Posts filed under ‘Psalms’

Review: In Constant Prayer

In Constant Prayer
In Constant Prayer by Robert Benson

This is a very simple, yet winsome introduction to the idea of ‘praying the daily office,’ ‘liturgy of the hours,’ ‘daily prayer,’ etc. for the non-specialist. Benson describes keeping set times for daily prayer as ‘prayer for the rest of us,’ ‘prayer for the whole Church,’ and a necessary complement to prayer for personal needs.

What makes it intriguing for those who already pray the daily office? The drumbeat that the recovery of the office is the key to the recovery of the Church, and the author’s unsparing demolishment of his own excuses for NOT praying the prayers he has vowed to pray – excuses that I myself have used more often than not.

The only thing that bothers me is the occasional use of the tetragrammaton (‘Yahweh’). I wish that all Christian authors would follow Jewish practice and, out of respect, refrain from using this as God’s proper name.

A quick read, but you can take parts slow and savor Benson’s plain-spoken, direct, reverent words and his layman’s insight into theological ideas and the spirit of the age. An example (page 58):

“The prayer of the office can teach me the the world of prayer is much larger than just my own sweet personal self. I may well discover that prayer is not actually even for me.

“If I say the words of the divine office often enough and carefully enough and faithfully enough, I may well find a pearl of great price.

“Here is the pearl: the world is not my personal oyster.”

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May 3, 2012 at 3:24 pm Leave a comment

Pat Robertson, Haiti, and Why Things Happen

Note: This appears on the front page of this week’s issue of Messiah Messenger.

On January 13, Pat Robertson stated on The 700 Club that the earthquake and other negative events in Haiti’s recent history might be linked to a “pact with the devil” which allegedly was made by Haitians to secure their freedom from French occupation in the 19th century. While I have my doubts, I have no idea whether any “pact” was made by anyone, but Robertson has a history of making such comments. After the 9/11 attacks in 2001, he agreed with Jerry Falwell on The 700 Club that God had removed the protection around America because of the actions of some Americans. It should in fairness be noted that Robertson is urging prayer and material aid for Haitians and he did not suggest they should be condemned or that they deserved the disaster.

After every misfortune, disaster, or trouble, it is natural to ask ‘why?’ I believe it to be temptation to assign reasons for misfortunes, claiming to know God’s will by linking them to abnormal sinfulness or punishment for certain sinful acts. I think that many people give in to this temptation because they are uncomfortable and anxious with the question ‘How can a good God allow such evil, injustice, and tragedy?’ The question can also be asked the other way – if there are no consequences for being evil, then why be good? To silence these questions, all evil and misfortune must be shown to be somehow deserved and all sin must be punished with retribution in this life, lest God be shown to be neither good nor just.

The Bible gives the lie to such easy and convenient explanations. Job was a righteous man, and he defended his conduct to those who suggested that he must have committed sin to receive such terrible misfortunes. Psalm 73 is a meditation on the apparent success of the wicked. In John 9, Jesus encounters a man blind from birth. His disciples ask him whether his blindness is the fault of his own or his parents’ sin, and Jesus responds in the negative on both counts.

Why do natural disasters occur, why do people die ‘before their time,’ why is there unexplainable illness, tragedy and pain? Such questions are shrouded in mystery. We dare not try to justify what happens so that it ‘makes sense.’ God never justifies himself. He does not explain himself to Job, but he speaks to him, and that is what Job needs more than any explanation. Jesus does not give the blind man an explanation, but healing and Lordship. The most we can ever say about these things is that tragedy and disaster is part of a fallen world which still waits in hope for its final healing; that we can never claim to know why such-and-such should or should not have occurred; but that we can confidently say that in such a world God always has the capacity still to act for us to reveal his justice and love. In the last analysis, there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8), and that is enough for us to confidently proclaim his just love even in the midst of unspeakable suffering and death.

January 21, 2010 at 2:28 am 1 comment

Praying the Psalms with Christ – Divine Word, Human Word

This is the third post in a series on praying the psalms.  The previous two posts may be found by clicking the following links:  Post # 1  Post #2

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his Prayerbook of the Bible, asks how the prayers of the Bible can be God’s Word, if they are simultaneously the words of human beings to God.  The two would seem to be mutually exclusive, as he writes:

The Holy Scripture is the Word of God to us.  But prayers are the words of men.  How do prayers then get into the Bible?…are these prayers to God also God’s own word?  That seems rather difficult to understand.  We grasp it only when we remember that we can learn true prayer only from Jesus Christ, from the word of the Son of God, who lives with us, to God the Father, who lives in eternity.  All prayers of the Bible are such prayers which we pray together with Jesus Christ, in which he accompanies us and through which he brings us into the presence of God…

If all prayer is inspired, if all prayer is the voice of God’s Spirit within us, then prayer is simultaneously a human word and God’s Word.  Jesus Christ, who is both God and human, in whom the Spirit dwelt fully, speaks humanity to God  and God to humanity, so the prayers that are in the Bible are first and foremost his prayers:

…If we want to read and to pray the prayers of the Bible and especially the Psalms, therefore, we must not ask first what they have to do with us, but what they have to do with Jesus Christ.

This again is a problem, for the writers of the Psalms, whoever they were (tradition says David and others, historical criticism has other answers), were not Christ.  How then can we say that the Psalms are about Christ?  Bonhoeffer puts it this way:

…it is important to note that even David did not pray out of the personal exuberance of his heart, but out of the Christ who dwelled in him.  To be sure, the one who prays his Psalms remains himself.  But in him and through him it is Jesus Christ who prays.

Again, there is more to say about this.  But if the Psalms are Spirit-inspired rather than merely human wants and needs, they necessarily are part of inspiration and will that is in Jesus, the Son of God and the One who is filled with the Spirit.




November 13, 2007 at 8:57 pm Leave a comment

Praying the Psalms with Christ: Learning to Pray

Note: Much of this post is based upon a discussion in Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Psalms: Prayerbook of the Bible.

The title of this post might be confusing.  “Learning to pray?”  Many people think that prayer is not something we learn how to do.  It comes from inside or from the heart, or it’s not prayer. 

But let’s think a little bit about this.  If prayer is a language, language for speaking to God, then it is learned, because all language is learned.  The reason why my children speak English is because their parents and all the people around them spoke English.  They were immersed in the language from the day they were born.

Children listen to adults talk, and they imitate the way adults talk.  Language-learning is one long process of mimicry.  From the individual sounds of vowels and consonants, to speaking in complete sentences, language is imitation.

So in order to learn the language of prayer, we need to go through this same process of imitation and experimentation with words that are not our own yet, but can become our own.  We need to hear God speaking to us and speak back to God with his own Word. 

When Jesus’ disciples observed him at prayer, they begged him, “Lord, teach us to pray.”  He responded by giving them the prayer that was his own (Luke 11:1-4).  They, and we, are given the grace to speak to God not in our own words, but in the words of the Son of God.  We, in a sense, pray the Lord’s Prayer with the Son of God, and his prayer becomes our prayer.

On this side of the resurrection and ascension of Christ, we too can ask, “Lord, teach us to pray.”  God gives us his own words, in the Scriptures, and we can pray those words back to him.  We will explore this a little bit more in the next post.

November 8, 2007 at 10:57 am Leave a comment

Praying the Psalms with Christ – Psalm 1

NOTE: This is the first of a series on praying the psalms in Christ.  It is also a class I am giving Wednesday evenings in November and December. 

Psalm 1:1 reads thus, in the New Revised Standard Version:

Happy are those
who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
or sit in the seat of scoffers.

This is good advice.  We are to assume that we are the intended subject of the psalm.  If we avoid these things, we will be happy.  It seems to be a logical conclusion.

Here is the translation in the King James Version:

Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.

Aside from the difficulty with saying “walk-eth, stand-eth, sit-teth,” there seems to be a definite advantage to using “they” rather than “the man” as that which is happy or blessed.  It applies to everyone, whether man or woman.  If we are applying this psalm to everyone as a meditation on the blessed life, it might be helpful to use a plural.

However, what if we asked “who is the blessed man?”  A possible answer might be any of the faithful, or the whole people of God.  But if we would have asked one of the early Christians about the subject of this psalm, they would not have hesitated to say that the blessed man is Jesus Christ.  Jesus Christ is the only one who has never walked in the counsel of the wicked, stood with sinners, or sat in scorn upon anyone.  All of us have done these things, but he is innocent of them all, instead:

His delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his Law he meditates day and night.

When we read the Psalm in this manner, it becomes not good advice for us, but a proclamation of Christ’s life and love.  Instead of a general exhortation to good living, it can be prayed as a meditation on God’s goodness in Christ.

We are present also in this psalm.  In John 15, Jesus says, “I am the vine, you are the branches.  Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit.”  Psalm 1:3 proclaims of Christ:

He is like a tree planted by streams of water, bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither; whatever he does shall prosper.

In a sense, both ways of praying this psalm – from our perspective, and from Christ’s perspective – are appropriate.  But to put things in a Lutheran key, praying the psalm from our perspective makes this a Psalm of Law.  The Law commands us to be the blessed person, avoiding those things which are bad and delighting in what is good.  It is that blessed person that we find it often so hard to be, and we wonder – no, we confess – that we are that sinner who will not stand in the council of the righteous.  We can only approach this psalm in aspiration, measuring our life by how well or how badly we approach the status of “blessed one.”

But to pray this psalm in adoration of Christ, the Blessed One – ah, that puts things in a whole new light.   It is the light of the Gospel, it is what God has done for us, not what we can do for God.  We are indeed called to the blessed life, but it is not something we do out of our own strength or goodness.  Rather it is a life of imitation: to model our lives after the life of the Blessed One who lived his obedient life to save us.  We are also reminded that “the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked is doomed.”  God’s vindication of Christ and his holy ones cannot be far away.  We need not fear the snares of the world or those who would harm us.

Psalm 1, New American Standard Version

November 7, 2007 at 10:43 pm 1 comment


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