Today our study on prayer takes us to what many people consider the prayer book of the Bible, the Book of Psalms. If you take just about any Bible and open up to the approximate center you will find the Book of Psalms and many people see this as symbolic because it isn’t just the center of the book, it is the center or the heart of our faith. The songs, prayers and statements of faith and life that we find in this book cover just about every human emotion and experience and they give us permission to pray for all kinds of things in very real ways.
The psalms are so raw and real because many of them were written by or attributed to a very human person, King David. 73 of the psalms we have in the Bible were written by David and while considered a man after God’s own heart, David’s life history is recorded in the Bible in very honest ways. There are three books of the Bible devoted to David’s life story – 1 & 2 Samuel and 1 Chronicles and while Chronicles kind of cleans up David’s life, Samuel does not. The writings of Samuel reveal David as both a very flawed and yet a very faithful man who God not only anointed and used as King but at times also condemned andthen forgave as a sinful man.
David was about 8 years old when he was told that he would one day be the king of Israel. He was the youngest and least likely of Jesse’s sons to be chosen King, but the prophet Samuel made it clear that God’s hand was upon him. As a child, David was a shepherd who learned to play the harp or lyre and perhaps it was wandering the hillsides that David first began of singing and writing songs.
Maybe it was a child watching sheep that David first thought to refer to God as a shepherd, and maybe it was as a child he first said, the Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. As a shepherd, David became not only a strong man who was able to protect and defend his sheep from dangerous enemies but he grew strong in his faith learning to trust God to be with him in those difficult and dangerous situations. It was his time as a shepherd which helps us understand what David was able to do a few years later as a teenager.
When David was about 14 or 15 years old the people of Israel were at war with the Philistines and the armies were in a standoff. On one side of the Valley of Elah stood the Philistines and on the other side stood the armies of Israel and one day a giant of a man from the Philistine side came down and challenged the people of Israel. He said that Israel should send out their best warrior for a winner take all battle. This giant of a man was known as… (Goliath). For 40 days Goliath came out and taunted Israel and for 40 days the men of Israel just stood around looking at one another to see if anyone would go out to fight. No one would.
One day Jesse sent David up to the front lines of battle with food for his sons and when he arrived he heard Goliath taunting the people and he wondered why no one was going out to fight him. David finally said that if no one else would go, he would and so he stepped out to face Goliath. Now what do you think David was doing as he walked into the valley to face this giant of a man? What would you be doing? I’d be praying and maybe David was praying Psalm 27:1-3. Or maybe this was the moment that inspired David to write these words.
You might know the rest of this story. David takes a stone and places it in his sling shot and with one well placed toss he takes down Goliath. David is honored and celebrated after this victory and things go well for him but he is not yet the king so the current king, Saul, is jealous and begins to try and destroy David. For many years Saul chases David who fled into the remote areas of Israel hiding out in caves and crying out to God. None of this makes sense to David. He had been chosen and anointed King decades ago but was being hunted down by Saul and so David’s prayers are full of questions and complaints like this: Psalm 59:1-8.
David finally becomes King of Judah at the age of 30 and King of all Israel when he is 37 and life becomes very good for David. He is successful in battle and the kingdom of Israel grows rich and strong, but over the course of time, David becomes content and complacent. One spring, instead of going out to war with his troops, David sends his men out while he stays home and it is during this time that David gives in to temptation and breaks two of the 10 Commandments. First he covets his neighbor’s wife and then he commits adultery. When the woman, Bathsheba, becomes pregnant and there is no way David can deny what has happened he tries to cover up his actions and when that doesn’t work he has Bathsheba’s husband killed so David can look like the good and honorable man and bring Bathsheba into his home to care for her and her child.
David thinks that he has successfully covered up all his actions until the prophet Nathan comes to him and asks how he thinks he can keep all of this from God. While no one else may know the truth of what David has done, God makes it clear that He does and that He is not happy. David is broken when he realizes how far he has fallen and how much he has failed in his relationship with God and his people and in the darkness of his sin and sorrow David writes a psalm or a prayer to God. Psalm 51:1-5
This is a prayer that many of us have perhaps read and prayed ourselves when we have found ourselves in a place where the reality of our sin and failure is clear to us. It’s a powerful prayer because it not only acknowledges our sin and brokenness but it asks God for grace and mercy. Psalm 51:10-12
What is so powerful about this prayer is that it not only acknowledges our raw human experience but it gives us the hope of being forgiven and washed clean. It’s a prayer of real life and human experience which not only gives us a voice before God but offers us grace and peace in the moments we need it most.
God did forgive David and continued to bless him as king, but the rest of David’s life was filled with these same kinds of highs and lows. David was blessed with many children, but at times those children battled among themselves and even battled their father. David had to flee his own kingdom at one point when one of his sons tried to take over, but God once again restored David as king.
What we see from David’s life are periods of sin and struggle where David would cry out to God in pain, anger and frustration and periods of calm where David could see the fullness of God’s grace, presence and power. In many ways the full range of human emotion and experience are seen in David’s life and in each phase of his life we not only see that David prayed but we have those prayers and what David’s life experience and prayers teach us is that no matter what we are going through it is ok to pray using very human words and expressing very human emotions.
If we are angry, we can pray. If we are broken, we can pray. If we are happy and victorious, we can pray. If we are defeated and depressed we can pray. In every season and in every situation we can pray and the psalms provide us with words and images and actual prayers that can deepen and expand our prayers and life.
By looking at both David’s life and his prayers, the author Walter Bruggeman has said that there are 3 phases we go through in life. There are times of Orientation when things are going well, but they don’t last forever and problems come which leads to periods of Disorientation. These periods also don’t last forever and in time God lifts us up and moves us into a season of Reorientation. If we place them on a circle we see what this flow and rhythm of life looks like and we can see it clearly at work in the life of David.
As a child, David was announced as king and spent years growing in his faith and trust in God. Things were good for David and his psalms and prayers reflected that. This was a time of orientation and we see what this is like from
We all go through seasons where things are going well and we are generally happy and thankful and learn a lot about God and how God works and we grow in our faith and celebrate what God is doing.
But then trouble comes and this leads to a period of disorientation. Maybe it is when disease enters our lives or affects our loved ones. Maybe it is a job loss and season of unemployment. Maybe it is a period of depression or despair where it is a struggle each day to just get up and get going. Maybe it is a time like David where he was confronted by the reality and consequences of his own sin. During these times of disorientation our prayers might be dark, somber or even angry.
But these seasons give way to times of reorientation when the darkness lifts and we are able to see the light and the hope that God provides.
This season can lead us to a place of new orientation and life but what often happens is that we get content or complacent here and in time problems come and we move to another season of disorientation and then God brings us out of that into a period of reorientation and so this cycle continues over and over again through our lives.
Being human means that we go through this circle of seasons and follow these rhythms or orientations and most of us might be able to place ourselves somewhere in this cycle today. In fact, I want to encourage you to think about where you might be on this circle because where we place ourselves might determine how the psalms can help us pray. Here’s how it works. If you are in a season of orientation, then the psalms of orientation might be where we find our voice and as we read these psalms they resonate with our life and spirit. As we read these psalms they can give new depth and insight to our lives of prayer.
If we are going through a period of disorientation, those psalms and prayers might give us permission to be very real with God. These psalms include a full range of emotions including anger, frustration, brokenness and pain and as we read them they allow us to be more honest with God then we have ever been before. When we come out of that darkness we see once again the power and grace of God at work in our lives and it is here that the psalms of reorientation might help us express our incredible thanks and appreciation for who God is and what God has done for us.
In the next steps we have provided for you psalms in each of these seasons so that if we can identify where we are in life we might be able to find songs, prayers and statements of life and faith that might resonate with where we are. Again, I would encourage you to do jut that; identify where you are in life and faith and explore the full range of human emotion and experience we find in the psalms and use those prayers to deepen and expand your own prayer life. Sometimes we get stagnant in our prayers and find ourselves using the same words and phrases over and over again, but if we are willing to use these prayers of David, we might find new expressions of faith and trust that will expand our prayers and enrich our lives.
Let me share some final comments about using the psalms in our prayer life. One thing to remember is that we don’t have to use an entire psalm in our prayers. Sometimes it will just be a verse or two that will speak to us and it’s ok to use just those verses. Jesus did this. When Jesus was on the cross he used just a few verses of Psalm 22:1 in his prayers. It’s good to read the entire psalm because sometimes the psalms of disorientation end with words of faith and trust we need to hear that but they may not be words we are ready to pray.
It’s also important for us to understand that the psalms of disorientation sometimes called for vengeance and violence against our enemies with some very strong words. While we might feel this way at times, we need to remember that Jesus calls us to move beyond those feelings to places of grace and mercy for our enemy so while it is completely ok to say to God that this is how we feel, we also need to ask God to lead us to the place where He wants us to be, and that might be a place where we offer forgiveness to those who stand against us.
The life and words of David teach us that being human in important in our prayers. No matter what we might be thinking or feeling, the psalms give us permission to be real before God and share with him our raw emotions, the important thing for us is to always keep reading and moving to the place where God wants us to be. David did this. David not only kept moving, he kept praying and he kept reading and writing his prayers. So when David finally came to the end of his life, he may have ended where he began, with the understanding that the Lord was his shepherd each and every day.
Would you join me this most familiar and powerful psalm of David:
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil; for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life;
And I will dwell] in the house of the LORD Forever
Prayer Part 2 ~ Being Human
1. Read the following Psalms this week and consider how to use them in your life of prayer.
• Monday – Psalm 84:1-12
• Tuesday – Psalm 145: 1-13
• Wednesday – Psalm 9:1-10
• Thursday – Psalm 31:1-5
• Friday – Psalm 22:1-11
• Saturday – Psalm 130:1-8
• Sunday – Psalm 23
2. We all cycle through times of Orientation, Disorientation, and Reorientation. Identify where you might be in this cycle and allow the following Psalms to lead you in your prayers.
Psalm 1, 8, 14
33, 37, 104, 111
112, 119, 131
Psalm 13, 22, 32
35, 50, 51, 73, 74
79, 81, 86, 88, 130
Psalm 23, 27, 30
34, 40, 65, 66, 91
100, 103, 113, 117
124, 135, 138, 150
3. While David was a faithful man, he was also flawed and the full range of human emotions and experiences can be seen in him and his prayers. What human emotion or experience do you have a difficult time bringing before God? How can the psalms help you do this more faithfully?
4. If nothing else, David’s life reminds us that God is always willing to give us another chance. Thank God this week for the second chance He is giving you and ask Him to help you make the most of it.