Life is full of journeys. Some are life changing. Some tedious. Some challenging. Some painful. Some exhiliarating. Some short. One is life long.
We journey with many different companions too. Some are by our side most of the`way. Some we encounter briefly. Some are flesh and blood. Others are moods and feelings, health or sickness. Some times we journey in great numbers. Often we journey alone.
The psalms all 150 of them have something profound and real to say to us as we journey. Some are to be sung along the way. Some will speak into the depths of our fears. Some are like a hand to hold and some are as a silent companion when words are beyond us.
They are steeped in history, Jesus, would have known them from childhood, and they are still set to music today in fresh expressions of appreciation and celebration of their riches .`Psalms like the 23rd still accompany many on their last journey and continue to bring strength and courage to those`left behind.
That said, they are not always an easy read or all sweetness and`light. They are about the human condition in all its strength and all its fraility. It is for that reason they are still so relevant .
St Benedict for one made the psalms an integral part of the Rule of life All the`psalms were read or sung each week. The monks encountered all the despairing, doubtful, bitter, vindictive, self pitying, nationalistic, and angry voices in the Psalter. It is not that every sentiment is admirable, but that in praying the Psalms, they and we confront ourselves as we really are. The Psalms are a reality check to keep prayer from becoming sentimental, superficial, or detached from the real world full of real people struggling with their relationship with God, with one another and with their own limitations.
The monks would have known the psalms by heart so lets start out journey by learning one today
Psalm 117 is the shortest psalm and makes a beautiful prayer of affirmation, and praise . Make up your own tune and sing it sometimes too!'
'Praise the Lord, all nations, extol him all you peoples: for his love protecting us is strong, the Lord's faithfulness is everlasting.'
Let's start at the very beginning..a very good place to start! Words from the Sound of Music apply very well to the psalms. The first 3 verses of Psalm 1 are a gateway through which we go as we begin our journey. They give us a vital piece of advice essential to take with us Use a map. The map which is the law of the Lord- (that is the whole of Scripture.) Happy say the psalmist are those who meditate on it. To delight in the law – is not just to look at the scenery as we journey but to take it deep within us and tuck it away if you like to bring out when life throws up challenges and disappointments and opportunities. If we do that then our journey will be fruitful, we will bear fruit in due season. We will have a deep stability and rootedness in God which is as secure as the roots of a tree.
Read the first 3 verses again and draw a picture of a tree with the roots showing. Write under each root words that symbolise where you find your security. On the branches write where you feel your life is fruitful. On the ground draw a few leaves that have fallen from your tree. Pray about each one – the ones that you have been glad to let go off and the ones you grieve for.
Loving God to delight in your word is to be blessed with rich nourishment for lifes journey. May I draw closer to you day by day as I read your psalms and embrace your will for my life. I pray in Jesus name Amen.
The opening verses of this song are both a prayer for protection and an affirmation of trust. It speaks too of inheritance, which the psalmist partly enjoys now as he celebrates the sense of God being at his right hand but which is ultimately an eternal inheritance. Gods faithfullness is for now and it is forever. The psalmist declares that God is all he has and he celebrates that that is more than enough. His fears are overriden by his belief that God will show him the path of life and trusts that path will lead to the Kingdom of Heaven that Jesus calls us to. If God is our greatest good then we can breathe a huge sigh of relief – we cannot get lost on the journey and we cannot lose the inheritance that Jesus died to bless us with.
Gather on a table if you can all the things that you have inherited in your life. All the things that you would like to leave to others. Spend a few moments enjoying them. Pray too for those whose faith you have inherited and pray for those you would most like to pass your faith on to.
'I love you O Lord' my strength, my rock in whom I take refuge.
Refuge is a big word in the psalms. God is continually called a refuge and how many times do we need that support. It is the only support that we can ultimately rely on when storms hit our journey. When we are exhausted, alone, demoralised, afraid. In Psalm 2 David took refuge in remembering that God would ultimately put things right. In psalm 7 he took refuge in resting in God's wisdom for the plan of his life.
In this psalm Davids refuge is in remembering and thanking God for past blessings. Remembering the times he has been brought safely through another close encounter that has threatened his life. The word he uses for 'love' in the opening line is an unusual Hebrew word that conveys deep emotion and passion. David bares his heart and soul as he declares his love for his God. He doesn't withhold ny part of himself. Every bit of who he is loves every bit of the God who has saved and blessed him.
Whether you are crying out today for God to be your refuge or whether you are singing I love you O Lord write your own psalm that expresses how you feel. It may only be one or two lines or it may be a long heartfelt pouring out of all you have kept inside. Be real. Be honest and be reassured that God hears all you say and all that you cannot find words for.
If we were beginning to feel rather comfortable about the psalms. The words of this psalm bring us back to the reality of suffering. Especially poignant because of Christ words from the cross. It is impossible to read the psalm without reliving the events of Good Friday and feeling something of the agony and horror of the most hideous of deaths – crucifixion.
And yet. And yet..... it ends on a note of hope. Of promise. Of salvation. Of redemption. God has done it cries David. It is finished cries Jesus on the cross. God has stayed by his suffering son. His death wasn't futile. He wasn't forgotten. God is, was and will always be alongside those in pain, bringing some good out of even the most desperate situations. It is hard to hang on to that. It is impossible to see sometimes and it doesn't diminish pain or suffering one iota. It can though somewhere deep within us, save us from ultimte despair. God is at the beginning of our journey as we set out and he is at the end. He is with us through every dark night and every morning when the effort to get up is just too much. There is a spark of hope in that and that hope is resurrection.
Cut out stories from the paper of situations where God seems absent. Light a candle and pray the light of hope into the lives and places before you. Pray too for the light of hope in the places where you are hurting.
I always think of these as the see-saw psalms. The psalmist is in the depths of despair but doesn't really know why. Then for no apparent reason he is up beat again and trusting in Gods love and plans and rejoicing in Gods presence. He starts with a deep deep longing for the waters that will quench his thirst. A thirst that is unbearable. He remembers happier times and comes to the dreadful conclusion that God has forgotten him. His see saw is at its lowest. Then gradually the water he craves begin to trickle and he gently laps up the realistaion that God is still there within reach. He trusts he will bounce back, his see saw will rise high again and life will be balanced, his journey will resume and his well being restored.
We` all have days where for no reason we wake up low. The list of things we have to do is beyond our strength or the emptiness of the day is just too much.we suddenly notice and feel that nothing at all is right with our lives. It's not self pity, it is a mood that can overwhelm and threaten to rob us of all we thought was good and worth living for. Equally we can wake up singing. Have a spring in our step and life is just the best. Mostly we live somewhere in the middle, but it is good to know that we are not alone in our moods. The psalmist has been there and left us a precious mark on our map.
If it is at all possible and you have a park near you – go and play on a see-saw – with a friend. Eyebrows may be raised but be brave! Feel the ups and the downs – the high and the lows. If you are on your own- try a swing instead- for the same feeling of high and low, If you can't then stand tall and then bend down. Give thanks for something good in your life as you stand up and entrust to God something that drags you down when you crouch. If you aren't so mobile- close your eyes and imagine yourself doing it as you pray.
God`as a refuge recurrs in this psalm but the verse I love the most is 'set me on a rock which is higher than I'. How many times that verse has been my prayer when I have been stuck in the rut of my littleness and my limitations. When I have longed to be lifted above the difficulties of life and set on a rock where no problems could`reach me and I could be protected from the assaults of the world for a while.
Of course`wherever we go we take all we are with us but a high place gives us a different perspective and our prayer is that it will be God's perspective. Looking at our lives – where we have come from, where we might be heading from a perspective bigger than our own can be life changing. In small ways drawing us out of our self pity, or despair at how hopeless is everything is. In big ways – from higher up we can see further and with Gods perspective we can see the bigger picture with Gods heart and Gods love. There is a cross in that bigger canvas and an empty tomb. There is a creation that God rejoices over and delights in. There are tears as mistrust and sin darken hearts and lives. There is a light that refuses to go out and which the darlkness can never overcome.
Go to an upper window, or go out to the top of a hill and when you are ready pray
God of all the`world, vast and tiny, set me on a rock that is higher than I and grant me to see through your eyes, to listen with your ears, to rest in your strength, and when the moment comes, to act with the love of your heart. Amen
when we think of commandments they are usually big asks! So this psalm can come as a surprise as we re commanded to be joyful – to sing and to make muisc! Not so easy on own perhaps but as a church and a community – what an opportunity to celebrate our great God and to rejoice. Joy isn't the same as happiness and it isn't something we can pretend or conjure up. But it is a response like gratitude that is tucked away in our hearts and which we can draw on and release as we look to God and away from ourselves.
Verses 8- 10 echo Exodus 20.2 which immediately precede the giving of the 10 commandments. This time just when we think there might be more dos and donts God surprises us again – reassuring us, reminding us of his love and promising to feed us. We don't have to think of commandments as negative and we can see Gods wisdom immersed in them. To be obedient needn't mean struggle. It can mean joy.
Express joy today- play an instrument if you can. Sing your favourite hymn or song. Maybe you have always wanted to join a choir? Now may be the moment.Or book a ticket to a concert. In your own way – Sing aloud to God your strength and shout for joy.
Singing on a long journey can make the time go much quicker and help us forget how tired we are or how much we ache!
In the opening verses, the psalmist uses two contrasting images for God as our protector. A fortress and a feathered wing couldn't be more different. One sounds splendidly solid – the other unbelievably vulnerable. The thick stone walls of the first stop all spears and arrrows. The covering wings of a mother bird are fragile and she only protects her young by bearing the cold and the dangers herself. How can God be both? In Jesus we have a clue to the answer- he is both the King of Kings and the lamb. He conquers death, but only by suffering and dying. It is his wounded hands that heal. A crown of thorns that he wears. An innocent death that he dies for the guilty. If we put our trust in him in – then the end of the psalm promises that the strength and the vulnerbility of God will be his gift to us in trouble. It won't save us from trouble. Our journey won't be all plain sailing. It will though be blessed with and surrounded by the love of our God.
Light a candle and give thanks and pray for all those who supported you in your journey of life so far. Those whose strength has been an inspiration and those whose vulnerabilty has been their gift.
Psalm 137 is one of the most moving and heart felt psalms as we look around the world and see refugees weeping. Hundreds of miles from home, their countries and communities being torn apart and their families living in conditions that make for tears not music.
It is also one of the most brutal psalms if we read it to the end which we don't often do but the longing for revenge and retribution are real, they were real then and they are real now.
For us praying for victims and aggressors is a hard calling. Seeing the faces or worse – the bodies of children on our TV screens makes us angry and desperate to see an end to violence. Balancing justice and retaliation. Trying to be peace makers not warmongers is hard. We`are called to pray even as our hearts are breaking. We are called to pray even when we have hate in our hearts. We are`called to pray using all our emotions, in all our humanity. We dishonour those we pray for if we give any less.
Write down in different colours pencils or paints the words that describe how you feel when you watch the news. If you can't find any words don't be afraid to leave the paper blank and just write on it the places most on your heart.
God of all the places of violence. Of all abandoned homes and all broken families. We bring to you the best and the worst of our emotions and feelings and ask that you would make of them your prayer for your world and all who suffer in it. Amen.
God knit us together in our mothers womb and knows us inside out and through and through.
Every thought that flits through our minds. Every dream we cherish. Every choice we make. Every step of our journey that we take. Our past. Our present. Our future. All are held in Gods hands. All are known in Gods heart. Which can be both comforting and disconcerting. And always beyond our understanding. This is a psalm of ownership. We are Gods children. We always have been and we always will be. It is a psalm that as we near the end of our journey enables us to look back and see how God has journeyed with us even when we felt alone. It is a psalm that allows us to look ahead too and trust that whatever lies over the next hill, or round the next bend we will not have to face without the love and grace and strength of our creator and guide.
If you are a knitter – knit a square and as you knit make each row a prayer. Starting from childhood until now pray over each stage of your life – good and bad. When you have completed the square keep it with as a reminder of all you have come through, all you have enjoyed etc. Knit a second one with each row a hope for the future- for you, your family and friends. If you don't knit – you could learn or you could find another creative way to illustrate your past and your hopes for the future.
like every good concert or firework display the best is saved to last and the psalms end with a great explosion of celebration and praise! They are a commentry on life. An expression of all it is to be human. They are songs, tears, anger, despair, joy,longing, poetry, anguish repentence and gratitude. Every possible experience shared and chronicled for our journey today and for those who will journey after us. Even when the psalmist feels only the absence of God, he still prays as if God were listening. Each outpouring of his heart is part of his ongoing relationship with the God of his individual circumstances but more than that is encompasses all people who believe in the God of yesterday,today and tomorrow.
It is right that the last psalm is about praise because if we truly share every step of our way with God we will always in the end be full of thankfulness and graitude. All roads lead to that place. All hearts in the end find their fullest joy in praise and thankfullness. The last line 'Let everything that has breath praise the Lord' is a prayer to `carry in our heart each morning and each night. As we pray 'Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven' It is a prayer that can lift our spirits as we imagine all creation praising its creator. What a world that would be.
Create a collage of creation praising God. Cut out pictures or paint or draw them. Use the completed picture as your prayer and allow the last line of the last psalm to minister to you, to bring you hope and to inpsire you day by day.
Our journey together is over but we will each continue on our way through the ups and downs of each day. I pray the psalms will be a companion to each of us and draw us closer to God, make us more real and deepen our faith in Jesus. They might have been writtten a long time ago, but they have spoken afresh to each generation since and they are living words for us today.