A Survivor Prays on Memorial Day

On Memorial Day, I remember my uncle Jimmy who was killed in action in Vietnam, grieving with my friends Ray and Rhonda at their son-in-law’s memorial, praying at a ceremony at a French military Memorial Day ceremony in 2002, and listening to my Dad talk about his service in the Army. I recall speaking at military memorial ceremonies and funerals, notifying startled and sometimes angry families that their beloved hero had died, marching off aircraft behind the remains of Americans killed in Afghanistan while I spoke the words of Psalm 23 and Psalm 24 from memory. I remember praying with a Turkish Army officer after a helicopter crash killed the officer’s friend, a fact we learned as part of a team that identified the bodies. I have walked through beautifully maintained cemeteries in Germany and seen memorial markers for soldiers who died fighting for Germany during WWII. That nation still refrains from honoring those who committed war crimes during that era, but families mourn those who died fighting. I have witnessed the impact of war and military training on families. I have been the young nephew who winces and watches his aunt cry as an honor squad fires volleys in salute at the gravesite.

Memorial Day 2002

On Memorial Day, we remember people who acted on our behalf, sometimes in our place, and sometimes beside us. If we are the friends or family who survive, on this day we yearn for someone to remember the one we loved, or just to realize that our pain still survives at some level. We all need people who will rejoice when we rejoice, but will also weep when we weep. That is why I believe it is appropriate for religious assemblies to take time to recognize those who died serving their country and to console the survivors – the parents, spouses, children, friends, and comrades-in-arms who still ache because the unexpected vacuum that persists in their hearts. In the words of Lamentations 1:20,

“See, LORD, how distressed I am! I am in torment within, and in my heart I am disturbed, for I have been most rebellious. Outside, the sword bereaves; inside, there is only death.”

We who survive grieve potential that will never be realized, regret arguments that can never be retracted or forgiven, covet conversations that will never happen in this life. We remember, and when we remember, in some ways our heroes return and remind us of what we might achieve if we remain faithful. So, on this Memorial Day, when you pause to honor those who died, remember too those who survived, and when you can, encourage them, and pray for them.

O God, War ravages our cities and our countryside. It kills our heroes, or maims them, but somehow refines others so that they grow beyond what they might have been had they not been shocked into awareness by the horror of conflict. For many of us, the dead that we honor on Memorial Day have faces. We recall their voices and can almost still feel their hugs. We may still cringe when we reflect on a moment that we wish we could have back so we could live it better. Console the families and friends who grieve. Infuse them with a hope grounded in love that will encourage and produce a positive growth. Renew within us the urge to seek peace and pursue it, for we have seen and felt the pain of war. Remind us how we may encourage one another and spur each other on to love and good deeds. I pray in Jesus’ name, amen.

  • Quotes from the Bible are from the New International Version 2011
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A Disciple’s Full-Bodied Prayer

Humility and gratitude flow through prayer in Psalm 40, grounded in a full-bodied devotion to the Lord God. The psalmist recognizes his helplessness without God; he recalls how God not only rescued him previously, but also provided for him:

“I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me an heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the LORD and put their trust in him” (Psalm 40:1-3).

These initial verses lay the groundwork for the prayer that will follow. God has rescued a worshipper from a predicament that is described as slimy and muddy. He has secured the worshiper’s future with a secure foundation. These verses introduce a vision of intense commitment to God. The psalmist’s whole body will follow God, will praise him and sing of him, will preach about his saving power, refusing to be silent about what God has done for him. A description of “full-bodied discipleship” emerges:

  • God has set his feet on a rock and given him a firm place to stand (v 2)
  • The LORD has put a new song in his mouth (v 3)
  • God has opened his ears (v 6)
  • God has prepared a body for him (v 6)
  • God’s law is within his heart (v 8)
  • The psalmist does not seal his lips (v 9)
  • The psalmist does not hide God’s righteousness in his heart (v10)

A prayer begins in verse 5 and, as can be seen, continues to develop a description of devoted discipleship. The prayer reveals an awareness that following God transcends practice of ritual and following of rules:

“Many, LORD my God, are the wonders you have done, the things you planned for us. None can compare with you were I to speak and tell of your deeds, they would be too many to declare. Sacrifice and offering you died not desire – but my ears you have opened – burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not require. Then I said, ‘Here I am, I have come – it is written about me in the scroll. I desire to do you will, my God; your law is within my heart. I do not hide your righteousness in my heart; I speak of your faithfulness and your saving help. I do not conceal your love and your faithfulness from the great assembly” (Psalm 40:5-9).

The writer of the book of Hebrews in the New Testament describes Jesus as praying this prayer. The words of the prayer describe well Christ’s intense commitment to doing God’s will with all his heart and his proclamation of the kingdom of God. Both Hebrews 10 and Psalm 40 emphasize that following God demands a whole-hearted following that goes beyond ritual. Both underline that following God may seem terribly lonely in difficult times, but occurs in the company of other followers who, with the totality of their being, pray together, who sing and proclaim to one another what God has done for them.

Times of trial and testing continue for the follower of God. Salvation does not destroy temptations or people who oppose faith in God and seek to disgrace the disciple of God:

“Do not withhold your mercy from, LORD; may you love and faithfulness always protect me. For troubles without number surround me; my sins have over taken me, and I cannot see” (Psalm 40:11-12a).

The psalmist, and we when we follow his example, cries out for God to forgive and to rescue. He already is a member of the covenant people of God. Because of that status, he calls out to the One he knows can deliver him:

“May those who say to me, ‘Aha! Aha!’ be appalled at their own shame. But may all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; may those who long for your saving help always say, ‘The LORD is great!’ But, as for me, I am poor and needy; may the Lord think of me. You are my help and my deliverer; you are my God, do not delay” (Psalm 40:15-17).

As I noted above, the prayer of Psalm 40 reappears in Hebrews 10, placed in the mouth of Jesus during his incarnation as a human being. There the prayer, besides asserting full commitment to God, occurs in a context that emphasizes that the follower of God functions as part of a community of believers who encourage one another through prayer and song when meeting together. As was the case with the psalmist, the Christian is not alone in following God, but does make an individual decision to follow with all his or her heart. Discouragement or fear may tempt us to give up or to compromise, but remembering God’s power to deliver and the fact that we are not alone enables those of us who follow God through Christ to continue. We trust, obey, and pray with all our body and our mind. As the writer of Hebrews said,

“But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved” (Hebrews 10:39).

  • Quotes from the Bible are from the New International Version 2011.

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Father, Hear the Prayer We Offer

What do we do when our words fail us when we need to pray. Often, I sing songs of prayer that voice the feelings or needs that I have at that time. One of my favorites is a song I wrote about in a post I am reblogging here that I wrote seven years ago today: “Father, Hear the Prayer We Offer.” Read it, like it if you will, and comment on what you pray when you cannot.

Call for Fire Seminar

What does the homeless woman pray as she huddles under a cardboard shelter? What did the religious among the schoolchildren who drowned in South Korea pray as they sank beneath the surface? What does the unemployed veteran cry out to God as he relives painful memories each night, only to awaken to an equally frightening present? What does the lawyer pray, after winning her case, when she drives home to a marriage in disarray? What does the angry voter pray, as he enters worship enraged at national leaders, and yearning for restoration in his homeland, but also wanting peace in his soul?

Sometimes, we do not know what to pray. We’re afraid to unleash pent-up rage in a petition to our Creator. Repeated failures have numbed our hope for anyone, even God, caring. We may, in those moments, open our Bibles and discover cries of lamentation by psalmists, Job, and…

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Prayer for Victory over a Virus

How does one conquer a pandemic?
It’s difficult; it’s so systemic,
Everywhere you look, people in masks,
And if not, “Why?” Someone asks.
While we battle a novel disease,
Wishing it would depart, please,
While we fend it off, staying apart,
Washing our hands, doing our part
By staying home but to run or shop.
Now hope tantalizes the nation
With a promise of vaccination
Whose date slips farther away
While new strains appear each day.

Navigating this most uncertain path
Pushes me at times to the edge of wrath.
But as I teeter on the edge of anger’s chasm,
Counteracting emotion evokes a spasm,
A glimmer of reason to keep pressing on,
To stride toward the light before it’s gone.
I run to strengthen my body’s resilience,
To build strength, to increase resistance
To viruses and bacteria, to fend off fatigue
And renew energy like I’m in the Justice League.

I sing while I run – praises to the Creator God
Who vigilant, loving, is my rock as weary, I plod.
I pray, too, to the God who cures from plague,
Who purges also those who rebel, and I beg:

Lord of justice and of faithful love,
Whose Spirit descends from above
To dwell within those who trust and obey,
To you I cry, in you I hope, when I pray.
Half a million have died in our nation alone,
Falling prey to a virus at whom some made fun
And denied its power to cripple, to kill
Until stricken by it, they gasped, then lay still.
Its spread reminds us over how little we have control,
Whether fearing or denying, we see the increase of its toll.
Masks, washing hands, vaccines slow its spread,
But some, craving freedom, would rather be dead
Than discipline themselves and show concern.
Instead they rebel and scoff at those who govern.

“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ,”
Wrote an apostle, but submission seems like a heist
Of self-determination, and insult to humanity.

Teach us to love truth and to discern
Whom to trust, even when taciturn.
In the midst of pandemic, denied in confusion,
Reveal our way to healing, to peaceful fusion
Of societies and cultures bonded together
In health and prosperity, tied by a tether
Of resolve to do to others what to us
We would they would do, without fuss.

If partial victory over this virus is all we achieve,
Teach us once more to love, to trust, to believe
That we can unite to fight a common foe
When you, our God, we faithfully follow.

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Praying when Very Sick

Life-threatening illness erases our calendar and makes us reassess our priorities. Because it often separates us from friends and, in the age of COVID, even family, it may isolate us from previous support systems. We may feel abandoned or at least neglected. Psalm 38 is a prayer by just such a sick person. His friends avoid him and it seems that his enemies have become more fervent in their attacks. He himself has become quite aware of his spiritual failings; he has sinned against God and confesses that sin. His guilt weighs him down:

“LORD, do not rebuke me in your anger or discipline me in your wrath. Your arrows have pierced me, and your hand has come down on me. Because of your wrath there is no health in my body; there is no soundness in my bones because of my sin. My guilt has overwhelmed me like a burden too heavy to bear” (Psalm 38:1-4).

When we are afraid, we may fight or we may flee from the source of our fear. In the case of illness, fighting includes talking with doctors, seeking cures, taking medicines, and prayer. Fleeing may included literally checking oneself out of the hospital to avoid treatment or simply denying that we are sick, attempting to continue normal activities despite pain, weakness, or loss of control over our body’s functions. As Brian King observes in his book Taking It Easy: How to Cope with Bears, Traffic, and the Rest of Life’s Stressors, a third option sometimes occurs in response to stress and fear: We freeze. In the middle of this psalm, the sick person reveals:

“I am like the deaf, who cannot hear, like the mute, who cannot speak; I have become like one who does not hear, whose mouth can offer no reply” (Psalm 38:13-14).

He does not fight. He does not run away. He can do nothing. His guilt and his fear of his sickness have immobilized him:

“My wounds fester and are loathsome because of my sinful folly. I am bowed down and brought very low; all day long I go about mourning. My back is filled with searing pain; there is no health in my body. I feeble and utterly crushed; I groan in anguish of heart” (Psalm 38:5-8).

This psalm has been grouped with others as a penitential psalm, for in it the psalmist confesses that he has sinned and voices his repentance. He recognizes God as his source of hope in a terrifying situation where his body betrays him, friends avoid him, and enemies redouble their criticism:

“All my longings lie open before you, Lord; my sighing is not hidden from you. My heart pounds, my strength fails me; even the light has gone from my eyes. My friends and companions avoid me because of my wounds; my neighbors stay far away. Those who want to kill me set their traps, those who would harm me talk of my ruin; all day long they scheme and lie” (Psalm 38:9-12).

In January 2014, I was hospitalized unexpectedly four hundred miles from home. I wasn’t allowed out of my bed unless a nurse assisted me after I fell shortly after admission. Visitors had to wear gloves, masks, and paper gowns over their clothing to enter my room. My schedule was wrecked; my falling ill had come while on military duty. Friends whom I would have thought would visit did not; some who did visit seemed quite nervous. My wife drove seven hours to be with me, which helped tremendously, especially when I was released, because I still was not strong enough to drive home and would be on intravenous medication constantly for another week. One of my attending doctors told me that I would have died if I had not been taken to the hospital. The prayer of Psalm 38 resonates with me because of that experience.

During this past year, many others have known the fear and isolation of life-threatening illness. Almost all of us have had our lives disrupted as our world scrambled to find answers for a novel coronavirus. Even now, we’re not entirely sure its safe to venture out.

Psalm 38’s prayer reminds us to open our lives before the Lord, to be honest in our prayers about our failings and our fears. James 5:13-17 reflects this psalm’s emphasis on the curative powers of confession and prayer. Sin, guilt, and stress affect our physical health as well as our spiritual and mental health. We need healthy habits and lifestyles, positive interactions with other people and with God, a holistic approach to health. If you are ill, I pray that you will realize that God and others still love you. I pray that you will keep your life open before God and will be honest with him and with yourself. The pray-er of Psalm 38 emphasizes his (and our need) for God’s assistants as he concludes his prayer:

“For I am about to fail, and my pain is ever with me. I confess my iniquity; I am troubled by sin. Many have become my enemies without cause; those who hate me without reason are numerous. Those who repay my good with evil lodge accusations against me, though I seek only to do what is good. Lord, do not forsake me; do not be far from me, my God. Come quickly to help me, my Lord and my Savior” (Psalm 38:17-21).

  • Quotes from the Bible are from the New International Version 2011.
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Thanking God for Saving by the Resurrection

Because he arose,
We will arise.
We are saved by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Three hours of darkness had transformed the landscape outside Jerusalem while Jesus hung, suffering and dying, to a cross. His family, his followers, Roman Soldiers, and scoffing passersby had all cried out, some in prayer and lament, others in mockery and insults. With darkness would have come uncertainty, restlessness, fear. It was early afternoon on a Spring day, after all. Then he had died. A soldier had exclaimed that Jesus was a son of God (Luke 23:47), that he was “surely…the Son of God” (Mark 15:39).

The next day, the Sabbath, was also a day of darkness for the followers of Jesus, a day of darkness for the soul. Jesus had died. Their hopes and dreams for him as Messiah seemed crushed. Some hid behind locked doors. They feared arrest. They grieved. Jesus had died and with him, their vision of a future with him as their king.

The day after the Sabbath began in darkness. A few grieving women went to the tomb where Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus had placed the lifeless body of Jesus. Then everything changed:

“There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men” (Matthew 28:2-4).

Light had invaded the darkness. Fear and doubt remained. The angel spoke to the women,

“Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said…” (Matthew 28:5-6).

The women still fear, but they still follow the angel’s subsequent instruction to go tell the other disciples that Jesus had arisen from the dead. Even after the male disciples heard and ran to confirm for themselves that the tomb was indeed empty, even after Jesus appeared to them in a locked room, even after he cooked breakfast for some by the Sea of Galilee, some doubted, some still feared.

What did they hear? What did they see? What moved them past doubt and fear to praise and proclamation?

Jesus had arisen. He ascended. They would pray together. On Pentecost, the Holy Spirit would descend on them, and they would understand as Peter would preach that day, “God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah” (Acts 2:36). He would tell them that they must repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins. Another apostle would say that Christians have died and have been buried in baptism to arise into a new life (Romans 6:1-4). Peter still later would write, reflecting on God saving Noah through the flood, that “this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also – not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:21).

We live still in a world where there is too much darkness. We still fear. We still doubt. We cower, our faith warped and distorted by conspiracy theories that we believe. We hesitate to love, because we magnify differences but fail to see the image of God in fellow human beings. We cling to the darkness, because the light startles us and challenges us. We protest and we shout in defense of our rights more than we listen and we pray.

“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever an ever. Amen” (1 Peter 4:10-11).

Because he arose,
We will arise.
We are saved by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

• Quotes from the Bible are from the New International Version 2011.

God of grace and glory, you dispel the darkness. You infuse light through love and your creative power. You turned everything upside down when you raised Jesus from the dead. We marvel at the resurrection. When we fear, help us find the path to hope. When we doubt, forgive our unbelief. When hate and fear tempt us to forsake our faith, help us to remember our baptism, and to remember that we are saved by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We pray in His name, amen.

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“Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:31).

Many prayers ascended to God that Spring day,
Calls for fire to hold unjust Death at bay.
A group of women huddled near a cross
On which hung one’s son, what tragic loss
She felt, and they shared, he was their friend,
And for one, a nephew, love without end.
A man watched with them; heart also torn.
He had camped with him, seen many a morn
Wake as the sun broke the horizon,
Listened to him season after season.
They prayed cries of harsh, bitter lament
Salted with faint hope that God would rent
The heavens and liberate his Messiah.

Suddenly, at midday the sun went dark.
The crowds murmured, but jeers hit their mark
Still as passersby scoffed at the dying.
A prayer from the cross, “Father, forgive them,”
Echoed by soldiers whose unease grew
As they watched his dignity in pain.
Lord, we read and we visualize that day,
But cannot know what we would have said,
What we would have cried, would have prayed.
Forgive us, too, when we know not what we do,
When our confession falters, does not ring true.

  • by Michael Summers, April 3, 2021

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Prayer of the Righteous Man

“The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles. The LORD is close to the broken hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:17).

God hears, and delivers the righteous from their fears. That, as I have explained in two previous posts that you may find here and here, is the message of Psalm 34. The Psalm also calls the worshiper of God to seek refuge in the Lord, and to live actively for him, seeking peace and pursuing it. God, for his part, listens actively and surrounds the righteous with protection.

The psalm concludes with another assertion that God hears the cries, the prayers, of the righteous. Most, if not all of us, have wondered in desperate times whether anyone hear our pleas for help. God hears, he rescues, and he avenges – the evil of the wicked will itself destroy them (verse 21). One New Testament passage quotes a verse from the conclusion of Psalm 34 and asserts the verse’s quintessential fulfillment in one particular “righteous man:”

“Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jewish leaders did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down. The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. The man who saw it has given testimony and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe. These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: ‘None one of his bones will be broken,’ and, as another scripture says, ‘They will look on the one they have pierced” (John 19:31-37).

Most people, I suspect, read the Psalms with quite personal application. Since the psalms were used in public and private worship in the beginning, that application can be quite appropriate. Psalm 34 seems to be a psalm that the follower of God can read for assurance of God’s protection. I would argue that indeed it is. But John tells us that it has another special application. While we may aspire to be righteous people whom God hears and protects, Jesus was “The Righteous Man.” Although his brutal execution by crucifixion would seem to contradict God’s protection, John asserts that God the Father indeed was hearing Jesus’ cries and was present with him as he died, even keeping his bones from being broken. I encourage you to read Psalm 34 as if it were written by Jesus about himself: Jesus becomes the “I” of verse 4, the “poor man” of verse 6, the “righteous” of verses 17 and 19-20. The psalm asserts that however dire the circumstances of the righteous may appear to be, God still hears and protects. God still will deliver:

“The LORD will rescue his servants; no one who takes refuge in him will be condemned” (Psalm 34:22).

The application of Psalm 34 to Jesus then affirms his righteousness; he is much more than an obscure, executed Jewish rebel – he is God’s Righteous One, whom as John will describe, God rescues through resurrection. The second Old Testament passage quoted by John, Zechariah 12:10 (“They will look on the one they have pierced), has intrigued and troubled me in the past. That verse from Zechariah again proclaims a deeper insight of joy but also the perspective of grieving as God says through the prophet:

“And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn child” (Zechariah 12:10).

While the Roman Soldiers who pierced Jesus’ side and witnessed blood and water flowing out may have thought that the influence of this dead Jewish man had ended, John insists that God was pouring out his grace through the apparent tragedy of his death. So, too, when we regard our own circumstances, it may appear that all is lost, when in fact, God will be glorified or our own righteousness will be refined as a result of what we endure.

During this week when many are reflecting on the death and resurrection of Jesus, I encourage you to spend time considering what Psalm 34 says about Jesus and what it promises about you. Jesus, the Righteous One, calls us to follow in his steps, Peter wrote in the Psalm 34-influenced chapter 3 of 1 Peter. God saves us too, however unredeemable we may think ourselves, “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” I invite you to seek refuge in God through Christ, to conquer your fears, to seek peace and pursue it, to let him rescue you. Live as a righteous man or a righteous woman who serves God faithfully. Again:

“The LORD will rescue his servants: no one who takes refuge in him will be condemned” (Psalm 34:22)

  • Quotations from the Bible are from the New International Version 2011.

God of Refuge who Rescues, As we reflect on the death and resurrection of your Righteous Son, we remember our own spiritual frailty. We stutter when our faith is challenged; we hesitate when challenged to demonstrate our allegiance. We pray that you will give us strength and renew our hope when we suffer in your service. We pray that when we suffer, that we will do so because of our righteousness rather than because we have defected and become agents of evil. Sustain us as ministers of reconciliation who seek to make peace. Feed us well when we hunger and thirst for righteousness. When we are persecuted, if such must occur, rescue us. We pray that your grace will continue to pour out upon us and that our lives will glorify you, In Jesus’ name, amen.

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Conversation with the God who Listens

When we pray, we converse with God. Our speaking, however, comprises only part of the conversation. As in any exchange between sentient beings, nonverbal cues enter into each participant’s understanding of the other’s intent in the conversation. In my most recent post, I discussed what the beginning of Psalm 34 teaches about prayer. The middle section of Psalm 34 offers insights into both human and divine aspects of the conversation in which we engage when we pray. Two verses address what God does when his followers pray and contrast that behavior with his attitude towards the wicked:

“The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous, and his ears are attentive to their cry; but the face of the LORD is against those who do evil, to blot out their name from the earth” (Psalm 34:15-16).

Notice that the “eyes of the LORD” are parallel to “his ears are attentive” in verse 15. God pays attention when the righteous call for fire, when they pray for rescue. When we converse with another a person and they are glancing to the side or looking beyond us when we speak, we infer that they are not listening carefully to us. God does listen – his eyes are on the righteous when they pray. Earlier verses in this section concern how people listen to God. The New Testament book of 1 Peter’s first three chapters both allude to and quote directly this section of Psalm 34 in discussing how Christians respond to God and engage with him. 1 Peter 3:10-12 directly quotes Psalm 34:12-16; 1 Peter 2:3 (“now that you have tasted that the Lord is good” alludes to Psalm 34:8:

“Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.”

In Psalm 34, the following verses instruct “holy people” to fear the Lord and to seek him, for those who do so “lack no good thing.” In 1 Peter, tasting that the Lord is good occurs in a context that tells Christians that they have been born again “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:3) and “through the living and enduring word of God” (1 Peter 1:23). They are told, “This is the word that was preached to you” two verses later. In chapter three, they are told that rather than fearing threats of those who oppose their Christian faith, that they should fear (or “revere”) Christ as Lord. They should regard Jesus with the same attitude and as having the status as they and the righteous of Psalm 34 are to regard God (1 Peter 3:14-15).

God speaks to Christians through his word, that is, through the Scriptures and through Jesus. We listen well when what we “hear” changes how we behave and speak. So, 1 Peter 2 begins:

“Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good” (1 Peter 2:1-3).

When we pray, how well do we listen to what the Lord has said? Our attitudes, our behaviors, and our conversations with other people (including posts on social media) testify as to how well we are listening to God. 1 Peter chapter three continues in verse 21 by saying that just as eight people were saved in Noah’s ark through water, so also “baptism now saves you also.” The verse clarifies that this is not because it washes dirt from the body, but that baptism is “the answer of a good conscience toward God” (King James Version) or “pledge” (NIV 2011). Baptism is an answer to God, a prayer through physical action that at least in the case of Paul was followed by “calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16). 1 Peter 3:21 stresses that the salvation by baptism is accomplished “the resurrection of Jesus Christ,” a striking parallel with 1 Peter 1:3. I Peter, in at least the first three chapters, seems to be a commentary on Psalm 34 that describes life as conversation with God in which we both listen and respond. As in Psalm 34, the righteous encounter opposition and hardship, but overcoming by seeking refuge in the Lord and listening to him, “tasting to see that the Lord is good.” 1 Peter and Psalm 34 stresses that response to the Lord (as demonstrated in prayer and in action) is rooted in love and in seeking peace; both 1 Peter and Psalm 34 underline that fear (strong reverence) of the Lord is also the foundation of our response, again both in prayer and in how we live:

“Come my children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord. Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days, keep your tongue from evil and your lips from telling lies. Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it. The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous, and his ears are attentive to their cry; but the face of the LORD is against those who do evil, to blot out their name from the earth” (Psalm 34:11-16, verses 12-16 are quoted in 1 Peter 3:10-12).

Before you pray, listen to God. Since I was twelve years old, I have read through the Bible regularly. But listening means more than reading. It also requires understanding – studying and meditating on meaning, then putting it into action by loving God and loving our neighbor as ourselves. We listen too by speaking truth and pursuing peace, being ministers of reconciliation. Psalm 34 reminds us that God listens carefully to the prayers of the righteous. That’s a reminder that faith is more than just belief, it is that belief made alive in action and attitude, anchored in an assurance that we serve a God who loves us and listens to us when we pray. Pray hard and live with love, my friends!

• Quotations from the Bible are from the New International Version 2011 unless noted otherwise.

God who hears the prayers of the righteous – We live in times when conflicting voices clamor for our attention, claiming to speak truth when quite often it is obvious that not all can be true. We too sometimes recognize in our own voices and in our writing a malice or sarcasm that does not seem consistent with our confession of the Messiah who calls us to love and follow in his steps, even when we might be required to suffer on his behalf. When we are battered and worn, remind us that we may find refuge in us. Revive in our minds the memories of your word and spark within us the will to live with devoted, obedient, disciplined love as we follow Jesus. We pray in his name, Amen.

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Prayer When All is Lost and We Doubt God’s Presence

How would you act if suddenly what gave you a sense of security was taken away? How and what would you pray? Would you pray? In Rumaan Alam’s novel Leave the World Behind, two families from different racial and social strata find themselves stranded in a house together during an international emergency (although they have no sense of its scope, since internet, television, and media aren’t working). They encountered a few others when they tentatively venture out – one who is panicking and talking rapidly in a language that is not understood, another who is unfriendly, almost threatening, who tells them not to trust the hospital they seek, but to fortify themselves in the house and trust no one. Animals are behaving strangely, unexplained sonic booms shake them physically and emotionally, minor health concerns become major with no medical assistance. Prayer is mentioned, or rather, its absence is noted by the author/narrator. Several of the main characters no longer share the faith in God that a previous generation had. Of one character it is said that because she could not pray, she thought nothing. However, she still feared what might happen next.

Psalm 34 is about response to fear. The psalmist advocates taking refuge in God through prayer and praise in times of crisis. He begins,

“I will extol the LORD at all times; his praise will always be on my lips. I will glory in the LORD; let the afflicted hear and rejoice. Glorify the LORD with me; let us exalt his name together. I sought the LORD, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame” (Psalm 34:1-5).

Biblical worship, including prayer, focuses on giving glory to God. When crises and loss dominate our lives, lament and protest may dominate our prayers. Even then, the act of praying confesses that God exists and has the power to resolve our troubles or to console us as we grieve. The psalmist’s experience suggests three key aspects to prayer: Seeking God’s help rather than relying on our own failing resources, approaching God with reverent fear rather than regarding prayer as the equivalent of using a debit card, and remembering God’s protecting presence even when it seems that forces that we cannot overcome are attacking us.

One of my favorite bible episodes about God’s protection of the righteous is found in 2 Kings chapter 6. The king of Syria has learned that the prophet Elisha warns the king of Israel about Syria’s hostile military encroachments into Israel before they happen. The king sends a special assault force to kill Elisha. When Elisha’s servant sees the Syrian military forces surrounding their village, he panics until Elisha speaks:

“Don’t be afraid,’ the prophet answered. ‘Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.’ And Elisha prayed, ‘Open his eyes, LORD, so that he may see.’ Then the LORD opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha” (2 Kings 6:16-17).

The rest of the chapter describes how God and Elisha overcome the situation while also giving insight on ethical treatment of prisoners of war. Psalm 34 and 2 Kings 6 proclaim the same message – God protects the righteous. As Psalm 34 says,

“This poor man called, and the LORD heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles. The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them” (Psalm 34:6-7).

In my next two posts, we will learn more from Psalm 34 about prayer and trusting God’s power to save. We will see how the psalm and its teaching about prayer is used in the New Testament, and what that use helps us understand about how to pray, how to live as disciples of Jesus, and how to live with confidence when all seems lost.

• Quotations of the Bible are from the New International Version of the Bible.

God whose protective forces surround the righteous, When we cower in fear, remind us that you are present. When we discern only horror and doubt your presence, open our eyes that we may see your capabilities. You are the God who achieves what we think impossible. You provide hope where we see none. You listen to our fears and renew our courage. May we always remember to call you when circumstances are dire; may we live with urgent awareness of your will, your presence, and your love. In Jesus’ name, amen.

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