Thursday, April 21, 2005

Praying the Psalms With Christ

This is my most recent church newsletter. It was rather hastily done, so I apologize for any poor writing or incomplete thoughts. I wish I had more time to develop it more fully and orderly.>>>

Many of us use the Psalms as a regular part of our daily prayer and devotional life, especially if you use the “Portals of Prayer.” The Psalms are deeply loved by Christians because of their passionate humanity and the way in which they speak to so many of our situations in life. There seems to be a Psalm for nearly every range of emotion in life: for times of joy and laughter, for times of thanksgiving and praise, for times of sorrow and hurt, for times of suffering and guilt. There are Psalms that look forward to our promised Messiah, and there are Psalms that pray for deliverance from our enemies. Through the centuries of the church, going back to the times of the ancient Hebrews, the Psalms have been a regular part of the worship and prayer life of believers in God. The Psalms were literally the songbook or hymnal of the Old Testament church, and this has been carried on into the church today, as even now we sing the Psalms during worship.

But I myself have found that for much of my life, while using the Psalms in prayer, in devotions, or in worship, I was not grasping the full richness and depth of the Psalms. While I certainly don’t claim to have achieved anything even approaching a full understanding of the depth and richness of the Psalter, I have learned a great deal more since my years at the Seminary began. To show you what I mean, I want to first turn to Luke 24:44ff. Here Jesus is giving the two disciples on the road to Emmaus a tremendously important lesson on how to understand the Old Testament. He explains to them that “ ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.’” (Luke 24:44-47). He had also just before, spent time walking through the Scriptures, beginning from Moses and all the Prophets, explaining to them in all the Scriptures, the things concerning Himself (Luke 24:27). So here Christ gives the disciples the key to understanding the whole Old Testament Scriptures: Christ Himself. He is the person to whom the whole of Scripture testifies, as He said again in John 5:39. From the books of Moses, to the Prophets, to the Psalms, all the Old Testament was pointing forward to Christ.

So as we apply this specifically to our reading of the Psalms, we ask how is it that the Psalms testify concerning Christ? Without trying to over-generalize, we must first say that each Psalm must be looked at individually. Some Psalms are very clearly prophetic of Christ, such as Psalm 2, 16, 22, 69, and 110 are some of the more obvious ones, as they are quoted or referred to in the New Testament. The book of Hebrews also places several of the Psalms in the mouth of the Father (e.g. Heb. 1:5/ Ps. 2:7), Jesus Himself (e.g. Heb. 2:12/ Ps. 22:22; Heb. 10:5/ Ps. 40:6-8), and the Holy Spirit (e.g. Heb. 3:7/Ps. 95:7-11). To state it simply, the Psalms are full of Christ, whether it is He Himself speaking, or whether He is being spoken of. So how is it that the church, or King David, or Solomon, or even we can use the Psalms as our own prayer/songbook?

As Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it, “How is it possible for a man and Jesus Christ to pray the Psalter together? It is the incarnate Son of God, who has borne every human weakness in his own flesh, who here pours out the heart of all humanity before God and stands in our place and prays for us. He has known torment and pain, guilt and death more deeply than we. Therefore it is the prayer of the human nature assumed by him which comes here before God. It is really our prayer, but since he knows us better than we know ourselves and since he himself was true man for our sakes, it is also really his prayer, and it can become our prayer only because it was his prayer.” Bonhoeffer continues, “Who prays the Psalms? David (Solomon, Asaph, etc) prays, Christ prays, we pray.”

When you pray the Psalms in this light, I have confidence that you will see their meaning open up and unfold more and more. When we see the Psalms as first of all speaking of Christ, and read them as if Christ Himself were praying them, we will see the anguish and the suffering that He Himself participated in as He became part of humanity. Likewise we see His joy and trust in God in the midst of all circumstances, and His praise for God. And since we see Christ in the Psalms, we also see ourselves (as well as David or the other human authors). For in the Psalms our prayer is caught up together with Christ’s prayer, as He prays with us, as our One Mediator to the Father (1 Tim. 2:5). In your devotions, try reading the Psalms through the eyes of Christ, and see if your understanding isn’t enriched. As we read the Psalms and indeed the rest of Scripture we will continually find that these are indeed testifying of Christ (John 5:39). And as we are in Christ, we find renewed comfort and hope in the words of the Psalms, which are simultaneously our prayers, as broken sinners, and the prayers of Christ who bore our sins and sufferings in His body.


wildboar said...

“In your devotions, try reading the Psalms through the eyes of Christ, and see if your understanding isn’t enriched.”

Pure gold, brother! If you haven’t had a chance yet, give this a look:

Josh Schneider said...

Thanks, wildboar. I actually had read the Hermeneutics article, and was partly using it for my newsletter. I would have incorporated more had I spent more time on it. Hearing about that commentary on the Psalms by Bugenhagen makes me you think you could take it up as a translation project with Repristination Press? ;)

I think its only in Latin, but I wonder if there are any plans for a translation.

Double DEUCE!