The book of Psalms has been my prayer guide through seasons of loss, depression, anxiety, hope, joy, and change. There is truly something here for every day—prayers from every emotion you can imagine. Psalms contains many genres of prayer, and most of them are illustrated in one of my favorite psalms, number forty.
I waited patiently for the LORD,
and he turned to me and heard my cry for help.
He brought me up from a desolate pit,
out of the muddy clay,
and set my feet on a rock,
making my steps secure.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
and they will trust in the LORD. (Psalm 40:1-3)
The first three verses express praise. In the book of Psalms, you’ll read praises for personal blessings as well as for the deliverance of the whole nation of Israel.
How happy is anyone
who has put his trust in the LORD
and has not turned to the proud
or to those who run after lies! (Psalm 40:4)
Verse four gives us wise advice. Like the book of Proverbs, wisdom psalms contain instructions for serving God and receiving his blessings. They are principles (not promises) of how to live a godly life.
LORD my God, you have done many things—
your wondrous works and your plans for us;
none can compare with you.
If I were to report and speak of them,
they are more than can be told.
You do not delight in sacrifice and offering;
you open my ears to listen.
You do not ask for a whole burnt offering
or a sin offering. (Psalm 40:5-6)
Verses five and six are another section of praise.
Then I said, “See, I have come;
in the scroll it is written about me.
I delight to do your will, my God,
and your instruction is deep within me.” (Psalm 40:7-8)
Verses 7 and 8 show us a fascinating style of psalm. Within these prayers that share the personal experiences of the author, there are prophetic glimpses of the Messiah—the promised Savior. Centuries later, the author of Hebrews said that Jesus quoted Psalm 40:7-8, and applied them to himself. (Hebrews 10:5-7) These are called messianic psalms.
I proclaim righteousness in the great assembly;
see, I do not keep my mouth closed—
as you know, LORD.
I did not hide your righteousness in my heart;
I spoke about your faithfulness and salvation;
I did not conceal your constant love and truth
from the great assembly.
LORD, you do not withhold your compassion from me.
Your constant love and truth will always guard me. (Psalm 40:9-11)
These verses express trust or confidence. You will see this often in Psalms. In difficult circumstances, the authors speak their fears vividly, but then move on to declare their faith that God will deliver them.
For troubles without number have surrounded me;
my iniquities have overtaken me; I am unable to see.
They are more than the hairs of my head,
and my courage leaves me. (Psalm 40:12)
Verse 12 is a glimpse of a penitential prayer—a prayer of sorrow for sin, and an expression of repentance.
LORD, be pleased to rescue me;
hurry to help me, LORD.
Let those who intend to take my life
be disgraced and confounded.
Let those who wish me harm
be turned back and humiliated.
Let those who say to me, “Aha, aha!”
be appalled because of their shame. (Psalm 40:13-15)
Imprecatory psalms are startling! Psalmists sometimes begged God to destroy their enemies. I see these psalms as reminders that we can take every human emotion to the Lord in prayer. As you read these, remember that when the authors speak of their enemies, they were talking about warring enemies who wanted to destroy them utterly.
Let all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you;
let those who love your salvation continually say,
“The LORD is great!”
I am oppressed and needy;
may the Lord think of me.
You are my helper and my deliverer;
my God, do not delay. (Psalm 40:16-17)
The author ended the psalm with several more verses that express trust, blended with a cry for help.
This psalm is one of my favorites because I too have felt like I’m trapped in a deep pit or a miry bog. A season of spiritual blahs led to months of discouragement and I got stuck in a dark cycle of anxiety. Eventually I got some medical help for the physical symptoms and I’m beginning to climb out of the pit now. But through all this time, the book of Psalms has been my source of treasure. I’ve learned a lot about meditating. I’ve seen firsthand how dwelling on God’s word can provide confident hope. I wish I could tell you that I’m perfectly fine now. I’m not. I have good days and bad days. But I can tell you without a doubt that I have confidence in God. Life on earth is not perfect. God is. And I can trust him.
This post is part of the introduction to the book Beachcombing the Psalms. The introductory chapter will guide you through a selection of psalms in each genre.
Next week we’ll talk about the God of our Salvation, and we’ll move on to reading the psalms in order, for the next 8 weeks. You can see our schedule here, and consider joining the facebook group that is linked there as well.
Photo credit: Amy Mayfield