On the 18th June we started a series in the Psalms at our 9.30am service which will run through June, July and August, excluding the Family Praise services. Each week we’ll consider one Psalm; we’ll seek to explore its content and theme, and reflect on what it teaches us.
Now over these few weeks we won’t be able to do justice to all 150 Psalms, we just can’t fit them in…… and so right at the start of this series can I encourage you to do some summer reading. I’ve worked out that if you were to read 2 Psalms each day, maybe one in the morning and one in the evening, starting today, the 18th of June, you’d finish by the first week of September. And so I’d really recommend giving it a go. Just read them through, think them through, pray them through and allow them to dwell with you this summer.
Now by way of introduction, on one level we don’t know a huge amount about the exact historical or geographical or cultural circumstance of each of the 150 Psalms.
We don’t know their exact background, nor do we know who wrote each one. David is the named author, but many are anonymous. May will have been written by someone else.
Over hundreds of years many different bible scholars have tried to group and classify the psalms in lots of different ways. Some have tried to classify the psalms based on their content. Some psalms are celebratory in nature….and were almost certainly hymns of praise used by God’s people to worship him. These psalms are full of praise, encouraging the nations, the peoples to give God glory for his goodness, faithfulness and love.
Some of the psalms are laments. They express the psalmist’s response to God in a situation of need or affliction. These psalms may contain complaint, or a cry for help, a confession of wrongdoing, or a call for vengeance.
Other psalms are full of thanksgiving, expressing thanks to God for some specific act of deliverance that the psalmist has experienced. They also act as a witness, a testimony to the saving work of God.
Other scholars recognise more subtle differences in the Psalms……
I particularly like a guy called Walter Brueggemann. He categorises the psalms in three groups which reflect a pattern or rhythm of life. So firstly Brueggemann describes some Psalms as orientation psalms – these are times when everything makes sense in life, when all is good and happy.
Then there are psalms which he identifies as dis-orientation times, when life is hard or difficult, times when we feel like we have fallen in a pit or our world is collapsing around us.
And finally he identifies psalms of re-orientation – times when we realize that God has lifted us out of the pit and we are in a new place, full of gratitude and awareness about our lives and our God.
Now I guess in many ways it doesn’t matter too much how we classify or sort the psalms – in many ways it could be argued we don’t need to. The important thing is to recognise that the Psalms are beautiful, powerful, prayers and poetry. They are a bit like a photo album, full of pictures that show us a variety of places in a land of spiritual experience.
- The Psalms address God with frankness and urgency. They give to us a voice to our inner turmoil, our inner thoughts.
- They teach us to talk to God about life’s deepest needs and longings with childlike vulnerability and spontaneity.
- They immerse us in a spiritual life that is a passionate struggle to love and to know that we are loved by God.
- The psalms give us a biblical mirror to help us discover ourselves and reflect on our relationship to God.
- The Psalms, I believe, teach us to pray.
- The Psalms aren’t ‘nice’ or ‘polite’ or theologically correct.
- The psalms offer us the gift of expression; powerful words and images which allow us to express our heartfelt cries to God.
- Our fears, our hopes, our joy, our anger, our longing, our gratitude, our doubt and our worship….all find expression in the psalms.
- The Psalms also give us the ability, perhaps the courage, to acknowledge our vulnerability and our dependence on God. They allow us to recognise that God is God, and we are his children. That God is infinite, and we are finite.
- The Psalms encourage, urge us, and inspire us to come to God as we are, in honesty, in courage, in celebration – to delve deeper and experience a greater depth of God’s presence and reality in our lives.