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In my last blog post, “Anatomy of the Soul,” I mentioned the great benefit that comes from reading and praying the Psalms in the Old Testament. While we can relate to many of the Psalms in our own personal lives, one psalm that caught my attention back in the 1980’s is Psalm 25, which is one of the psalms attributed to David. Here is a little background information on it from an article on Bible.org titled, “Psalm 25: Seeking God in the Hard Times,” by Steven J. Cole, pastor at Flagstaff Christian Fellowship:
Psalm 25 teaches us to seek God in the hard times, no matter for what reason we are in those hard times. It seems to me that James 1:5-6 is a succinct summary of Psalm 25: “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind.” The context of James’ counsel is the need for wisdom in the midst of various trials (James 1:2-3). James tells us by faith to seek God and His wisdom in our trials, and that’s what David tells us in Psalm 25.
No matter how difficult your trials or what their cause, seek the Lord for His wisdom and trust Him to work for His glory and your good.
This psalm is an acrostic, where each verse begins with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. (There are a few variations that are too technical to explain here.) The psalmists may have used this form to help people memorize the psalms. James Boice (Psalms, Volume 1, Psalms 1-41 [Baker], p. 223) also suggests that in the case of this psalm, there is the dominant theme of learning or instruction, which fits with the alphabetical arrangement. David prays for the Lord to teach him His ways (25:4-5, 8-9). Boice concludes (ibid.), “So we could rightly say that the psalm is a school-book lesson on how to live so as to please God and be blessed by him.” I would only add, “in the context of difficult trials.” (Quote source here.)
Who among us hasn’t endured difficult trials or possibly find ourselves in one right now? King David had enemies chasing him throughout his lifetime from the time he was a teenage shepherd boy until he died in old age as King. Psalm 25 is just one of many psalms written by David calling out to God for mercy, forgiveness, wisdom, and help in his time of need (which was constant). It also shows us his great devotion to God in the midst of his many trials when he was surrounded by enemies (and sometimes they were innumerable); and his absolute trust in and dependence on God to show him what to do and/or wait for God to move in his circumstances. Let’s take a brief look at David’s life taken from GotQuestions.org:
We can learn a lot from the life of David. He was a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:13-14; Acts 13:22)! We are first introduced to David after Saul, at the insistence of the people, was made king (1 Samuel 8:5, 10:1). This choice of king, or even having an earthly king at all, was against the will of God, and although Saul was anointed by God through Samuel, he did not measure up as God’s king. While King Saul was making one mistake on top of another, God sent Samuel to find His chosen shepherd, David, the son of Jesse (1 Samuel 16:10, 13). David was believed to be 12-16 years of age when he was called in from tending his father’s sheep to be anointed as the true king of Israel. As soon as the anointing oil flowed down David’s head the Spirit of the Lord departed from King Saul (1 Samuel 16:14). The fact that evil spirits were tormenting Saul brought David into the king’s service (1 Samuel 16:21). Saul was pleased with young David, but this feeling vanished quickly as David rose in strength to slay the Philistine giant, Goliath, and win the overwhelming favor of the people (1 Samuel 17:45-51). The chant in the camp of Saul was taunting as the people sang out the praises of David and demeaned their king, causing a raging jealousy in Saul that never subsided (1 Samuel 18:7-8).
If you or someone you know has eked his way through life amid strife, conflict and continuous battles, then you might understand how David lived and felt throughout his lifetime. Although Saul never stopped pursuing him with the intent to kill him, David never raised a hand against his king and God’s anointed (1 Samuel 19:1-2, 24:5-7). He did, however, raise up a mighty army and with power from God defeated everyone in his path, always asking God first for permission and instructions before going into battle (2 Samuel 5:22-23, 23:8-17). Throughout the life of David, God honored and rewarded this unconditional obedience of His servant and gave him success in everything he did (2 Samuel 8:6).
David mourned King Saul’s death and put to death the one claiming responsibility for Saul’s death (2 Samuel 1:12-16). Only after Saul’s death was David anointed king over the house of Judah (2 Samuel 2:4), and even then he had to fight against the house of Saul before being anointed king over Israel at the age of thirty (2 Samuel 5:3-4). Now king, David conquered Jerusalem and became more and more powerful because the Lord Almighty was with him (2 Samuel 5:7). David was so enthralled with bringing the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem that he omitted some of God’s instructions on how to transport the Ark and who was to carry it. This resulted in the death of Uzzah who, amid all the celebrations, reached out to steady the Ark, and God struck him down and he died there beside it (2 Samuel 6:1-7). In fear of the Lord, David abandoned the moving of the Ark for three months and let it rest in the house of Obed-Edom (2 Samuel 6:11).
After the Ark was in its rightful place, David decided to build a temple of the Lord around it (2 Samuel 6:17). Because of David’s bloody, battle-scarred record as well as his adulterous relationship with Bathsheba and the slaying of her husband, God denied his otherwise faithful servant the honor of building the temple, the house of the Lord (2 Samuel 6:5-14). This was surely a blow to David, but God assured him He would continue to make his name the greatest on the earth and forever establish the throne of David through David’s son, Solomon. Instead of being angry with God and having a pity party, David sat before the Lord, praising Him and thanking Him for all the many blessings he had received in his life (2 Samuel 7:18-29).
David’s battles did not end with his kingship but continued with the surrounding nations and within his own household. Throughout the life of David, His sons connived and conspired to take control of the kingdom and they, as did Saul, threatened their own father’s life. And as with the death of Saul, David mourned the death of his beloved son Absalom, showing a passionate and forgiving heart (2 Samuel chapters 15-18). David’s broken heart and contrite spirit are what brought him the forgiveness of God…. (Quote source here.)
With that snapshot of David’s life, let’s take a look at Psalm 25:
A psalm of David.
O Lord, I give my life to you.
I trust in you, my God!
Do not let me be disgraced,
or let my enemies rejoice in my defeat.
No one who trusts in you will ever be disgraced,
but disgrace comes to those who try to deceive others.
Show me the right path, O Lord;
point out the road for me to follow.
Lead me by your truth and teach me,
for you are the God who saves me.
All day long I put my hope in you.
Remember, O Lord, your compassion and unfailing love,
which you have shown from long ages past.
Do not remember the rebellious sins of my youth.
Remember me in the light of your unfailing love,
for you are merciful, O Lord.
The Lord is good and does what is right;
he shows the proper path to those who go astray.
He leads the humble in doing right,
teaching them his way.
The Lord leads with unfailing love and faithfulness
all who keep his covenant and obey his demands.
For the honor of your name, O Lord,
forgive my many, many sins.
Who are those who fear the Lord?
He will show them the path they should choose.
They will live in prosperity,
and their children will inherit the land.
The Lord is a friend to those who fear him.
He teaches them his covenant.
My eyes are always on the Lord,
for he rescues me from the traps of my enemies.
Turn to me and have mercy,
for I am alone and in deep distress.
My problems go from bad to worse.
Oh, save me from them all!
Feel my pain and see my trouble.
Forgive all my sins.
See how many enemies I have
and how viciously they hate me!
Protect me! Rescue my life from them!
Do not let me be disgraced, for in you I take refuge.
May integrity and honesty protect me,
for I put my hope in you.
O God, ransom Israel
from all its troubles.
From what I could find out (and it wasn’t easy–source at this link), apparently this psalm was composed early in David’s life when Saul was Israel’s first king. As mentioned in the background information above provided by GotQuestions.org, Saul sought to kill David and David spent years on the run from him, so we can certainly understand the nature of David’s earnest and passionate request. Yet Psalm 25 is there for our use, too (as are all of the psalms) when our own words fail to convey our deepest emotions and earnest cry for God’s help in our time of need. In fact, Hebrews 4:16 states, “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” What better way to express that need then through a psalm when we can’t find the right words to pray on our own.
The next time you feel the urge to pray but you don’t know what to say, pick up the Bible (or go to an online Bible) and go to the Psalms and just start reading. In no time you’ll bump into the right words to pray. Words like. . . .
The Lord is my Shepherd . . .
I shall not . . .
Want . . . .
YouTube Video: “God of Wonders” by Third Day:
Almost every time I open the Bible I end up at some point in the Book of Psalms (a link to each of the 150 Psalms is located here). Every emotion we are capable of feeling is expressed in the Psalms–from sorrow, fear, doubt, anxiety, anger, sadness, repentance; to desire, happiness, joy, celebration, surprise, awe and wonder. Great comfort and help are also available throughout the Psalms–in fact, finding help in times of trouble is one of the main themes in the Book of Psalms (for a list of themes click here.)
GotQuestions.org gives us background information on the Book of Psalms:
Author: The brief descriptions that introduce the psalms have David listed as author in 73 instances. David’s personality and identity are clearly stamped on many of these psalms. While it is clear that David wrote many of the individual psalms, he is definitely not the author of the entire collection. Two of the psalms (72) and (127) are attributed to Solomon, David’s son and successor. Psalm 90 is a prayer assigned to Moses. Another group of 12 psalms (50) and (73—83) is ascribed to the family of Asaph. The sons of Korah wrote 11 psalms (42, 44-49, 84-85,87-88). Psalm 88 is attributed to Heman, while (89) is assigned to Ethan the Ezrahite. With the exception of Solomon and Moses, all these additional authors were priests or Levites who were responsible for providing music for sanctuary worship during David’s reign. Fifty of the psalms designate no specific person as author.
Date of Writing: A careful examination of the authorship question, as well as the subject matter covered by the psalms themselves, reveals that they span a period of many centuries. The oldest psalm in the collection is probably the prayer of Moses (90), a reflection on the frailty of man as compared to the eternity of God. The latest psalm is probably (137), a song of lament clearly written during the days when the Hebrews were being held captive by the Babylonians, from about 586 to 538 B.C.
It is clear that the 150 individual psalms were written by many different people across a period of a thousand years in Israel’s history. They must have been compiled and put together in their present form by some unknown editor shortly after the captivity ended about 537 B.C.
Purpose of Writing: The Book of Psalms is the longest book in the Bible, with 150 individual psalms. It is also one of the most diverse, since the psalms deal with such subjects as God and His creation, war, worship, wisdom, sin and evil, judgment, justice, and the coming of the Messiah.
Key Verses: Psalm 19:1 “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.”
Psalm 22:16-19, “Dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me. They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.”
Psalm 23:1, “The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.”
Psalm 29:1-2, “Ascribe to the LORD, O mighty ones, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength. Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness.”
Psalm 51:10, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”
Psalm 119:1-2, “Blessed are they whose ways are blameless, who walk according to the law of the LORD. Blessed are they who keep his statutes and seek him with all their heart.”
Brief Summary: The Book of Psalms is a collection of prayers, poems, and hymns that focus the worshiper’s thoughts on God in praise and adoration. Parts of this book were used as a hymnal in the worship services of ancient Israel. The musical heritage of the psalms is demonstrated by its title. It comes from a Greek word which means “a song sung to the accompaniment of a musical instrument.”
Foreshadowings: God’s provision of a Savior for His people is a recurring theme in the Psalms. Prophetic pictures of the Messiah are seen in numerous psalms. Psalm 2:1-12 portrays the Messiah’s triumph and kingdom. Psalm 16:8-11 foreshadows His death and resurrection. Psalm 22 shows us the suffering Savior on the cross and presents detailed prophecies of the crucifixion, all of which were fulfilled perfectly. The glories of the Messiah and His bride are on exhibit in Psalm 45:6-7, while Psalms 72:6-17, 89:3-37, 110:1-7 and 132:12-18 present the glory and universality of His reign.
Practical Application: One of the results of being filled with the Spirit or the word of Christ is singing. The psalms are the “songbook” of the early church that reflected the new truth in Christ.
God is the same Lord in all the psalms. But we respond to Him in different ways, according to the specific circumstances of our lives. What a marvelous God we worship, the psalmist declares, One who is high and lifted up beyond our human experiences but also one who is close enough to touch and who walks beside us along life’s way.
We can bring all our feelings to God—no matter how negative or complaining they may be—and we can rest assured that He will hear and understand. The psalmist teaches us that the most profound prayer of all is a cry for help as we find ourselves overwhelmed by the problems of life. (Quote source here.)
In the book “God Never Blinks: 50 Lessons for Life’s Little Detours” (2010), by Regina Brett, newspaper columnist and New York Times best-selling author, Lesson 38 is devoted to the Psalms, and it is titled, “Read the Psalms. No Matter What Your Faith, They Cover Every Human Emotion.” Brett states:
If it were possible to do an autopsy of the soul, what we’d find would be 150 parts, each one reflected in one of the Psalms.
“All the sorrows, troubles, fears, doubts, hopes, pains, perplexities, stormy outbreaks by which the hearts of men are tossed, have been depicted here to the very life,” wrote John Calvin. He called the Psalms the anatomy of the soul.
Even when the Psalms are chanted in Latin they soothe my spirit. Even when I don’t know the words, my soul recognizes them.
For years the only psalm I knew by heart was the only one everyone knew by heart. Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” I printed it on memorial cards at the funeral home where I worked.
It’s easy to remember and never fails to comfort. It’s easy to picture that sheep up on the hill, lost and frightened. The story always has a happy ending, the Good Shepherd seeks and finds it and brings it home. Who can’t relate to feeling lost in the valley of the shadow of death? It shocked me to find out there really is such a valley. When I was on my honeymoon in Jerusalem years ago we stood in the hot sun on a roadway looking at a huge expanse of land spread out below us.
“What valley is that?” my husband asked our guide.
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,” our guide began to chant.
It takes more than Psalm 23 to get me through life. The entire Book of Psalms tells the story of the journey every human being walks in life. The 150 psalms speak of wonder, joy, celebration, but also of the dark night of despair, desolation, and abandonment. Places we find ourselves too often.
The Book of Psalms addresses every facet of the spiritual journey–the ups and downs, heights the soul ascends, depths to which it falls. The Psalms offer praises as well as curses, consolation, and desolation, boasts of strength and cries of weaknesses. Mostly, they make me feel less alone.
On my worst nights of despair, when I can’t even remember a single line from a single one of them, I clutch the entire book to my chest like a child would a teddy bear. Only then can I sleep. I bought my Book of Psalms from Genesee Abbey where the Trappist monks end every prayer praising “the God who is, who was, and is to come at the end of the ages.”
I took a class on the Psalms in graduate school, a class taught by a Jewish rabbi. Professor Roger C. Klein of Temple-Tifereth Israel in Cleveland told us that we didn’t have to be scholars to understand the Psalms. We didn’t need great intellect, he said. “It just requires a soul.”
The Psalms reveal the many faces of God: powerful rock, shepherd, companion, comforter, provider, host, creator, judge, advocate, and deliverer. My favorite? I like the idea of a personal God of joy. I pray often, “You are my strength and my song.”
The Psalms address every sort of inner and outer turbulence from crop failure to enemy attacks, from illness to loneliness. All of them were meant to be sung, and if they were, it would be like hearing an opera of the Bible.
I once read that President Bill Clinton read the entire Book of Psalms to find spiritual relief from the political pressures facing him. It’s easy to see their appeal, no matter what your religion. They cover everything.
For poverty there is Psalm 10: “Lord, you hear the prayer of the poor; you strengthen their hearts.”
Campaigning is covered in Psalm 35, which speaks to battles with the opposite party: “O Lord, plead my cause against my foes; fight those who fight me . . . vindicate me, Lord, in your justice do not let them rejoice. Do not let them think: Yes! We have won, we have brought him to an end.”
Any employee could use a dose of Psalm 56: “Have mercy on me, God, men crush me; they fight me all day long and oppress me . . . all day long they distort my words.”
Spouses can rely on Psalm 141 for restraint: “Set, O Lord, a guard over my mouth; keep watch, O Lord, at the door of my lips.”
The Psalms are now the bookends to my day. . . . (Quote source, “God Never Blinks,” pp. 175-177.)
The Psalms are also perfect to use for prayer as they express so vividly what we often can’t come up with using on our own words. I often used the Psalms in my prayers. In an article titled, “Why You Should Be Praying the Psalms,” by Dr. Donald S. Whitney, Professor of Biblical Spirituality and Associate Dean of the School of Theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Dr. Whitney states:
I’m sure such folks are out there, but I’ve not personally met any Christian who hasn’t struggled with saying the same old things about the same old things in prayer. Before long, such repetitive prayer is boring. And when prayer is boring, it’s hard to pray — at least with any joy and fervency.
Note that the problem is not that we pray about the same old things. Actually, that’s normal, because our lives tend to consist pretty much of the same old things from one day to the next. Thankfully, the big things in life (our family, our church, our job, etc.) don’t change dramatically very often.
Instead the problem is that we say the same old things about the same old things. And prayers without variety eventually become words without meaning. The result of such praying is that we tend to feel like failures in prayer. We assume that, despite our devotion to Christ, love for God, and desire for a meaningful prayer life, we must be second-rate Christians because our minds wander so much in prayer.
No, the problem may not be you; rather it may be your method.
I believe that the simple, permanent, biblical solution to this almost universal problem is to stop making up your own prayers most of the time (because that results in repetitious prayer) and to pray the Bible instead.
Praying the Bible means talking to God about what comes to mind as you read the Bible. Usually you might read the passage first, then go back and pray through what you just read.
So, for instance, if today you turned to Psalm 23 in your devotional reading, after completing it you would come back to verse 1 and pray about what occurs to you as you read “The Lord is my shepherd.” You might thank the Lord for being your shepherd, ask him to shepherd you in a decision that’s before you, entreat him to cause your children to love him as their shepherd, too, and pray anything else that comes to mind as you consider that verse.
Then when nothing else in those words prompts prayer, you continue by doing the same with the next line, “I shall not want.” Thus you would go through the chapter, line-by-line, until you ran out of time.
By praying in this way, you discover that you never again say the same old things about the same old things.
While you can pray through any part of the Bible, some books and chapters are much easier to pray through than others. Overall, I believe the Book of Psalms is the best place in Scripture from which to pray Scripture.
In part that’s because the Psalms are the only book of the Bible inspired by God for the expressed purpose of being reflected to God. God inspired them as songs, songs for use in the worship of God.
The Psalms also work so well in prayer because there’s a psalm for every sigh of the soul. You’ll never go through anything in life in which the root emotion is not found in one or more of the Psalms. Thus the Psalms put into expression that which is looking for expression in our hearts.
Christian, here’s how you’ll benefit from praying the Psalms:
1. You’ll pray more biblically faithful prayers.
The Bible will guide your prayers, helping you to speak to God with words that have come from the mind and heart of God. This also means you’ll be praying more in accordance with the will of God. Can you have any greater assurance that you are praying the will of God than when you are praying the Word of God?
2. You’ll be freed from the boredom of saying the same about the same old things in prayer.
One way this will happen is that the psalm will prompt you to pray about things you normally wouldn’t think to pray. You’ll find yourself praying about people and situations that you’d never think to put on a prayer list.
Another way is that even though you also continue to pray about the same things, (family, church, job, etc.), you’ll pray about them in new ways. Instead of saying, “Lord, please bless my family,” the text will guide you to pray things such as, “Lord, please be a shield around my family today” if you are praying through Psalm 3:3, for example.
3. You’ll pray more God-centered prayers.
When you use a God-focused guide like the psalms to prompt your prayers, you’ll pray less selfishly and with more attention to the ways, the will, and the attributes of God.
Prayer becomes less about what you want God to do for you (though that is always a part of biblical praying) and more about the concerns of God and his kingdom.
4. You’ll enjoy more focus in prayer.
When you say the same old things in prayer every day, it’s easy for your mind to wander. You find yourself praying auto-pilot prayer — repeating words without thinking about either them or the God to whom you offer them.
But when you pray the Bible your mind has a place to focus. And when your thoughts do wander, you have a place to return to — the next verse.
5. You’ll find that prayer becomes more like a real conversation with a real Person.
Isn’t that what prayer should be? Prayer is talking with a Person, the Person of God himself. Prayer is not a monologue spoken in the direction of God. Yet somehow, many people assume that when they meet with the Lord he should remain silent and they should do all the talking.
When we pray the psalms, though, our monologue to God becomes a conversation with God. I’m not alluding to the perception of some spiritual impression or hearing an inner voice, imagining God saying things to us — away with that sort of mysticism.
Instead, I’m referring to the Bible as the means by which God participates in the conversation, for the Bible is God speaking. God speaks in the Bible, and you respond to that in prayer. That’s why people who try this often report, “The pressure was off. I didn’t have to think about what to say next, and the whole experience just kind of flowed.”
So how about right now? Praying the Psalms will add life to your prayers, depth to your relationship with God, and joy to your heart. And you can’t beat that!!! I’ll start it off with . . .
The Lord is my Shepherd . . .
I shall not . . .
Want . . . .
YouTube Video: “God of Wonders” by Third Day: