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Using the Psalms as Prayers

By L. L. Larkins, author of the Psalm Hymns series

I’m one of those pray-without-thinking-too-much-about-it sort of people.

I pray about parking spaces.  I walk around the lake near our home and just talk to God about the birds and turtles, the sunrise and sunset, about family struggles and many, many things. Often, the welling up of joy and surprises in nature and certain wonders of those who pass by me or walk near me make me cry in praises and gratitude.

I thank God for this and that.  I wrestle with God in tears about people and issues, and my wants and needs. Sometimes beautiful poetry will come to me in that space. I wonder if walking with the Lord is simply talking to Him about everything and listening closely enough to follow as He talks back to us.

It’s the week of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the celebration of Jesus Christ’s resurrection.

When I was struggling in a really dark spot in my life, the Psalms became deep wells of teaching for me. Once, when I was apologizing to the Lord for dragging Him through the mud and cow patties with me, sorry for bringing down His holy name to such a low level, I saw an image of him sitting next to me in a mud puddle, cross-legged, and grinning at me with a missing tooth. Half naked, and smeared with something disgusting, he said so very gently, “I’ve been dragged through much worse. You think I’m afraid of sitting with you in this mess? There’s nothing you can do to me that hasn’t been done before.”

In meditation and prayer in the Psalms, I began to understand what people had prayed for years ago when they were betrayed or when they had experienced insufferable losses, or when they suffered in post-trauma over their sins or others sins against them. That was when I began setting the five books of biblical Psalms to music that I could sing and remember.

Many of the Psalm Hymns are praises as we know and understand them to be, with the power to lift our minds out of our circumstances and place them on the Lord.  But, in addition to these types of Psalms, there are those that offer experiences of grief, pleas to God as to a doctor or a priest or a king, someone who has the power and credentials to save us.

Psalms also include some moments of pedantic teaching to engage our minds even more than our emotions. Each of these Psalms also offers some striking spiritual landmarks for life. A way to get up and go forward in trust and faith.

Psalm 78 starts out this way, sung to the tune: On Jordan’s Stormy Banks (Bound for the Promised Land)

My people, hear my words of teaching;

Listen to my words.

I begin with a parable of old

And will speak to the hidden yore, —

These are things our people have heard and known,

They are things ancestors told.

Should we try to hide them from our own

Descendants, who need to know?

Psalms can be specified as prayers to God.

But, because praying is also a communal form of conversation, the Psalms are definitely bright bits of meditation and self-talk. They were given to God’s people for the purpose of spiritual reasoning with one’s self, self-counsel. So, in that way, it is a means of God praying back to our hearts and minds and will. The Psalms are truly a two-way conversation with the Lord.

The words of this Psalm 78 informs me that there are hidden treasures and parables in the Psalms and in the stories of our spiritual ancestors that we need to know and we need to pass along to our littles and our teens asking those deep questions.

Moses wrote Psalm 91, which for all the seriousness of Moses’ reflection, I have aligned with the Doxology.  Most of the Psalms were written by King David, or by someone, a scribe in his court maybe, so it was interesting to me to get a King’s take on God’s law when people where saying law makes no difference to a walk of faith. I really struggled, you know, with what I believed about law and whether following the ten commandments was legalism. Through the Psalm Hymns, an understanding about God’s heart for how the commandments offer healthy limits, and a healthy community was forged.

The law wasn’t a mode to salvation, but it was a mode to loving one’s neighbor, a mode to justice and mercy and self-restraint, a mode to honoring our Maker.

A verse of Psalm 119 about the value of the law sung to the tune: Blessed Assurance, Jesus is Mine

O, that I sought You in Your commands!

Shame would release its hold of my hand.

I would have praised Your judgments in all;

I would have seen You, righteous for all.

You rule uprightly; this I discern!

Now I observe Your statutes and learn;

Oh, do not leave me, LORD, take my hand!

Do not forsake me!  LORD, help me stand.

There are Psalms that recount how the waters were separated from parts of the earth and put into boundaries, like in Psalm 24, or Psalm 104. Here is a verse of Psalm 24 sung to the hymn, At Calvary (It starts out, “Years I spent in vanity and pride. . .” did you ever sing that one in church?)

All the fullness of the earth begun,

Land and spaciousness for everyone,

All of it including what may come:

It is the Lord’s!

For He founded it upon the seas, drawing limits,

Drawing floods and springs.

Who shall come to Him, ascend His hill?

It is the Lord’s!

A verse of Psalm 104 talks about this, too, sung to the great hymn by Isaac Watts, I Sing The Mighty Power of God. 

You covered earth with waters deep

As with a garment drenched;

Above the mountain heights they stayed.

Rebuked, the seas retrench;

As voices of Your thunder played,

They hastened to their place!

Now, far away they rest in pools

And valleys where they stay.

These Psalms are wonderful teaching tools for a Bible study or a music ensemble because when the words of scripture are combined with music, our spirits soar to the heights in mysterious ways, and with the soaring of a spirit comes questions and mysteries to talk about and pray about.

One music group used the Caroling Through the Psalms book during Advent season. 

They spent the summer arranging and building parts and solos, and in the season before Christmas, they sang on the mall, at retirement homes, and in churches in their community. It was a life-changing experience to anchor their modern holiday experiences in the past prayers and testimonies of others.

God as my judge, and our judge — so often prayed to in this capacity in the Psalms, reminds me to expect justice and mercy from Him, but there is more! Did you know there is a Psalm written specifically to judges who do not judge righteously? Here is the first verse of Psalm 82 sung to The Battle Hymn of the Republic (and it only gets better).

Standing in the great assembly,

God presides and takes His place;

He is rendering His judgment

To the gods of earth’s dismay.

His decree begins by reasoning:

“How long have you displaced

The weak and fatherless?”

God presides to judge the jurists;

Earth is trembling in her footsteps;

God inherits all the nations.

Our God is over all!

To bolster confidence in depression, Psalm 27 centers me every time I sing it and amazingly, I can sing it to several tunes! Immortal, Invisible works brilliantly. Any version of Away in a Manger works wonderfully, and I will reserve the best tune in a minor key as listed in Caroling Through the Psalms.

Caroling Through the Psalms

 

The Lord is my Light and my constant Estate!
Then whom shall I fear when His Stronghold is safe?
Though evil advances against me for ill
To slander, devour me all will be well.

My rivals and enemies stumble and fall.
Though armies besiege me, I fear none at all;
Though warriors may shake down a valiant defense,
Then yes, God alone is my sheer confidence.

This one thing I seek and I ask from the Lord,
To hold my insurance for life at the Source
To gaze on His beauty to seek His embrace
For here in my trouble He will keep me safe.

Another Psalm to reach into the core of my heart and pull out the dark secrets of worry and doubt is Psalm 139. I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  I praise God every time I sing Psalm 139, and I can sing it now to the tune Open My Eyes that I May See this way.

What if I ride the wings of dawn?
What if I move to seas beyond?
Yet, even there your power abides—
and there your hand will be my guide.
What if I isolate in gloom?
begging the night to be my womb—
Yet, even there Your Presence shines!

Where shall I hide?

You made the inward parts of me—
You know my body’s mysteries.
Knitted my limbs in my mother’s womb—
Wonders performed, there’s none like You!
Your workmanship is marvelous—
Deep in my soul, I know it is!
No-one knows how You wove my frame—

Physics of God!

I can also sing this Psalm to the rollicking favorite of old town Christians, Wonderful Grace of Jesus, which Psalm 139 is also arranged for in Book Five of the Psalm Hymns.

When you worry about the power and legacy of evil people who seem to cheat death, Psalm 49 explains the path of these financial estates and those who follow the words of evil counsel, there is a Psalm for that. Sing it to the tune, It Came Upon a Midnight Clear.

Hear this, all nations of the world;
You great and small in heart,
You rich and poor together hear
My wisdom on the harp!
My meditation shall be clear as understanding prose:
The proverb and the riddle sing
As I explain them both:

Why should I fear when danger comes

Confounded enemies,
The ones who put their trust in wealth

And boast iniquities?
For no one’s assets can redeem

The price of human life;

Each costly soul is ransomed by

Our God who sets its price.

 

What could we pay that God would trade

To let us out-live time?

Immortal like, enjoying life

In rich estates sublime?
For one can see that wise ones die,
And fools, they all pass away.
They leave their wealth to other hands.
Their homes become their graves.

Estates are named to flatter pride

Of pompous heirs below

But generations pass on by
Those silent wealthy bones.

Despite one’s wealth, the flesh won’t last;
For humans die like herds;

There goes the path of the arrogant,
And those who follow their words.

In Book Five, you will find the Pilgrim Psalms, the Psalms of Ascent for tours to the Holy Land. But in each and every book, you will find Psalms that are simple prayers and pleas to the Lord for help and rescue.  Like Psalm 88.  It can be sung to Lord, Plant My Feet On Higher Ground (I’m Pressing on the Upward Way.)

You are my Lord, the God Who saves;
You rescue when I cry in faith.
Oh, hear another prayer to You;
Oh, turn toward my anguished soul.

I’m overwhelmed with troubles, Lord;
See how my breath in whispers pours.
They’ve counted me among the dead;
And lacking strength, my friends have fled.

One of my favorite praise Psalms in Psalm 147, sung to the tune, Wonderful Love of Jesus! (When We All Get to Heaven, what a day of rejoicing that will be!). If you have difficulties remembering these old hymn tunes, you can look them up on YouTube or in Hymnary.org. Here is a link for this song. https://hymnary.org/text/sing_the_wondrous_love_of_jesus_sing_his

Praise the LORD! O Praise the LORD from heaven!

Praise Him from the bluing atmosphere!

All His angels—hosts of armies—praise him!

Praise Him far and near!

Praise the LORD—sun and moon and all you

Twinkling starry crowns!

Praise the LORD! Every vapor—

Every particle, resound!

 

Let His creatures everywhere give praise—

For their bodies and their very lives.

His command is their existence—placing

Each where it survives!

His decrees are forever; they will never

Overturn or end.

Praise the LORD from the earth, and

From the ocean depths ascend!

Finally, I will leave you with one of our most beloved songs of victory and praise, Psalm 150. 

It is sung to the old hymn, Love Lifted Me (I was sinking deep in sin, far from the peaceful shore).

Hallelujah! Praise the Lord!

Celebrate God in might!

Praise Him for celestial power—

Praise Him for heaven’s gates!

In His sanctuary—praise—sounding the trumpet loud!

For His all-surpassing greatness—praise Him now!

Praise Him with strings, sweet melodies—

Praise Him with drums and bells— loud jubilance!

Praise Him with dance—pipes—will you praise?

Praise Him with the cymbals’ clashing—

Praise! Praise! Praise!

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Coronavirus, dying well, Faith, featureed, L.L. Larkins, op-ed, Psalm 4, Psalm Hymns, Replete

Raise Up the Scientists & Raise Up the Faithful!

By L. L. Larkins, author of the Psalm Hymns

Have you been thoroughly confused by tuning in and hearing paradoxes like this in the news?

  • “Rest and be good to yourself.”
    • “Keep busy. Excercise. Be productive.”
  • “Post cartoons on social media for the depressed. Laughter helps people cope.”
    • “We’ll go down in history as the nation who died laughing, singing, and eating-with rolls of toilet paper stored in our shower stalls.”
  • “Together, we will get through this.”
    • “The only way to get through this is to shut our borders and take care of ourselves.”
  • “The President let the wrong people go. Losing these valuable assets put us in jeopardy of personnel, policies, and programs”
    • “No-one could possibly be prepared for a once in a generation pandemic of unknown origins.”

If you are like me (and I know I am) these soundbites provide me an inspiration to humble myself, to pray, and to research. When I find a line on an answer, I like to enter the fray with the new understanding.  There are others who have history, many facts, and a great understanding who prefer to keep their own counsel.

Yet, a Great Leveling Factor is Occurring

A leveling factor is occurring in our midst and among the nations of the world. Can we consider a few of these?

  • The smart ones are deprived of answers bringing them low. 
  • The defenseless and poor are watching their organic gardens and farms and ranches provide feasts to eat in safety.
  • The military cannot see the enemy.
  • The wealth of the rich does not help them survive.

The real question is, while world administrators gain access to humanity by following and listening in, and as they start to implement long-lasting laws and social regulations, will believers offer the hand of their Creator-Sustainer to others who need to know or will they capitulate to empty soundbites and dead-end platitudes?

Science has now shown that Covid-19 is a protein, rather than a virus. Thus, vinegar does not kill it. Hand-washing and other cleaners are still the best defense. Also, do not shake out plastic bags, paper bags, or clothing because the proteins can enter and live in the air for up to three hours.

We can only Give what we Know. 

Here’s the funnel. People can only give what we possess and know to be true. We can only know what we have submitted to learn.  We can only learn what we’ve been taught.  We can only be taught if we have teachers.

But, even scientists disagree.

  • “The mystery protein properties of the virus DNA is bad news.”
  • “There’s a patent on the virus.  Only man-made things can be patented.”
  • “There could be a resurgence.”
  • “Don’t take the anti-virus vaccine.”
  • “We’ve got to follow the science.”
  • “Alcohol is the best sanitizer.”
  • “Peroxide is the best sanitizer.”
  • “Bleach is the best sanitizer.”
  • “Bleach was invented to kill American troops in WWII.”
  • “Vinegar and lavender are the best sanitizers.”
  • “The virus is the Evangelical’s fault because they don’t believe in science.” 
  • “It’s China’s fault.”

Sometimes in our home, we pray for those we love.  Sometimes we pray for just ourselves. Sometimes we pray for the world.  Today, we prayed that the research would increase and scientific answers would be found. We also prayed for faith to increase. And, yet we continue to hear about wild ends of the spectrum.

  • “They should open every political meeting with prayer.”
  • “A third of the world could perish.”
  • “My loved one went to heaven this morning.”
  •  “Those who praise the Lord will be spared.”
  • “Christians have a greater rate of illness because they run to help and they aren’t afraid of death.”
  •  “Isolate and protect your elderly.”
  • “Anyone over 80 will not get standard medical care.”

So, we know that life will change soon.  It has already changed. Look around. Make a list. It is changing moment by moment like it did on 9/11. Like it did with the Spanish Flu (sic) and the Black Plague and is doing in Africa with the plague of locusts. How could a global pandemic not change the world as we know it? 

We are being humbled.  But, as we are being humbled, why do only a few look up from our shoes and stand in confidence?

An expert criticized the current administration in America today: We are not looking into the distance. We are only looking at the two feet in front of us in the headlights.

Maybe we are only looking at our own wallets and our own stockpiles.

But, how about this form of modern Palm Sunday church service announced on the news?

“A church provided their community paper bags of stuffed Easter eggs for the children with no human interaction.” Some say, “Resurrection Day is not Easter. Easter is a celebration of the goddess of fertility.” Others ask, “What harm is there in sugary treats and celebrating Easter egg hunts?” It is easy to throw up your hands!

There is no-one good like God.  We can only hope to be faithful in a time of trouble because of the faithfulness shown to us by someone gone before. Has someone offered compassion and wisdom to you? Practice it. Offer these gifts to someone else who needs them.

Have you only known bad examples and poor models of nurture in your life? Do the opposite. Do what your heart is wooing you to do. Maybe it isn’t even about serving others first.

The Biggest Answer to this Life has Been-Always Will Be-Walking with God.

There is a fountain of living water from which you can drink. The water originates from the Source of Life!

When we accept the age-old story that there is a Power in the highest heaven, seated on His throne Who searched throughout the world for righteousness, and seeing none, He sent kindness and healing for us by His Son’s death to take upon Himself our lawful punishment of death. After the crucifixion, Christ descended into hell and freed the captives there, and then He ascended into heaven to mediate for us and offer continuing salvation and eternal life for anyone who believes in this substitution for the forgiveness of their sins. 

When the Judge Himself provides a Substitute for a Convicted Man’s Sentence

Yes, we should sit up and listen, but we should also be humbled when the judge allows for an innocent substitute to receive the forty lashes we deserve. Why would we care? Because the substitute-volunteer of the judge’s own son.  I personally, cannot imagine any judge or father allowing such a thing unless the judge had made the law, underscored the punishment, and had the power over life and death in order to raise up his son from the grave.

Psalm 4 Try singing to the tune: DAY BY DAY and with Each Passing Moment 

Yes, the Lord has set apart the faithful,
For Himself, the Lord will hear my call.    

Oh my soul, you tremble, but be careful;

Chill your anger, be direct and still.
On your bed, reflect on your condition;        

Offer up your righteous sacrifice!
Trust the Lord, entrust to Him the outcome,

Trust the journey for He holds your life.

Many doubt and savor speculation:

“Who can show us any lasting good?”
Now, look on with favor, Lord, and save us,

Evidence of this residing joy.

My own heart knows deep resilient laughter,

Introduced by Your creative play.
This is joy much better than their feasting,

That their grain and harvest wines convey.

I will rest and I will dream reclining,

Peacefully, in sleep, I am restored;
For I know that You alone are faithful,

You’re without exception, Lord of Lords.

This sweet safety isn’t circumstantial,

For Your care is night and day supreme;

Making me, Your servant, live in safety,

You renew my life, increasing peace.

(David’s lament for evening worship with strings, verses 2-4)