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.