The angel told Joseph that the name of the son to be born to Mary would be Emmanuel, meaning “God with us.” How does this verse recall God’s promise to be with us?
When the psalmist uses the term salvation what do you think he means?
In verse 85:10 the psalmist writes, “Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other.” How does this imagery shape your understanding of the term salvation in verse 9?
Do you believe that God’s salvation is at hand? Why? Does this verse bolster your confidence and joy of living? In what way?
There are numerous views of the meaning of glory in this verse. Do you think Revelation has anything informative to say about it?
See, the home of God is among mortals.
This verse speaks of something that is anticipated, but not yet in evidence. How does a vision of something that isn’t happening yet encourage you?
When Christ walked on the earth in the flesh, people possessed by demons, or people afflicted with mental illness if that is your preferred diagnosis, suffered humiliation, ostracism and even physical violence. People with crippling diseases, or blindness or deafness, were considered to have been doomed to that fate through sin. Seeing a blind man on the road one day, Jesus’ disciples inquired of Jesus as to whose sin was responsible for his condition.
Psalm 130 is the kind of prayer those afflicted ones must have prayed often. When they heard that the kingdom of God had come near, it would have inspired hope that God had heard their prayers.
Everybody experiences that kind of hopelessness and despair at some time or other. Life is full of challenges, and everybody goes through days and sometimes weeks when this cry from the pit expresses their concerns.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer said that we need to remember that Jesus prayed all the Psalms, too. Is it possible that in Gethsemane he prayed the words of this Psalm as he faced the cross? The few recorded words of those hours of prayer let us see a man in anguish, and we know that he pleaded with God to find some other way. The concerns in this psalm prayer mesh tightly with the words we know that Jesus spoke that night. In this prayer, both the anguish of the cross and the triumph of redemption are richly expressed.
This prayer resonates with the universal human experience of feeling overwhelmed and defeated by evil. The lonely, shunned leper of Jesus’ day, the miserable child who can never pass a spelling test, the only mother on the block who has no idea how to get her child to take a nap in the afternoon, the first manager laid off as the company offshores all technical projects, the man who reached for but failed to snag the child who ran into traffic and was struck down while chasing a ball – all these people can pray this prayer psalm and be comforted by the promise that God loves and forgives and redeems and heals his children.
For me, the most poignant phrases in the psalm are the words, “more than those who watch for the morning.” My husband and I cruise aboard a sailboat, and we often make passages longer than 24 hours, which require us to stand lonely watches during the night. When my husband is asleep and I am alone in the cockpit, despite the fact that the night sky is beautiful, I feel much more alone than I feel in broad daylight. If a storm builds up during the daylight hours, I always feel more competent to deal with it than if the storm develops after dark. If I am on watch at 5AM, my eyes constantly stray to the east for the first hint of light at the horizon, and I breathe a sigh of relief when the sky only barely suggests the coming sunrise.
Whether misery results from the supplicant’s terribly bad choice or from human error or from someone else’s bad choice or even from causes that nobody can discover, Psalm 130 mirrors the experience of feeling cast down, thrown down, knocked down by life. It speaks of our fear that even if it wasn’t our fault that we got in this fix, God might not help us because we are sinful. The writer of the psalm talks through the misery and fear, and then looks up. There is hope. There is hope not because he deserves it, but rather because of who God is.
Because God is who he is, Christ died for us. Because God is who he is, our sins are forgiven. Because God is who he is, we can always hope in him.
Psalm 130 can be your prayer when things look hopeless.
Read the psalm exactly as printed in your Bible. Read slowly enough to speak each word distinctly. Listen to what you are reading.
Read the psalm again and replace every reference to the supplicant with your own name.
I would read it this way:
Out of the depths Katherine cries to you … If you, O Lord, should mark Katherine’s iniquities … O Katherine, hope in the Lord! … It is he who will redeem Katherine from all her iniquities.
Pray this psalm as many times as you need to. Borrow its rich imagery and immerse yourself in its profound hope. Think of Christ praying this prayer, maybe as he faced human suffering and need, maybe as he faced his own suffering on the cross.
Can you make this prayer your prayer? Tell me why, or why not.
Wednesday posts will be focused on the habits and practices that help build faith. You might call them “Strength-building Exercises for Faith.” These posts will range from a simple response you can use to calm yourself in a crisis to a lengthy guide for studying a whole book of the Bible. These posts will often include material for the brain to process, such as historical eras or language resources, but the focus of the posts will always be to lead you, the reader, to spiritual maturity. The posts will speak from my spiritual experience, but the intent is for you to be inspired to habits and practices that will result in growth of your faith and your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. You can profess faith sincerely without growing, but you will never know the beauty and delight of your faith if you never mature in faith.
Today’s meditation is my experience of praying Psalm 23
The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.
I confess, O Lord, that even when I complain about things I do not have, I see that you have provided everything I need. You provide even more than I need, and I always have enough to share, as long as I can remember that you will not stop providing. I intend to be generous, but my fear that I won’t have enough later often impedes my willingness to give to others. You, O Christ, fed five thousand with almost nothing. Why is it so hard for me to say, I have enough, enough to share? I will not be in want, because You O Lord provide what I need.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
The world is so noisy, Lord. Thank you for giving me rest and peace in the midst of it. Thank you for being my refuge. A moment’s relaxation, a cool drink on a hot day, just a moment of quiet while things seethe around me.
he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
for his name’s sake.
I take a deep breath. I breathe in your presence, your guidance, your wisdom. I breathe out fear and doubt. Lord Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us, may I know that you are with me. The hardest part is when I doubt your presence. Show me the next place I should set my foot. Let me see just that much and know that you step there with me.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff—
they comfort me.
Things really went in the wrong direction today. Will I still have a job tomorrow? What comes next? I am still going forward with you, Lord. With you, knowing you are here, I can face my fears. Satan’s minions assault me, but you keep them at bay. You surround me and sustain me and give me courage. Deep blue sea may mount up in frightful waves. Money woes may seem impossible. Friends may seem to draw away from me. But you, O God, go with me and suffer with me through all the danger and despair.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
As Satan’s dogs yap and snarl, you provide for me, anyway, O God, my Savior. I feast on Christ’s body and blood, given for me. I am nourished despite want and deprivation all around. You show your favor and love by anointing me as your own with the blood of Christ that sets me free from Satan’s power to destroy me.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD
my whole life long.
Satan and satanic demons may pursue me, but I am safe in God’s dwelling place. As Christ’s body is in, with and under the bread and wine of the Eucharist, the indwelling Holy Spirit puts God’s dwelling place in, with and under all my realities. God is near. I dwell with him. I am at home with God forever, now and hereafter.
How can you remind yourself to pray when all seems lost and you can’t catch your breath because fear has paralyzed you?
In his book Psalms: The Prayer Book of the Bible Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “The Psalms are given to us to this end, that we may learn to pray them in the name of Jesus Christ.” The Psalms would have been the prayers Jesus learned as he was growing up Jewish in Nazareth, and Bonhoeffer writes that in praying the Psalms, we appropriate the language and prayer focus of Christ himself. He advocates that we learn to pray by praying as Christ prayed, saying, “The richness of the Word of God ought to determine our prayer, not the poverty of our heart.”
In that spirit, I prayed Psalm 11 today, and I share that experience with you.
I can trust God – Psalm 11:1a
The Psalmist opened this prayer with the words, “In the Lord I take refuge.”
These words assert faith in God in the face of trouble all around. I can identify with that situation. When I read or hear the daily news, I am overwhelmed with despair and dread. The events of each day are disturbing, and the consequences I foresee in the future are dispiriting. Yet, with the Psalmist, in words Christ himself would have prayed as he faced his ministry challenges, I can pray, “In the Lord I take refuge.”
People without faith counsel running away – Psalm 11:1b-3
It always seems easier to run away from challenges than to confront them. In fact, the strength of civil disobedience is always that their willingness to be confrontational is expected eventually to wear away the resistance of the general population to the change desired by the demonstrators.
Violent rebellions often triumph, as we see in the Middle East, just because people do not want to risk death to challenge them. Unlike a lot of commentators and political pundits, I do not see an outbreak of democracy in the Middle East as the guaranteed result of the violent ejection of some tyrants; there is no evidence so far that the rebels are any more supportive of freedom and democracy than the autocrats they have unseated.
People who see that nations around the world are in chaos will say, “If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” They accept that evil is winning, because it looks that way at the moment. I hear a lot of people blame God, saying things such as, “If God is so good, why is there war (or poverty, or hunger, or AIDS)?” Just like the people in the Psalmist’s day, they accuse God of weakness and indifference when things don’t go well. When Christ prayed these words, he knew the answer to the question, because he had come to be our defense against evil.
God knows what is going on – Psalm 11:4
The Psalmist sees beyond the world of time and space into the world of eternity and infinity. The Psalmist sees what John saw when he wrote in Revelation 4:2 – “There in heaven stood a throne, with one seated on the throne!” The Psalmist wrote “[The Lord’s] eyes behold, his gaze examines humankind,” asserting his faith that God, indeed, sees what is happening.
The wicked suffer the consequences of their faithlessness – Psalm 11:5-6
To those who complain that God is doing nothing, the Psalmist responds that God is quite attentive and involved. Christ himself judged evil by his very presence. Religious and political leaders whose lives were evil behind pious facades felt that judgment when they were in his presence. The presence of God in the world fills evil people with guilt and shame which feel like coals of fire in the pit of their stomachs. In Revelation John wrote that the wicked feel so deeply anguished by the judgment that they run to the mountains and would prefer to be crushed under rockslides than endure the judgment of God’s presence, all because they refuse to receive his love and grace. They are not sent to the mountains; they run to the mountains, the very advice that faithless neighbors gave to the Psalmist.
Made righteous by Christ, I can trust God – Psalm 11:7
There is hope for me. When Christ prayed these words, he could stand in his own righteousness before the throne and say, “the upright shall behold his face.” I can never make myself righteous, but I am made righteous through the death and resurrection of Christ. I have no confidence in my own ability to withstand evil. On my own, to see God is to die, but clothed in the righteousness of Christ, I can stand upright and face God. No matter what is going on around me, I can trust God, because Christ has made me worthy.
The world of time and space looks hopeless. I fear that in this world, evil is so pervasive that I see no place to run where I could escape it. My own efforts to defend myself and lead others to reject evil seem completely useless. If I could not trust God, I would, indeed, be doomed. I have hope only in Christ who has redeemed me and rescued me from the evil of these days.