The Psalms have been the worship and prayer book for followers of Yahweh (the ancient Hebrew name for God) throughout the centuries. As we begin to explore these ancient scriptures, you are invited to join in this worshipful and prayerful practice by journeying through the psalms this fall. You may want to read and pray through one psalm a day or spend the whole week in one of the psalms or part of a psalm from the reading schedule that week. The reading schedule is posted on our website or you can pick up a physical copy at one of our Sunday services.
Each week a blog post will assist us in thinking more deeply about different themes found in the Psalms. Along with this, various media, such as music and art work, will accompany the blog post to enhance our explorations.
[Painting is "Psalm 63" by South African artist Margrit Prigge.]
If there is one thing that I have learned over the past couple of months praying with the Psalms, it is that these prayers are marked by a deep intimacy with and a desire for God. The Psalmist is desperate to know God and for God to know him. I have been trying to read the Psalms in order, and there have been a few times where a Psalm has hit me at the right moment. This happened a few weeks ago, when I read Psalm 63 while on my bed before going to sleep. It begins:
You, God, are my God,
earnestly I seek you;
I thirst for you,
my whole being longs for you,
in a dry and parched land
where there is no water.
The phrase “my God” denotes a relationship between the psalmist and the Lord that is intimate, passionate, and personal. God belongs to the Psalmist and the Psalmist belongs to God. This is not a God who is abstract or remote from the world, but a God who is present, near, and listening. This is a God who loves us more than we can ever possibly imagine, a God who seeks us and wants us to seek Him. This is a God who wanted us to know Him so much that He came to earth to be with us—to save and redeem us. The psalmist earnestly and daily seeks God, just as people in an intimate relationship, whether a friendship, familial or romantic relationship desire to know one another. The psalmist is also desperate for God. Imagine being unbearably thirsty in a dry and parched land and how desperate you would be for a glass of water to quench your thirst. That is how earnestly the Psalmist wants the Lord.
Have you ever felt longing that affects your entire body? We all want to be known, we all have deep desires, many of them unmet in this lifetime. I am intimately familiar with the longing reflected in this line: “My whole being longs for you.” When reading Psalm 63 that night a few weeks ago, I felt the Holy Spirit work within me to reorient that longing toward God. My longing to be deeply known and loved, whether in community or in marriage, are all reflective of a deeper longing that I have for my Creator. My God, my Creator, is my beloved, and I am His.
Coincidentally, my professor at Regent College, Ross Hastings, used Psalm 63 in a recent lecture in our Pastoral Care class a week or so after I had prayed through this psalm. He quoted Derek Kidner who said, “there may be other Psalms that equal this outpouring of devotion; few, if any, surpass it.” In the lecture, Ross said that this Psalm “reflects the wonder of the Psalmist’s covenant relationship with God...this expression of covenant relationship declares the rock solid reality within which the ups and downs of the experience of relationship with God or intimacy with God can be lived out. The important issue here is that the stability of the covenant relationship encourages us to keep pursuing that intimacy through thick and thin. What is equally important is that the hunger we experience fuels our passion for fresh revelations of His glory.”
The rest of the Psalm reads:
2 I have seen you in the sanctuary
and beheld your power and your glory.
3 Because your love is better than life,
my lips will glorify you.
4 I will praise you as long as I live,
and in your name I will lift up my hands.
5 I will be fully satisfied as with the richest of foods;
with singing lips my mouth will praise you.
6 On my bed I remember you;
I think of you through the watches of the night.
7 Because you are my help,
I sing in the shadow of your wings.
8 I cling to you;
your right hand upholds me.
9 Those who want to kill me will be destroyed;
they will go down to the depths of the earth.
10 They will be given over to the sword
and become food for jackals.
11 But the king will rejoice in God;
all who swear by God will glory in him,
while the mouths of liars will be silenced.
I have found great comfort particularly with verses 6 to 8. Something else I have noticed these past few months with the Psalms is that many of these prayers happen at night, whether they are prayers of lament, praise, joy, or longing and devotion. I am not sure what it is about night—those moments in the dark as we lay on our beds reflecting on our days. At night we are finally quiet and lay still, with no distractions. Our minds and hearts can go all over the place and perhaps that can bring up this range of emotions and prayers. Whatever it may be about night time, I have found myself continuing to pray through this Psalm, especially in times of loneliness and longing. I have felt the Holy Spirit meet me, and pray that He clings to me and that His right hand upholds me. This does not mean that my desires for things like community and marriage have magically gone away, but this Psalm has helped me to pray about those desires in a deeper way, a way that helps me reorient those desires toward God, who is the only one who can truly fulfill me. Nothing will ever separate me (or you) from His love [Romans 8:38-39]. I also find great comfort in knowing that Jesus Christ felt these emotions of loneliness and longing while on earth. And now, through the Spirit, Christ comes alongside and comforts us and, as verse 5 says, He will fully satisfy us as with the richest of foods—the comforting and filling type of food that meets our hunger and helps us sleep peacefully and satisfied at night.