away and just ‘try to be nice’, but Psalm 4 won’t let us get away with that.  Because we are made in the image of God (who Himself has emotions, such as grief, anger, love, and joy), we have emotions too.  So what are we to do with our anger?  Here, I have written a Bible study on Psalm 4 which explored all this.  When we have safe ways to get out anger, we can be calm, sleep well, experience God’s presence, and go on to love others.  Here is the Bible study: Psalm 4 Bible Study.

God bless, Pastor Haydn.  

Should Christians pray for divine vengeance? (Psalm 109 Bible study)

Many people today, even Christians, may think that asking God for divine vengeance upon enemies is an ‘unloving thing’ to do.  They reason that because God wants “everyone” to be saved and no one to perish that therefore divine punishment is a horrible idea on the basis of texts like Ezekiel 18:32 and John 3:16.  And since Jesus commanded His followers to love enemies and not seek retaliation, how is it even possible for Christians to plea for God to punish His enemies and those who harm His children?  So how exactly does a love for mercy sit alongside the understandable demand for divine justice (which we see in places like Revelation 6:10 and 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10)? In Psalm 109, King David asks for such a thing, and many find it a hard prayer to digest and even to pray; even the famous CS Lewis had difficulty with it.   It seems to me that we in the West struggle with this because Christians here have not (yet) had to stand for their faith to the point of bloodshed.  Nonetheless this prayer is in the Bible for a purpose and it has much to say about the role of anger and how we can take it to God so that He can settle all scores.

Here I have written a Bible study on this Psalm.  I have also translated the passage and provided notes.  I have also written in some suggested prayers on how to bring anger to God, and some practical advice on how to process anger with Him.  May it bless, encourage, and instruct you: Psalm 109 Bible Study.

God bless, Pastor Haydn.

Benefits of Praying the Psalms

I am always praying the Psalms and encouraging others to do likewise, as this short, succinct article discusses (see below) …  

1. If you wish you prayed better, with more heart, with words worthy of God, learn the psalms.

What is it we do so poorly in our Christian lives? Most of us would admit that we pray all too infrequently and badly at our best. This is true in large part because we are so unfamiliar with the content and eloquence of the psalms. The psalms are often prayers—inspired ones that ought to enrich, deepen, and inform our own praying.

2. We need the psalms today because they keep in perfect harmony both joy and fear in our worship.

The first stanza of Psalm 100 calls us to “make a joyful noise to the Lord,” then regulates and informs that joy in the second stanza with high, sobering truths about God’s power to create all things and to make a people for Himself. Joy and trembling are perfectly wedded in the psalms.

3. We need the psalms today because they help free us from our slavery to the here and now.

They can help keep us from the folly of the moment, the tyranny of the latest thing, the soul-killing bondage to the entertainment-driven fads of the fleeting present. Thoughtful Christians will not dismiss psalms as irrelevant for today, not to their taste, too difficult, too long, too complicated, or too old. When we give ear to these criticisms, our sung worship—be sure of it—will look and sound less and less like the psalms.

4. We live in an egalitarian age, where high-register things, especially words and language, are marginalised.

Thus, we need the majesty of the psalms to quicken our imaginations to enter God’s courts—a place into which we would never slouch or swagger untucked. Worship is the highest-register activity a human being can perform, and the content and tone of the psalms wonderfully regulate our attitude and posture in that worship.

5. The psalms give us theological discernment.

The psalms help us measure what is worthy and what is not. They help us reject vacuous praise—praise verbalised but without objective theological truth informing those words. We need to return to the inspired sung worship of the ancients because it adorns doctrinal truth and helps us see the loveliness of that truth. Psalm poetry is the God-ordained means of keeping every generation enthralled with the surpassing splendour of biblical truth.

6. Recovering psalm singing in our worship and life will raise the bar for all new worship poetry in every age.

Seek Christ in the psalms and then measure everything else by what you find there. When selecting and writings songs, we should ask, Is it psalm-like? An honest answer will enable you to rise above the inappropriate and tread on the high places of the earth.

7. Psalmody and classic hymnody serve to unite us with the vast throng of worshippers throughout the ages.

The psalms are God-given sung praise that transcends all barriers—ones of race, gender, ethnicity, and geography. Most importantly, the psalms free us from postmodernism’s all- preoccupying, all-excusing, obligatory barrier: personal taste. Psalm poetry is for all time, the ultimate multicultural poetry for “all people that on earth do dwell.”

“Sing to the Lord with joyful voice.” The God-breathed poetry of the psalms are not just for ancient Near Easterners, living long ago, in far-off lands, with goats bleating in time with the plucking of lyre strings. Psalms are for everyone—all people, in all ages, in all places, in all tongues. Sing to our Sovereign Lord with psalms, sing to our Creator, our Redeemer, with worthy hymns written in imitation of the richness and depth of the psalms. Why? Because God is good. “His truth endures to all generations.” And so must the psalms.

All people that on earth do dwell,
Sing to the Lord with cheerful voice.
Him serve with mirth, his praise forth tell,
Come ye before him and rejoice.

Know that the Lord is God indeed;
Without our aid he did us make:
We are his flock, he doth us feed,
And for his sheep he doth us take.

O enter then his gates with praise,
Approach with joy his courts unto:
Praise, laud, and bless his name always,
For it is seemly so to do.

For why? the Lord our God is good,
His mercy is for ever sure;
His truth at all times firmly stood,
And shall from age to age endure.

_________

Note: This is an adapted excerpt from Forgotten Songs: Reclaiming the Psalms for Christian Worship, edited by Ray Van Neste & Richard Wells.

Pastor Haydn’s Devotion – When Worshipping God ‘Makes’ You Groan (17th of July 2016)

One of the best things about the prayers in the Psalms is that they do not hold back, and the person praying is able to unload onto God how he really really feels in all brute, ruthless honesty without pretence or ‘cherries on the top’.  Psalm 77 is one such psalm, and although it eventually moves onto overflowing, effervescent praise of God it starts out in quite a different fashion altogether:

I cry aloud to God, aloud to God, and he will hear me … [but] when I remember God, I moan; when I meditate, my spirit faints.   You hold my eyelids openI am so troubled that I cannot speak (vv. 1,3-4).  

We don’t know exactly what the psalter has been experiencing, but his circumstances seem so bad and are probably so profound and overwhelming, that when he thinks about God it doesn’t conjure up delighted worship.  Excitement is replaced with exhaustion.  Probably he has given his problems to God over and over and over again, but the deadness hasn’t lifted, and the consequence is that he cannot even worship God.  Even though this man wants to close his eyes and rest in the blissful escape of sleep, God ‘keeps his eyes open’ so that even rest is impossible.  Words cannot even express how bad things are- either because the circumstances are that bad, or because words in prayer have been uttered so long that nothing has changed and it all seems so futile.  All the goodness in the relationship has gone even though, somewhat ironically, he is really confident that God WILL hear him.  But before it gets better, the prayer gets worse:

:
“Will the Lord spurn for ever, and never again be favourable?  Has his steadfast love for ever ceased?  Are his promises at an end for all time?  Has God forgotten to be gracious  Has he in anger shut up his compassion?” vv. 7-9

They’re questions that even the godliest, most dedicated servant of God will ask himself at some stage in his spiritual journey.  They’re asking “What’s going on?  Isn’t God good any more?”  The circumstances are disorienting not just because, in themselves, they are so difficult to endure but because they conflict with the concept that God is loving and faithful.  

The psalter never gets any answers to his questions, but instead, he has something better: he remembers how faithful God was in the past, and that comforts him in the present because he knows it will lead to God delivering in the future:

*
Then I said, “I will appeal to this, to the years of the right hand of the Most High.”  I will remember the deeds of Yahweh; yes, I will remember Your wonders of old.  I will ponder all Your work, and meditate on Your mighty deeds.  Your way, O God, is holy. What god is great like our God? … Your way was through the sea, Your path through the great waters; yet Your footprints were unseen.  You led Your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron – (vv. 10-12, 19-20).

If God can part the Red Sea and lead Israel through to safety in the Promised Land, won’t He also deliver this child of His who is going through a present crisis?  If the maker of the universe can make the oceans, can’t He also deliver for His sons right here, right now?  For the Christian, we see that God delivered us from sin, but He won’t just do that He will also provide in moments of need.

This can easily sound dry, academic, and abstract but it’s anything but that …  for me at the moment it isn’t.  I’ve had a very challenging year and a half becoming the pastor of a small church, feeling the social isolation of being in ministry, ongoing financial stress, a car that continues to break down all the time and is costing me a bomb to maintain, etc etc.  And all the time wondering, where’s God?!  I’ve brought Him these problems to Him in prayer relentlessly and the clouds haven’t lifted; in fact, they’ve gotten darker.  And there are feelings of uncertainty, fear, dread, anxiety, listlessness, anger, flatness…  To say that I have been going through these things recently is an understatement.

The danger with all this is that self-pity can creep in and foster an angry with God that boils over into resentment and sin.  Circumstances, like dark clouds on a sunny day, can be so overwhelming that we read our circumstances onto God and think HE is bad when in fact that’s not true.  But to get past all that it’s so important to reflect on the goodness of God in His deeds of kindness, and the clouds will move out of the way and let the sun shine through.  If you’re a Christian and you’re going through something like this, we need to keep reflecting on what God has done for us in sending Jesus to die for our sin, and how faithful He continues to be in providing us with food, shelter, and clothes when so many around the world lack such things.  If we do, we can worship Him anew in thankfulness and watch Him provide again for us.

Psalm prayers – where you can truly be yourself

psalms One of the great joys when I was at Bible college, was having the opportunity to study the Psalms.  One of the books that I picked up as a result of that study was Answering God: The Psalms as a Tool For Prayer, by Eugene H. Peterson (New York: HarperCollins, 1991).  Toward the end of this short book is an Appendix, where Peterson opens up about how praying the psalms transformed not only his prayer life but his relationship with God and fostered a new openness that he never had before.  I can even tell Him when I am frustrated with Him (Psalm 4:1)!

Psalm 62:8: “Trust in Him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts before Him.  God is our refuge

I want to post this because a number of people that I have met through social media have had a lot of problems in their spiritual life with God and other people.  They find they’re distant from Him and their prayers are robotic, merely spouting out lovely truisms (like ‘God is wonderful, I need not be afraid for He has conquered’, etc) but not meaning the words and losing their taste for prayer.  I know what that is like because I have had many of my own ups-and-downs in this respect.  I want to share this because praying the psalms is the best, if not the only, tool from the Scriptures to show what authentic prayer looks like- and it will change the pray-er more than it will change God.  I prayed the psalms for a month last year and I grew so much in my walk with God, and  I hope what Peterson wrote in his book will also help others.

“Since I tried to keep reading and meditating about the Psalms every day, I found out that the psalter has the freedom to express his spiritual [hunger] and frustration to God.  I found how the first step for intimacy is honesty.  It also struck me that this intimacy is wrapped up in the use of a primary language in which the imperatives, the cry for help and the open expression of emotions like anger, sadness, hatred, desperation, etc are not only allows by exposed without any [restraint].  

This lead me to think about my own barriers in prayer.  For example, since my emotions of anger was suppressed at a very early age, because they were considered as bad, I have a hard time in expressing anger to God and I generally become depressed and sad.  Similarly, this happens with primary attitudes like commands, dislikes, etc.

I observe the psalmist as a very healthy person in an intimate and free relationship with God.  I realise how much I need to grow in this matter.  I want to lean how to pray my hatred [to God] and enjoy this freedom of recognising, accepting, and communicating my feelings with transparency.  I also suspect that since the Psalms were prayed in community, the expression of [honest, open] language is not then [merely] a private attempt but a communal experience of God’s people.  

It s fascinating to find that I can break my own emotional restrictions when praying: I do not have to say nice things all the time if this is not what I really feel.  I can take risks in being honest with God and my father and avoid projecting my own feelings for my [earthly] to God.  Now I can distinguish better the similarities and differences between my two fathers” – pages 136-137, emphasis added.

An example of this kind of prayer is Psalm 88.  It’s the only psalm with no praise points- evidence that any problem can be brought to God, even if it’s suffering the consequences of our own choices!  But it’s ruthless honesty is so attractive; and read with Psalm 107 (God’s grace in the middle of self-inflicted harm) it gives people permission to be open with God when they cannot do so around others.  If you are reading this, I commend you to pray the Psalms and own them as yours …  They are God’s greatest conversational gift to His people and as they help us be authentic before Him, they also reveal His incredibly loving Fatherly heart.