In the NRSV, Psalm 41:1 reads, “Happy are those who consider the poor; the LORD delivers them in the day of trouble.” The English verb “to consider” rightly captures the sense of the underlying Hebrew verb, which means, “to pay attention, to ponder” (sakhal in the Hiphil). This verb conveys the sense of focusing one’s mind and heart on something or someone.
When I read Psalm 40:1, I am immediately reminded of how hard it is for me to wait patiently for anything, including the Lord. I confess that I find waiting to be frustrating if not excruciating. I’m one of those people who, when approaching the checkout lines in the grocery story, carefully calculates the wait times in the various lines so that I don’t have to waste one second of my busy life standing around. Inevitably, of course, I get in the line behind the person who needs a “Price check on 6.” As I wait, I can feel my stomach churning with anxious impatience.
In Psalm 39, David ponders the meaning of life in light of his suffering. He considers how short life can be (39:5) and how readily we fill it with emptiness. We go around “like a mere phantom” as we “rush about, heaping up wealth” (39:6). This verse is reminiscent of Ecclesiastes, which reflects upon the vanity of life. In fact, the word hebel, translated as “vanity” or “meaningless” in the NIV, and used thirty-eight times in Ecclesiastes, is the word behind “in vain” in Psalm 39:6.
Have you ever worked so hard and so long that you made yourself sick? Have you ever found yourself in a situation where your colleagues and even your friends at work were avoiding you, perhaps even whispering behind your back? If so, then you can relate to Psalm 38.
Psalm 37:4 is one of those verses that Christians can twist to suit their own fancy. For example, I have heard some preachers claim, on the basis of this verse, that God will give us anything we desire. If we simply “claim it,” God will give us mansions, yachts, luxury cars, and, well, you name it. To be sure, God can and does bless us materially. But to argue from Psalm 37:4 that “God will give you anything you want” misses the whole point of the verse.
Psalm 36 reminds us that God wants to bless us, to give us good things, to fill us with his joy. This can happen anywhere, whether you’re sitting in your grandparents’ breakfast room, or in your office at work, or even on the subway as you commute.
How long, Lord?
This may be one of the most common questions offered to God in prayer. Almost all of us know too well the experience of crying out for God’s help but hearing or receiving nothing.
Two decades ago, the song “From a Distance” streaked to the top of the charts. Bette Midler’s moving version of this song not only sold in the millions, but also won a Grammy for Song of the Year in 1991. The lyrics celebrated a peaceful world as seen from far away: “From a distance we all have enough, and no one is in need. And there are no guns, no bombs, and no disease, no hungry mouths to feed.” The chorus introduced God into this idyllic existence: “God is watching us. God is watching us. God is watching us from a distance.”
Psalm 33:3 reminds us that we’re to use well the gifts God has given us. If we have musical talent, then we should learn to “play skillfully” for the Lord. In reality, this takes years of diligent practice. Though it might be tempting for people with lots of natural musical ability to coast on their laurels, Psalm 33 encourages them to work hard on developing their skills. Yet their commitment to excellence must not keep them from singing “with joy” (v. 3).
We’ve all heard the expression: Confession is good for the soul. Today, we’ll examine a psalm that demonstrates the truth of this saying. Moreover, it invites us to confess for the sake of our own souls.