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David preaching to congregation

Notes from Pastor David

Praying the Psalms

August 28th, 2020

2 Samuel 23:1 refers to David as “the sweet Psalmist of Israel.” The sweetness comes from the Spirit. He is the sweet Psalmist because, as he testifies in the next verse, “the Spirit of the LORD speaks to me; his word is on my tongue” (2 Samuel 23:2). The Apostle Paul gives the same testimony, “and we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit” (1 Corinthians 2:13). The words of Scripture are sweeter than honey (Psalm 19:10), because they are the Spirit’s words.

The Psalms are the Spirit-given vocabulary, grammar, and syntax of prayer. This is why we read a Psalm every morning at 8:00 when we connect for prayer via Zoom. I encourage you to join us as we pray through the Psalms together. (Here’s the Zoom link) Perhaps the following word of encouragement from Athanasius will persuade you to join us. Athanasius was a pastor in Alexandria in the fourth century. The following excerpt is from a letter he wrote to a member of his church named Marcellinus. In the letter, he encourages Marcellinus to spend sustained times of prayer and study in the Psalms:

You see, then, that the grace of the one Spirit is common to every writer and all the books of Scripture, and differs in its expression only as need requires and the Spirit wills. Obviously, therefore, the only thing that matters is for each writer to hold fast unyieldingly the grace he personally has received and so fulfil perfectly his individual mission. And, among all the books, the Psalter has certainly a very special grace, a choiceness of quality well worthy to be pondered; for, besides the characteristics which it shares with others, it has this peculiar marvel of its own, that within it are represented and portrayed in all their great variety the movements of the human soul. It is like a picture, in which you see yourself portrayed and, seeing, may understand and consequently form yourself upon the pattern given. Elsewhere in the Bible you read only that the Law commands this or that to be done, you listen to the Prophets to learn about the Saviour’s coming or you turn to the historical books to learn the doings of the kings and holy men; but in the Psalter, besides all these things, you learn about yourself. You find depicted in it all the movements of your soul, all its changes, its ups and downs, its failures and recoveries. Moreover, whatever your particular need or trouble, from this same book you can select a form of words to fit it, so that you do not merely hear and then pass on, but learn the way to remedy your ill. Prohibitions of evil-doing are plentiful in Scripture, but only the Psalter tells you how to obey these orders and refrain from sin. Repentance, for example, is enjoined repeatedly; but to repent means to leave off sinning, and it is the Psalms that show you how to set about repenting and with what words your penitence may be expressed. Again, Saint Paul says, “Tribulation worketh endurance, and endurance experience, and experience hope, and hope maketh not ashamed”; but it is in the Psalms that we find written and described how afflictions should be borne, and what the afflicted ought to say, both at the time and when his troubles cease: the whole process of his testing is set forth in them and we are shown exactly with what words to voice our hope in God. Or take the commandment, “In everything give thanks.” The Psalms not only exhort us to be thankful, they also provide us with fitting words to say. We are told, too, by other writers that all who would live godly in Christ must suffer persecution; and here again the Psalms supply words with which both those who flee persecution and those who suffer under it may suitably address themselves to God, and it does the same for those who have been rescued from it. We are bidden elsewhere in the Bible also to bless the Lord and to acknowledge Him: here in the Psalms we are shown the way to do it, and with what sort of words His majesty may meetly be confessed. In fact, under all the circumstances of life, we shall find that these divine songs suit ourselves and meet our own souls’ need at every turn. (Letter to Marcellinus 10)