of the depths I cry to you, O Lord!
O Lord, hear my voice!
your ears be attentive
to the voice of my pleas for mercy!
you, O LORD, should mark iniquities,
O Lord, who could stand?
with you there is forgiveness,
that you may be feared.
wait for the LORD, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
soul waits for the Lord
more than watchmen for the morning,
more than watchmen for the morning.
Israel, hope in the LORD!
for with the LORD there is steadfast love,
and with him is plentiful redemption.
he will redeem Israel
from all his iniquities.
Many of us read prayers like these from the psalmists and
long to pray as they did. We long to stretch the lofty heights of
praise, descend to the depths of sorrow, grasp the amazing expanse
of imagery and language they did. We adopt and quote their
phrases. We sometimes repeat the psalms themselves. We analyze,
categorize, and subdivide the psalms. All of this will help us
grow in prayer. However, the very first step in praying as the
psalmists is not about the kinds of psalms they wrote, the images
they used, or even the words they employed. The fundamental key to
praying like the psalmists is believing in their God. More than
saying, “Oh yeah, I believe in the God of the Bible,” we must
develop a gut level faith in the God the psalmists revealed. When
we believe in their God, praying like they did will come
Perhaps this goes without saying. Yet, the psalmists prayed
because they believed God really does exist.
fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’”
fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’”
We must not take this point for granted because so many
face the hardships the psalmists lamented by losing their faith in
God. Despite the hardships, trials, tribulations and struggles of
the psalmists, they kept praying because they did not view
hardship and suffering as proof for atheism. Rather, hardship and
suffering were simply times to go to the God in which they
believed and cast their cares upon Him.
God is creator.
puts this in perspective. When we view God as creator, every day
is a reminder of His amazing power. When I look at the rocks and
trees, rivers and seas, and especially the moon and stars, I see a
constant reminder of God’s might. In that scenario, I can’t
help but recognize how small and dependent I am on Him. I can’t
help but turn to Him for help. He has that power.
puts another spin on this. If God is creator of the universe and
all that is in it. He is my creator. He put me together. He knows
me. Nothing of me is secret from Him. That can affect my praying
in one of two ways. I’ll either isolate from God ashamed to
approach Him because He knows me too well. Or I can be set free to
be honest with Him because He already knows everything about me
and has asked me to pray anyway.
God is the source.
He is the source
of everything. The source of life (Psalm
36:9). The source of blessing (Psalm
24:5). The source of truth (Psalm
43:3). He is the source of every good thing. We accept
this because of James
However, for the psalmist, since God is the sovereign ruler
of the universe. He is not just the source of the good. He is the
source of the bad as well. Illness (Psalm
102:3-11), enemies (Psalm
13:2), financial ruin (Psalm
62:9-10), struggles (Psalm
88:3-7); none of it would be there if God acted. For the
psalmist, you can place all manner of free will choices, chance,
sin, and Satan between the bad things that are happening and God.
However, as sovereign ruler, God is the ultimate source of all
these things as well. Sometimes they saw God as the source
directly through retribution and punishment (Psalm
6:1-3). Sometimes they saw God as the source not because
He was the direct cause, but because He simply ignored what was
13:1-2). If He would act, the bad things would stop.
Therefore, they saw Him as the source of all things.
fact, despite the connection we made in our last lesson about
praying like the psalmists between the Hebrew psalms and the
psalms of the surrounding cultures, this one point stands out in stark contrast. Hermann Gunkel notes:
profound manner of thought stands alongside this immediate and
apparently primitive manner of thought. It seeks connection
between YHWH and the illness, which is very different from
Babylonian prayer where illness and distress are generally traced
back to evil demons and magicians. Even at this point one can see
how Israelite religions sought to trace everything that happens in
the world back to YHWH, and to understand everything in
relationship to YHWH (Introduction to Psalms, Mercer
University Press, Macon, GA, 1998, p 136).
Initially, I rebel against this. I have become comfortable
letting Satan be the source of the bad things that happen to us
because I am afraid people might get mad at God. The psalmists
would have none of that. God was the source. If that led to anger
at God, then so be it. Take that anger to God and express it in
psalms and prayers.
There is a very important point behind this. Many of these
psalms are complaints, either individually or communally. They
lamented everything from illness to attack. But they took it all
to God. Why? Because He’s the source; He’s the only one that
can actually do anything about it.
Perhaps we’re making a mistake when we separate God from
the bad that happens. I believe the psalmists would have thought
God is judge.
makes the connection; if God is creator, He is also judge. This
makes perfect sense. He made the universe and all that is in it.
He made us. Therefore, we are accountable to Him for how we
demonstrates why the psalmist, so often in dismay because of his
enemies, could almost always come around in the end. He viewed God
as judge. The psalmist knew, even if he didn’t like God’s
timing, God would judge the wicked and the enemies. God is judge.
Not only is God judge, He is the righteous judge who judges
with equity (Psalm
God is king.
says, “the Lord is the great God, and a great King of all
gods.” Why pray to other gods? Even if they existed, YHWH is the
King. Of course, the psalmist is absolute in his belief that YHWH
alone is God (Psalm
If God is king of Gods, then He ought also to be our king (Psalm
5:2; 84:3; 95:3; 145:1). That is, He is our sovereign. Our
ruler. He is not some mystical God and king of the heavens who has
little to do with our lives. Rather, He is integrally connected
with how we live every day. He is our king.
God is my rock, fortress, mighty
18 expresses it this way:
love you, O LORD, my strength. / The LORD is my rock and my
fortress and my deliverer, / my God, my rock, in whom I take
refuge, / my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
/ I will call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised, / and I
am saved from my enemies /…For who is God, but the LORD? / And
who is a rock, except our God? /…The LORD lives, and blessed be
my rock, / and exalted be the God of my salvation…
We can rely on God. We cannot rely on kings (Psalm
48:4-5). We cannot rely on armies or on personal strength
33:16). We cannot rely on riches (Psalm
62:9-10). We cannot rely on family (Psalm
27:10). We cannot rely on friends (Psalm
41:9). But we can rely on God.
When the psalmist says God is his rock, strength, fortress,
tower, shield, salvation, redeemer and any other number of terms,
he is talking about how he can trust God to see him through
whatever he faces. This is amazing considering the number of
laments and complaints. Yet, the psalmists prayed because they
knew they could trust God to act on their behalf. Therefore, they
surrendered to God. They would accept whatever came from His hand
and simply continue to submit to Him. What else could they do? He
was the only source of strength.
We would do well to preach these psalms in this time of
economic uncertainty. People need to hear God is the rock and the
mighty tower. He can uphold us no matter what we face and He will
deliver us in His time.
God is shepherd.
23 comes to mind. But this is also mentioned in Psalm
28:9 and Psalm 80:1.
Being shepherd means God is our leader, our feeder, our
protector, our comforter, our restorer. He is the provider of
blessing. He is our livelihood. He is the reason we can keep going
and keep living. Without Him, we die.
God is near.
I know this sounds odd because the psalmists sometimes say
God is far away or hiding (e.g. Psalm
10:1; 13:1). It appears the psalmists think God is far
Actually, this is not what the psalmists believe or think.
It is rather an expression of how they feel in moments of
distress, but it is not what they believe when they think through
the situation. Almost all laments end with praise and knowledge
that God does hear and will act because He is near and He is
In other places, the psalmists directly express God’s
34:18; 119:151; 145:18).
However, the greatest testimony to their belief that God
was near is that they kept praying. They kept writing psalms. Do
we talk to those we know aren’t listening and won’t listen? Of
course not. They knew God did hear, did see. He is near. Consider Psalm
5:3; 11:4; 53:2; 94:9.
God is love.
This is perhaps the greatest theme of all the psalms. More
than any other aspect of the psalmists’ belief in God, God’s
love kept them praying.
God’s steadfast love is mentioned 123 times in the
God’s steadfast love is precious (Psalm
We enter His house through His steadfast love (Psalm
He delivers us for the sake of His steadfast love (Psalm
He is merciful and forgets our sins because of His
steadfast love (Psalm
His steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts Him (Psalm
His steadfast love endures all day (Psalm
God answers our pleas because of His steadfast love (Psalm
His steadfast love holds us up when we think we’ll slip (Psalm
steadfast love endures forever (Psalm
provides a crescendo about God’s steadfast love, declaring it
endures forever 26 times. This psalm was likely used as a form of
liturgy in which an officiate among the priests would read the
first half of the verse and the congregation would respond with
the reminder “for his steadfast love endures forever.”
Whether they were angry, sad, distressed, harassed or
happy, the psalmists agreed God loved them. Therefore they prayed.
If we want to pray like they did, we have to know God loves us and
His love endures no matter what. He will show His love. We must
simply wait on Him.
If we develop a faith in the God who is, who is creator,
the source, the judge, the king, the rock and fortress, the
shepherd and who is near and loves us, praying like the psalmists,
praying with their conviction and determination will come
naturally. When we develop faith in the God of the Psalmists, then
we will not simply quote the psalms in prayer, rather our prayers
will grow to be like the psalmists.
you O Lord, I lift up my soul.
my God in you I trust;
me not be put to shame;
not my enemies exult over me.
none who wait for you shall be put to shame;
shall be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.
me to know your ways, O LORD;
me your paths.
me in your truth and teach me,
you are the God of my salvation;
you I wait all the day long.
your mercy, O LORD, and your steadfast love,
they have been from of old.
not the sins of my youth or my transgressions;
to your steadfast love remember me,
the sake of your goodness, O LORD!
and upright is the LORD;
he instructs sinners in the way.
leads the humble in what is right,
teaches the humble his way.
the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness,
those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.
your name’s sake, O LORD,
my guilt, for it is great.
is the man who fears the LORD?
will he instruct in the way that he should choose.
soul shall abide in well-being,
his offspring shall inherit the land.
friendship of the LORD is for those who fear him,
he makes known to them his covenant.
eyes are ever toward the LORD,
he will pluck my feet out of the net.
to me and be gracious to me,
I am lonely and afflicted.
troubles of my heart are enlarged;
me out of my distresses.
my affliction and my trouble,
forgive all my sins.
how many are my foes,
with what violent hatred they hate me.
guard my soul and deliver me!
me not be put to shame, for I take refuge in you.
integrity and uprightness preserve me,
I wait for you.
Israel, O God,
of all his troubles.
While your prayers may not be hailed as great poetry and
they may never end up in someone’s prayer book, if you develop
the gut-level faith in the Psalmists’ God that they had, your
prayers will develop the relationship with God that they had. Your
prayers will cast you upon Him and He will see you through. Do you
believe in the Psalmists’ God?
to God in the church by Christ Jesus
Church of Christ