There are times when it’s fairly easy to trust in God’s love, to rejoice in his salvation, and to sing because he has been good to us. I think of times in my life when I was overwhelmed by God’s blessings, when I could hardly believe how good my life was. My heart was filled with thanks and praise.
Yet, there are other times, aren’t there? Times when life is hard, when sorrow fills our hearts, when we wonder if God is even there for us.
As we read Psalm 2 today, our context is quite different. We no longer have human kings ruling over us. Moreover, we have come to understand that Psalm 2 points ahead to the one who was fully the Son of God. Thus, when we read verse 12, we hear a call to kiss, that is, to submit to Jesus, the Son of God.
Psalm 12 begins with a dire description of a culture on the road to ruin: “[T]here is no longer anyone who is godly; the faithful have disappeared from humankind” (12:1). As he continues, the psalmist sees neighbors lying to each other and violence done to the helpless (12:2, 5). “On every side the wicked prowl, as vileness is exalted among humankind” (12:8). The bonds that hold society together are being severed as people lose the ability to determine right from wrong.
Sound familiar? Have you ever found yourself checking CNN online and thinking that the godly are disappearing and the faithful have vanished from the earth?
Psalm 11 explains God’s relationship to justice in terms of love. Verse 7 reads, “For the LORD is righteous; he loves righteous deeds.” This translation is possible, though it could also be rendered, “For the just LORD loves justice” or “For the righteous LORD loves righteous deeds.” The Hebrew uses the adjective tzaddiq in reference to the Lord and the plural noun tzedaqot to depict that which he loves. Even without knowing Hebrew, you can see the close relationship between these two words, which are based on the tz-d-q root.
Psalm 10 begins by wondering why the Lord lets the wicked do their evil deeds and even prosper because of them. The wicked think God is absent or, at any rate, not paying attention to what they’re doing. But the psalm writer knows that God is there and that he is, in fact, watching. Thus the psalmist cries out for the Lord to punish the wicked, to give them the justice they deserve.
The psalm ends on a different, tender note. The Lord pays attention, not only to the wicked, but also to their victims.
When my wife became pregnant with our second child, she and I were overjoyed. We had hoped and prayed for another baby and were thrilled to know one was on the way. When we learned that our baby was a girl, we started thinking of a name for her. We decided upon Kara (pronounced CARE-uh), not only because we liked the sound of that name, but also because it was an Anglicized version of the Greek word meaning “joy.” We felt great joy over the pending birth of our little girl and wanted our joy to be captured by her name.
We never realized, however, just how perfect this name would be. Even when she was a baby, Kara rejoiced in life. She is still one of the most enthusiastic, fun, and, indeed, joyful people I know. It’s almost as if her name summarizes the essence of her existence. If you know that “Kara” means joy, and you know my daughter’s name is Kara, then you know her.
In many churches, the word “stewardship” has a particular meaning, and it is often heard with dread. “Stewardship” is a code word for what is elsewhere called “development” or “advancement” or, more bluntly, “fund raising.” When stewardship season rolls around in your church, it’s time to get our your check book (or credit card, or, now, donation app).
Yet, stewardship includes so much more than giving to your church, however importance that is. Psalm 8 celebrates real, basic stewardship. The psalm begins by praising the majesty of God as revealed in creation. Yet the glory of God in the universe accentuates the apparent insignificance of human beings: “What are human beings that you are mindful of them?” (8:4). The startling answer to this question comes from the very creation of humanity, as revealed in Genesis 1 and underscored in Psalm 8. God, in fact, created humanity “a little lower than God” and “crowned them with glory and honor” (8:5). Moreover, he delegated to human beings the care of his creation: “You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet” (8:6). God made us to be his stewards who manage his creation for his purposes and benefit.
My friend Tom was born with defective kidneys. Thus, on a fairly regular basis, he has to go in for a kidney test. The doctors want to see if his kidneys are functioning well enough for Tom to continue on without invasive medical treatment. So far, so good. But, when it’s time for his kidney test, Tom is understandably nervous.
How about you? Are you nervous about your kidney test? Now, before you email me to say that you aren’t having such a medical procedure, let me hasten to say that I’m not thinking of the sort of thing Tom has to endure periodically. Rather, I’m translating Psalm 7:9 in an overly literal way. We read, “[You] test the minds and hearts, O righteous God” (7:9).
I grew up in a culture, church, and family that didn’t have much room for sadness. If people in my life were feeling sad, it was my responsibility to “cheer them up.” As a Christian, I knew I was supposed to “Rejoice in the Lord, always!” God was the one who wiped away every tear. Thus, sadness was inconsistent, not only with the cultural norms of my tribe, but also with our understanding of authentic Christianity. Real Christians were happy, not sad. They always had smiles on their faces. And they certainly didn’t flood their bed with tears.
What is prayer? The most basic answer says that prayer is talking to God. Sometimes we talk to God through singing. Sometimes we talk silently with words that are not actually expressed. But, for most of us, most of the time, prayer is talking to God.
Yet, there are times when our words fail us. These may be times of ecstasy when we cannot find words to communicate our joy (for example 1 Peter 1:8). More commonly, we run out of words in times of turmoil and struggle, times when we feel discouraged and hopeless. Can we pray in times like these, without words?
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