Beyond (Before?) Theological Hermeneutics V

One last post on spiritual or contemplative reading of Scripture….I think. Afterwards, I will take a weekend break from blogging to enjoy some time with my wife.

“Praying the Psalms” has been a intermittent habit of mine. Sometimes I have devoted myself to it and at other times I have laid it aside. As I look back on my patterns, I seem to renew this habit during times of hurt and pain. I have used it as a way of lamenting; to use the language of the Psalms to speak to God in my suffering or loss.

While it is certainly appropriate to pray the laments of the Psalms, I need to appropriate the whole Psalter in my prayer life. I have read through the Psalms on many occasions, but I have rarely taken the time to pray some of the thanksgiving Psalms or the praise Psalms. This has left a hole in my Psalm-praying where I have given more time to lament than I have to thanksgiving. This is a deficiency I intend to correct.

“Praying the Psalms,” nevertheless, has been an important spiritual discipline for me (and I have sometimes expanded it to other texts of Scripture as well; cf. “Praying Scripture” or “How to Pray the Scriptures“).

A Method

Here is a method that I apply to the Psalms–either to a whole Psalm or part of a Psalm (e.g., Psalm 119 is not something, perhaps, you want to do in one sitting):

Silence – As in other forms of spiritual reading, it is important to still our souls before God so that we are able to listen and respond out of our hearts.

Read the Psalm – I read it audibly, slowly and deliberately.  I will read it several times, perhaps with several different translations.

Observe the Psalm – I note the movement within the Psalm; is it a movement from complaint to praise, or from circumstance to thanksgiving, etc.  I note some of the key words or phrases in the Psalm that indicate the circumstance of the writer.  In other words, I seek to gain some kind of preliminary understanding of the Psalm.

Read the Psalm – I then read the Psalm as a whole once again–audibly, slowly and deliberately.

Meditate on the Psalm – Line by line I seek to internalize each sentence. How are these words my words? How do they connect with my inner being, my desires, my wants, my hurts, my joys?

Read the Psalm – I then read the Psalm as a whole once again–audibly, slowly and deliberately.

Pray through the Psalm – Line by line I reword the sentences or phrases as my own, or sometimes I approach this task by thinking about two or three stanzas together to reword them. These words become my prayer as I am led by the Psalm toward spiritual formation.

Conclude with Prayer – I tend to place an appendix on my psalm praying.  I add a thanksgiving, a complaint, a blessing, etc. that fits my particular situation or needs at the moment; or my need to bless God for his gracious presence…whatever my heart yields in the moment.

Example of Praying Through the Psalm Line by Line: Psalm 11

[I will not cite Psalm 11 itself, but offer my own prayer lines that are rooted in the Psalm.]

My Crisis (11:1-3)

Yahweh, I take refuge in you.

This is so difficult for me to do.  I would rather run; I want to escape my hurt and pain.  Everything within my sinful nature is telling me to flee, to hide. I’ve run before; forgive me.

My sinful nature tells me that my enemies have surrounded me and that their only interest is to bring me down. The chaos that envelopes me wants to destroy me. It is as if, Lord, the enemy is hiding in the shadows waiting to shoot me down; the enemy wants me to go down in flames.

What am I to do, Yahweh, when such power is gathered against me? When the world is falling apart–when war continues in Iraq, when political strife consumes my nation, when pornography is my nation’s most profitable business, when children kill children, when poverty abounds around the world and my nation lives in such luxury…., what am I to pray? What am I to do?  It is so much easier to run, to flee; but I know that is an illusion.

When my grief burdens me and my sin grieves me, what am I to do, O Yahweh?

My Trust (11:4-5)

I know, Yahweh, that you are enthroned in glory; I know that you are in your holy temple.  I will bow in silence before you.  I will listen to your voice.  I will trust in your sovereign work in the world.

I know that you know all the chaos in the world.  I know it does not escape your attention. I often wonder why you are so passive and do nothing–at least it seems rhat way to me.  But I know you see and examine every movement of your creatures; you know every intent of the heart; you know every burden of the soul.

I know that you are not indifferent to the chaos.  I confess that your attention is trained on your creation, and your intent is both gracious and just.

You know the difference between the righteous and the wicked, between those who love you and those who love violence.  You see the world as it really is; you see the heart of every human being.  You hate the wicked and test the righteous. Your ways are just and holy.  I trust your faithfulness; I trust what you are doing in the world.

Though the foundations of the world crumble around me, though I have sorrow in my heart every day, though violence reigns, yet will I trust you.

My Commitment (11:6-7)

Yahweh, I confess that one day you will set the world right.  One day you will rain your righteous judgment on the wicked.  One day the righteous will see your face. Oh, my God, I yearn to see your face rather than the chaos that surrounds me. I groan for the new world to come.

Yahweh, I confess that though your soul hates the wicked, your heart loves the righteous. Oh, my God, I know you yearn to love me and I know your love. Create in me, O God, a clean heart and a righteous spirit that I might enjoy your love as you delight in me.

I commit myself, Yahweh, to your ways, to your righteousness, to your love.  I will take refuge in you for I have no one else.  I will take refuge in you because you are the sovereign Lord of the universe.  I will take refuge in you for you love those who love justice and hate those who love violence.  I will neither run nor hide. I will trust you.  

Thank you, O God, that I have the hope of living in your presence forever. I want to see your face. May your face shine up me this day. Give me a living hope that heals my hurts and gives me eyes to see where you are at work in the world.  Give me eyes to see your hope aflame in the midst of the darkness.

Maranatha.  Come, Lord Jesus.


4 Responses to “Beyond (Before?) Theological Hermeneutics V”

  1.   rich constant Says:

    john mark
    Yahweh the same as or = too father, after the glorafacation and the establishment of his kingdom through the rule of his promised one?
    or is this an expression given to the fathers, to be inclusive of the dieity of the trinity.

    any thoughts on this?

    i have a lot of although”s to the answers i come up with.

  2.   John Mark Hicks Says:

    “Yahweh” is the most common transliteration of the Hebrew name for God often translated “Lord” in small caps or “Jehovah” in the ASV.

    It does not equal “Father” or have anything to do with Trinity as a name. It is the name of the Hebrew God as revealed to Moses at the burning bush in Exodus 3.

    John Mark

  3.   Jonathan Harris Says:

    Hi there John; my name is Jonathan and I have enjoyed reading your posts. I am a minister in Auckland Church of Christ- we were originally International Church of Christ. I am now trying to help to find a way forward in our life and doctrine. I have enjoyed your blog and would like to be able to put some of your posts onto our website – but copying them may be an infringement- not sure what is ‘faithsite’ material and just personal of your own. What is best practice – I am trying to provide more in depth material for our people and newby website to deepen their readings and faith. Maybe just a link to your blog? Thanks for your work. Sincerely, Jonathan Harris

  4.   John Mark Hicks Says:

    Jonathan, anything on my website I consider public domain. I have not copyrighted anything, and you are quite welcome to the use of whatever you find useful. I am not interested in the intellectual property as regards this website. I provide it free, and it is free to all to use as they think most beneficial for the kingdom.

    I am glad to hear from you and hope you stay in communication with me. My daughter is in Brisbane at the moment and I was in Brisbane and Perth in 2006. I hope to return someday.

    Blessings, my friend.

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