Praying the Psalms in Biblical Hebrew: Psalm 90:1

A student of my Beginning Biblical Hebrew class expressed interest in praying Bible verses in Hebrew, especially from the Psalms. I asked her to choose a few verses that she would like to pray in Hebrew. Psalm 90:1 is one of these. It is noted as the beginning verse of a prayer of Moses.

I will share the Hebrew words below (in the Hebrew alphabet along with pronunciation), as well as a little explanation from the Hebrew lexicon from Brown-Driver-Briggs (BDB).

I’m starting with the actual prayer text that follows the designation of this Psalm as a prayer of Moses, so about halfway through the first verse.

אדני

Adonai

Lord

מעון

Ma’own

“Figurative of God as abode of His people” (BDB).

Same usage as in Psalm 91:9, which is in a similar part of the Psalter, so likely to indicate similar usage of the word or phrase.

Often what comes earlier in the sentence is brought to the front on purpose for emphasis. So this verse emphasizes God as dwelling place.

אתה

Attah

You

2nd person masculine singular, referring to God.

היית

Hayita

Have been

Qal verb Perfect aspect, from the root “hayah.” 2nd person masculine singular, referring to God. A Perfect aspect verb indicates a sense of completeness – not in the sense of “it’s over” but in the sense of fullness, no part of it left out. So God is not a halfway sort of dwelling. He’s the full deal.

A Perfect verb can also have a sense of bringing something into being and can imply duration, something that lasts. The psalmist can look back and know God has always been there for the people and really been present and come through for them – with no indication that it will stop, thus the translation “have been” which implies the action started in the past and is continuing in the present and into the future.

לנו

Lanu 

Our

Possessive that indicates “ours” – modifies “dwelling place.”

בדר ודר

Bedor Wador

In all generations.

Both words come from same root – dor – which means “of duration in the past” (emphasis on “duration” again). BDB notes, “period, age, generation – mostly poetic” – remembering the Psalms are written as poetry.

Bedor has the bet preposition prefix often translated “in.”

Wador has the waw conjunction prefix often translated “and.”

Roughly, “In generation and generation.”

Connotation: “In all generations.”

Let’s pray

Putting this Bible verse all together to pray:

Adonai

Ma’own

Attah

Hayita

Lanu 

Bedor Wador

Lord, You have been and continue to be the abode of Your people, our dwelling place in all generations. Amen

God bless you. Shalom. שׁלום

 

Prayer for Individuals and Families Living in Poverty

In 2013 I was very blessed to be teaching an eight-week course to a church women’s group. The focus of our course was on the challenges of poverty in the community and the church’s response. We worked through a book on poverty. To use with their reading, I printed up and gave each woman a bookmark containing Bible verses that focus on poverty:

Community prayer for persons living in poverty

The Bible passages that focus on poverty include the following verses:

  • Leviticus 19:18
  • Deuteronomy 15:11
  • 1 Samuel 2:8
  • Psalm 82:3
  • Proverbs 14:31
  • Proverbs 19:17
  • Proverbs 21:13
  • Proverbs 22:9
  • Proverbs 28:27
  • Isaiah 58:6-7
  • Matthew 5:43-45
  • Matthew 10:30-31
  • Matthew 11:28-30
  • Matthew 13:31-33
  • Matthew 13:44-46
  • Matthew 15:32-39
  • Matthew 18:10-14
  • Matthew 19:19
  • Matthew 22:35-39
  • Matthew 25:37-40
  • Matthew 26:11
  • Mark 14:7
  • Luke 3:9-11
  • Luke 6:38
  • Luke 10:27-37
  • Luke 12:30-34
  • Luke 17:20-21
  • Luke 21:1-4
  • 1 Corinthians 13:13
  • 2 Corinthians 9:7-15
  • Galatians 5:14
  • Ephesians 2:8-10
  • 1 Timothy 6:17-19
  • James 1:27-28
  • James 2:14-17
  • 1 John 3:17-19

Those are just a few of the places where poverty is discussed in the Bible. There are many more such Bible verses on poverty, and I encourage you to search for them and pray over them. A wonderful way to pray is to turn a Bible verse into a prayer, by praying that verse back to God and thanking Him for His Word and for His heart for people living in poverty. You can do that for each of the Bible verses listed above, and more as you search for them with God’s help.

As an example, let’s look at Isaiah 58:6-7:

“’Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?'” (Isaiah 58:6-7 NIV)

Our prayer could be as simple and powerful as this, praying that scripture passage back to God:

Lord, thank You that You have called us to pray and fast, to invite You to loose the chains of injustice, and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke. Thank You, God, for calling us to share our food with the hungry, and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter, and when we see the naked, to clothe them. God, don’t let us turn away from our own flesh and blood, Your children whom You have given us as brothers and sisters in the family of our community. Thank You for teaching us how to live and empowering us, by Your Holy Spirit, to live this out in our daily lives. In Jesus’ name. Amen

Pray that together with others in your community. Be expectant and sensitive to how God will respond.

During our class time with the women’s group, I invited a guest speaker to give us insight into how widespread poverty is in our own community. One of the reasons I asked to teach this class is because when we read a book together as a group of women (we had a women’s reading group that met quarterly), we then need to put those ideas into action in some specific way. That’s exactly what I wanted to do with this class, to give them an opportunity to respond to their reading. And we did it. We created specific action steps that the women considered, discussed, and agreed on. And we took those steps together as a group and as individuals.

Because I believe prayer is the first action step to take, I also asked our group to create a prayer for persons living in poverty in our community. And then pray it together often, expecting change in our community and in our own hearts and families.

I wanted each person in the class to contribute to creating the prayer. We took some time to be quiet and listen to God. Then we went around the table, and each person suggested one prayer point to include in our prayer:

Pray for

  • Strength
  • Not accepting but trying to get out and not with violence
  • Us to see a way they can get out
  • Physical needs – shelter, food, clothing
  • Peace
  • Courage
  • That they will not feel judged
  • Opportunities to receive and give back
  • Joy of the Lord
  • Transportation problem (in our county)

It would have been enough just to have those prayer points in front of us and pray them in unity at the beginning of our class time each week. But I wanted the women to have a full prayer they could read out and share. Together we created the following prayer. I hope you will join us in praying this together in unity for your community:

PRAYER FOR INDIVIDUALS AND FAMILIES LIVING IN POVERTY IN OUR COMMUNITY

Lord, we pray for everyone who is living in poverty in our community.

We pray that You would lift them up and give them hope.

Show us how to do our best and Your best for other people.

Help us try our best each day to pray for individuals and families living in poverty in our community.

Show us how to be the hands and feet of Jesus and to show His love.

Help individuals and families in poverty to have a voice, and help us to be Christ’s voice on their behalf.

Lord, we pray for people who become suddenly impoverished, because of accidents, health crises, job layoffs, natural disasters, etc. Give them strength and let them know hope and know that there is a way out, and help them not to give up and lose heart.

For individuals and families living in poverty in our community, Lord we ask that You would help them to realize who they are to You. For them to know there’s somebody who cares and who prays for them and who will walk beside them.

We ask this all in the name of Your Son, Jesus Christ.

Amen

10 Things Moses Has Taught Me about Intercession

I did an inductive Bible study of Exodus 32-34, looking especially at the role of Moses as intercessor between God and His people. Being an intercessor myself, I was curious what Moses could teach us today about intercession. Following are just a few of the takeaways I learned from studying this passage:

Students of Inductive Bible Study will note that for each number below, the first paragraph is my “inference” and the second paragraph is my “observation.” While I made each observation first, I listed the inference first in this article because I want to emphasize the takeaways (inferences).

1. Exodus 32:7

Moses’s intercession is based on two truths: These are God’s people, and Moses is identified with them.

God associates the people with Moses and says Moses brought them out of Egypt. By contrast, in 32:11-12 Moses counters that the people are God’s (and repeats this in 33:13) and that God brought them out of Egypt. Meanwhile the people attribute this feat to “gods” represented by a molten calf (32:4, 8).

2. Exodus 32:12-13

God’s plan for the people is greater than the people’s sinful actions. God’s mission in the world is not thwarted by their actions.

This passage shows a contrast between God’s wrath and His promises. Moses is the mediator who voices this contrast. In response to the contrast that Moses presents, God turns from His desire to destroy the people (32:14). In this passage, we see that God “thought” to do this “evil” rather than “planned” it (32:14).

Note that God doesn’t really do “evil,” but it was perceived as such by humans. God’s wrath comes only from His holiness and our violation of that holiness through idolatry and other sin. That’s why we need a savior: Jesus Christ.

3. Exodus 32:14

Moses says “Yes” to God’s own plan, and God responds to affirm that plan. Moses doesn’t ask God to do anything He hasn’t already planned to do by His own power.

The turning point of 32:14 follows several reminders: the people belong to God (32:11); God led them out of Egypt (32:11); God’s promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Israel (32:13); and that God’s promise was made by God’s own power – that God swore by His own self (32:13).

4. Exodus 32:11

Moses’s intercession appeals to God’s plan and promise and does not deny what the people deserve.

Moses’s intercession is described with the word “besought.” The Hebrew word is חלה, defined in this context as “mollify, pacify, appease,” seeking favor in place of wrath (Brown-Driver-Briggs). The same dynamic seems to take place in 33:13. The connotation acknowledges the reality of God’s wrath and seeks favor despite it. Moses places that search for favor in the promises of God (32:13).

5. Exodus 32:7-8

The relationship of Moses toward God is characterized by trust.

Moses learns about the people’s rebellion at first, not by sight, but by God’s words. Moses’ response (32:11-13) indicates Moses believes God.

6. Exodus 32:12

God wants the nations of the world to recognize who He is. God’s promise and plan is for the world.

The words of Moses acknowledge that the way God deals with His people will be seen by the Egyptians. Even though the people have been delivered from slavery in Egypt, the reader of this passage is reminded that the nations are watching.

7. Exodus 32:9-10

God’s promises and covenant, not His wrath, constitute God’s plan to overcome the pride and stubbornness of the people. God’s focus is on restoration, not retribution.

Although Moses asks God to turn from His anger, Moses does not express any disagreement with God that the people are stiff-necked. The Hebrew word for “stiff-necked” is קשה ערף, a figurative description of Israel’s obstinance (Brown-Driver-Briggs). Moses reminds God immediately of His promises to the ancestors of the people.

8. Exodus 33:12-16

Intercession is corporate. Individual relationship with God has a corporate impact and is for the sake of the people. Moses identifies with God’s people and approaches God corporately on their behalf. The characteristics that God has given to Moses in approaching Him are meant for the entire people. Corporate intercession is focused on God’s larger plan of restoration in the world.

This passage interweaves Moses’ personal interactions toward God along with Moses’ corporate identification with the people he belongs to. Twice Moses mentions “I and thy people” (33:16). When Moses asks for favor, he speaks first personally and then reminds God that the people are God’s (33:13). Moses identities himself with the nation and reminds God that the nation is God’s. Moses reminds God about qualities that characterize their relationship (presence, favor), and he connects these with a larger corporate relationship.

9: Exodus 32:8-13, 33:16

God allows intercession despite the scope of the people’s sinful disposition. The turning away of God’s wrath is not because punishment was undeserved or because His holiness could tolerate idolatry and rebellion. Rather, the turning away of His wrath was for the sake of the bigger picture of God’s mission in the world and His desire to bring restoration to His people. God is faithful to keep His promises for the sake of His mission in the world – not because anyone has earned it, but because He has a plan.

Moses pleads with God despite the people’s rebellion, idolatry, self-absorption, worship and sacrifice to a false god, and stiff-necked obstinance. Moses reminds God of the details of His history with these people. Here the scope of this passage widens for the reader, so the current rebellion can be set against God’s larger work in the nation of Israel and in the world. There is a common factor in Moses’ first and third attempts at intercession that both receive a positive response from the LORD. That common factor is Moses’ mention of how God’s relationship with Israel is distinct in the world.

10. Exodus 32:30-35

Sin has a corporate impact. Corporate relationship with God is just as important as individual relationship. The role of intercessor between the people and God does not carry the power of atonement.

Moses offers himself as atonement for the people’s sin. God does not seem to accept Moses’ offer. Throughout this paragraph, the author refers to “the people.”

This last observation and inference are very important because this passage points us to Jesus as our ultimate intercessor (Hebrews 7:25; 4:14-16). As intercessors, we invite Jesus into each situation, and we say “Yes” to His plan.

Moses has a lot to teach us about intercession: corporateness, God’s holiness, God’s plan for the restoration of His people, God’s mission in the world.

Most importantly, this passage about Moses as an intercessor points us toward the only One whose intercession carries the power of atonement and the gift of salvation: Jesus Christ. Jesus is the One who leads us as intercessors in God’s great big mission in the world.

Praying the Bible with Gratitude

Life is hard. Sometimes we go through seasons where everything feels so discouraging and futile. During those times (and at all times) it is important to have the support of a community who can remind you who you are and whose you are. I don’t recommend that anyone try to go on this journey of following Christ without a tribe. (Meet my tribe here! I am grateful for them.) God created us for fellowship.

During difficult seasons (and again, at all times) it is also important and so helpful to focus on prayers of gratitude. When you speak to God with gratitude, it realigns your heart and mind with who He created you to be.

Gratitude also reminds you of who you truly are in Christ. And why you’re here – to bring glory to God. That’s right – you bring Him glory and you reflect His goodness simply by being you. He made you! Your existence means more to Him than anything you could possibly do. He loves you just for who you are.

Praying the Bible with Gratitude
Photo by John Hain at Pixabay

As we go through life’s struggles, it’s easy to forget that we are here to reflect God’s love and to bring Him glory through our mere existence. We get caught up in everything that’s going wrong, and we forget what’s going right: That we are God’s kids! So praying with gratitude helps us remember that.

Your prayers of gratitude can come straight from your heart – even if you don’t feel grateful, you can pray out of obedience. Your gratitude will bless God, and it will help you.

If you aren’t sure where to start, you can’t go wrong by praying the words of the Bible and letting God’s Word express your gratitude for Him.

Here are two examples (one from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament) to help you get started in praying the Bible with gratitude:

Psalm 63:1-3

God, I am so grateful You are my God.

Thank You that I can seek You and find You.

Even though I feel like I am parched and dry, I know You are here, and You love me. You are my refreshment. I am so grateful that You revive me in ways I don’t even know about. You are always here for me. You are the river of life, and You give Your life-giving Spirit to me freely.

God, I am grateful that I can worship You. I am thankful for how powerful and majestic You are. Thank You, God, that You created me to bring You glory. And that I bring You glory by simply being Your child.

Thank You, God, that Your love is forever. Your love does not fail, ever, for any reason. Your love is steadfast, and You love me no matter what, forever.

God, in gratitude, I praise You because You are my amazing God. Thank You for giving me life. I love You.

Matthew 8:23-27

Lord Jesus, I am so grateful for You. You are everything to me, and I know I am everything to You. Thank You for dying for me, so I could live with You forever.

Lord, it feels like I’m in a boat and the waves are crashing in all around me. Thank You for showing me, in Your Word, that You are here with me. I am so thankful that You are here to help me, always, no matter what I am going through. You have never left me, and You never will.

Thank You, Jesus, that You have saved me. Because of Your love, I will not drown, no matter what I am struggling through right now. The waves will not overtake me because You are with me. I am grateful.

Lord Jesus, I am thankful that You teach me how to have faith. That You are growing my faith. Even though times are difficult, I am grateful that You are using this time to increase my faith in You. I want to draw closer to You. Thank You for teaching me that I don’t need to be afraid. That I can trust You..

Jesus, I am grateful that the wind and waves respond to You. I know You are in control. I know that in Your presence, I will find peace, no matter what is going on around me. You help me to be calm. I am grateful.

Lord Jesus, thank You for teaching me that Your first disciples in the boat on the stormy sea that day wondered in amazement at who You were. I am grateful that today I know who You are. I am grateful for all those who have taught me who You are, and grateful to You for revealing Your love to me. You are my God, and You are the One who loves me forever. All of creation is at Your feet, and You are in charge. I am so thankful, Jesus, that You are here and always will be.

Your Favorite Verses

What Bible verses are your favorites? Turn to one of them now, and pray that verse as a prayer of gratitude. See how God responds in your heart. Be blessed.

 

A Story within a Story (Learning About “Intercalation” in Inductive Bible Study)

In this Inductive Bible Study exercise, I invite you to read one of my favorite passages of scripture – a double story of Jesus healing people.

Let’s take a look at Mark 5:21-43.

Go ahead and read through the passage prayerfully several times. It’s a great story to read and spend time with. Don’t rush through your reading. Take your time and meditate on the passage. Invite the Holy Spirit to bring this passage alive for you.

After you’ve finished reading the passage several times, I’d like to briefly introduce the rhetorical structure known as “intercalation.” This is where the author inserts one story in the middle of another story.

In this passage from Mark 5:21-43, you can see intercalation. The author (Mark) begins and ends this passage with the story about Jairus’s daughter. In the middle, he inserts the story about the woman who is bleeding. The story of Jairus’s daughter surrounds the bleeding woman’s story. That is an example of intercalation.

Intercalation is used to show comparisons and to highlight and strengthen those comparisons. Spend some time prayerfully looking at what the author might be comparing between the two stories. Why do you think those comparisons are so important for understanding Jesus as our healer?

May God bless your time in His Word.

Please visit my Inductive Bible Study page to read and review other lessons in this free series.

Lectio Divina for Christian Writers

Lectio divina is a helpful practice for Christian writers – and for anyone who wants to grow in relationship with God.

The term lectio divina means “divine reading.” This is where you engage the Bible spiritually – not with your mind, but with your spirit. While there is a time and place to engage your heart and mind in Bible study, the practice of lectio divina focuses on the spirit. It is an amazing combination of scripture, prayer, and presence. So quiet your mind before you begin.

With lectio divina, you are engaging with God through His Word – spirit to Spirit. This is not the time to take notes about your next book or blog post. Resist stopping to write things down. Just enjoy the spiritual engagement with God. As you receive revelation, just stay present in the moment with God. Trust Him to bring those things back to you later, so you can write about them.

While no spiritual practice is meant to be formulaic, lectio divina has four steps as practiced by the monks for centuries. Let the Holy Spirit lead you through this process. It’s more important to be present with Him than to follow a specific practice. However, these steps will get you started.

(1) Read

You can begin lectio divina by reading a scripture passage God has led you to read. Read through the passage slowly, several times. It helps to read it out loud, where possible, so you engage more of your senses. Try for at least three times, as the repetition helps move the passage deeper into your spirit. Allow the Word to wash through you and settle deep within you.

(2) Meditate

Now read through the passage one more time. Listen for a part of the scripture that really stands out for you. It may be a verse, a paragraph, a word, or several words. Take time to meditate on that specific part. Savor it like a favorite meal. Through this process, the Holy Spirit is filling you with His Word and forming His Word in you.

When we meditate on scripture, as Christians, we aren’t meditating like other religious or secular practices. We are not emptying our minds; that is the worst thing we could do because the enemy will fill that empty space. Instead, we are bringing our thoughts captive to Christ. We are letting Him fill our minds with His presence. We are meditating on Him and on His truth in the scripture passage at hand.

(3) Pray

After some time of meditating on a portion of scripture, let the Word create a prayer in your spirit. Pray that prayer out loud. For example, if you have been meditating on Psalm 23:1, you may begin to pray, “Lord, thank You that You are my Shepherd. Thank You for reminding me that with You, I lack nothing. You are everything I need.” Let the Holy Spirit move you in prayer over the scripture you have just meditated on. Don’t make your prayer a formula. Let your prayer flow from the Holy Spirit to your spirit.

(4) Contemplate

The last step of lectio divina is contemplation. This is a time for you to sit quietly in God’s presence. Let Him move the truth of His Word through every part of your being. Don’t try to think or write. Just be. Let God do all the work. You might feel His presence and you might not. You might receive revelation or not. Just be with God. He knows how to bring the scripture passage into every part of you. This is part of God forming you in the image of Christ. Just be, and let Him do the rest.

That is the full practice of lectio divina. It is a great way to make scripture a deeper part of your life. And it is a wonderful way to grow in your relationship with God.

 

 

 

 

A Few Thoughts on Biblical Hebrew from a Neophyte

I just completed a semester of Biblical Hebrew. In my lifetime, I’ve had the privilege to study 17 languages, and Biblical Hebrew was by far the most difficult.

I’m not sure why I struggled so much, but every time I looked at a sentence for translation, the first thing I did was cry! Then, I just went to work deciphering each word at a time, working backwards as Hebrew is written from right to left, until I had enough written down to try and make sense of the sentence. It reminded me of deciphering code, which should have been a fun challenge if I weren’t pressed for time and stressed about grades.

Each sentence took me about half an hour to translate. When I say “translate,” that means I gave my best rendition. It doesn’t mean I got it right. On the final exam, I noticed each sentence only took 20 minutes. That was either a sign of improvement through the semester, or a sign of the professor’s mercy in crafting the sentences. Probably a little of each.

The Biblical Hebrew words are so different from English that I had no frame of reference in memorizing meanings. I had to really stretch my imagination. For example, one word for “beneath” is pronounced something like “ta-chat.” With a little imagination, this sounds like “the cat.” My cat always used to sit beneath the table. So that’s how I remember that word. It was like that for every vocabulary word, and I got very creative with those associations of meaning.

When I was in the midst of studying for finals, I was talking with a friend about Biblical Hebrew. As we talked about the different aspects of the language, she noted that it sounded as if God had chosen the perfect language to communicate the Old Testament scriptures. I agree! Here are some of the reasons that come to mind, and I’m sure there are many others.

An ancient language like Biblical Hebrew is difficult to understand and communicate. We have only consonant clusters (three consonants in a row) and those can represent lots of different words.

The language also adds multiple sets of prefixes, suffixes, enclitics, and various other grammatical marks,  all on top of each other. This means a whole sense of meaning can be built by the marks that are added to a basic consonant cluster.

As if that weren’t hard enough, sometimes one “added letter” would swallow another one, or a consonant would simply disappear!

This is one of the main reasons it took me so long to translate a sentence. I would have to decode all of the various affixes, enclitics, and grammatical marks, not to mention guess at the missing letters, to figure out what a particular “word” really said. Often, it said a lot.

All of this means that it takes time to recognize what’s being said. Biblical Hebrew is not a “fast” language. It takes work to read a sentence, and even more work to grasp the full meaning. I dare say I rarely grasped the full meaning of anything. Mostly, I wrote translations like a toddler learning English. In fact, I would give the toddler more credit for understanding.

This means we really have to keep going to God and asking Him to help us understand the words of the Hebrew scriptures. In that regard, this was the perfect language for building relationship between people and God and among all the people.

And no, I don’t mean to suggest that the people who initially read and spoke Biblical Hebrew had the same struggle I have. After all, I’m not a native speaker. But I can tell you it is a challenging language. I know God had many reasons for giving the scriptures when and where He did. I don’t know if language was one of them. Regardless, it was certainly the perfect language to draw people closer to Him.

If God gave the Old Testament scriptures in a language like modern Italian, for example, we would have no need to seek Him for understanding. (Italian is one of the easiest and most “perfect” languages to understand because it is structured simply and beautifully with very few exceptions to the rules.)

There is also such a nuance of meaning in each word of Biblical Hebrew that we have to keep seeking God. And we have to really listen – not just with our ears and our minds, but also with our hearts. It is a language that requires active listening and intentional focus, and it especially speaks to the heart. I think today in our modern languages, unless we read and write poetry or letters to loved ones (a dying art), we are not so in tune with a “heart language” as the ancient Hebrews would have been.

Biblical Hebrew was also primarily an oral language. Words about and from God spread from person to person and were learned by recitation. This is another aspect of the language that builds community and grows heart understanding. It reminds me of Jesus’ description in the New Testament of how the kingdom of God grows and spreads like the mustard seed and the good leaven (Matthew 13:31-33).

Another aspect of Biblical Hebrew that makes it perfect as the language of the scriptures is that there is no direct verb for “to have.” There are ways of indicating possession, but the meaning sounds more like “this object comes to me,” rather than “I own/have/possess this object.”

This reminds me of how the Hebrews in the wilderness were given manna to eat. That’s just one example. When I think about a lack of “possession,” that seems to characterize the whole of God’s kingdom, up to and including the New Testament (think about Acts 2:44 and 4:32). It also allows for better understanding of our relationship with God – everything belongs to Him, and we receive only because He gives.

Finally, I was struck by how the verbs in Biblical Hebrew emphasize “aspect” over “tense.” It’s less about past, present, and future, and more about “completeness and perfection” versus “ongoing and in progress.” Doesn’t that sound like life with the Holy Spirit!

For all these reasons and more, I would have to agree with my friend that God certainly chose the perfect language through which to communicate the Old Testament scriptures.

Even though I became  frustrated and discouraged by the end of a grueling semester, I was encouraged by something our professor said on the day of our final exam. He told us we are just getting started and not to give up, not to lose heart. So I am continuing to try and read my Hebrew Bible. As difficult as it is, it is worth the investment of time, effort, and heart. Besides, for those who choose to learn and read Biblical Hebrew, we have plenty of help available from the God who breathed these words to life.

If you would like to learn the biblical Hebrew alphabet and basic words from the Hebrew Bible, I offer a self-paced, online video course: Beginning Biblical Hebrew. Come on in!

A Prayer in Times of Pain and Sorrow – Psalm 22 (Jesus Prayed It Too)

I love Psalm 22. In this psalm, God provides us with an awesome way to connect with Him in our sorrows, and to find His strength and peace in that place.

In this psalm, God doesn’t tell us our sorrows will completely disappear. But He shows us that He will be present with us in that place, and bring us HIS peace.

Jesus Is with Us in Our Pain

To show us that He truly understands the pain in our hearts, Jesus prayed Psalm 22 from the cross.

Here is the first verse of Psalm 22:

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?” (NRSV)

And here are Jesus’ words from Matthew 27:46:

“And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’”

In His most difficult hour, when God the Father Himself had to turn away from Jesus (because Jesus had taken on all of our sin), Jesus began to pray Psalm 22. 

In praying this psalm, Jesus gives us a model for how to pray during times of sorrow. He also shows us that He is with us in our pain.

Psalm 22 Helps Us Pray in Pain

How does Psalm 22 guide us in prayer? The psalmist begins with a lament, an expression of his sorrow. From the very start, he makes it clear he is telling all of this to God – all of his pain, all of his sorrow. Out loud. To God.

In verses 1-21, the psalmist offers three laments, and they get progressively worse! He gets to the point where he feels like he is at death’s door (verse 15). And honestly, some of the other stuff sounds worse than that.

But in between these laments, something interesting happens. The psalmist remembers about God’s faithfulness. He turns to the truth He knows about God.

The Struggle in the Heart – It’s Real

That doesn’t mean the psalmist feels that truth in his heart. His heart is hurting. He knows what the truth is, but he doesn’t feel it yet. There is a battle going on in his heart. His pain and his sorrowful experiences are very real. But he also remembers that God is good.

It’s in the midst of that struggle within the heart where God does His best work.

So the psalm goes like this:

Lament (verses 1-2) – the psalmist feels abandoned by God.

Truth (verses 3-5) – the psalmist remembers God’s faithfulness in times past.

Lament (verses 6-8) – the psalmist feels scorned.

Truth (verses 9-11) – the psalmist remembers God has always been with him.

Lament (verses 12-18) – the psalmist is at death’s door (and worse).

Truth (verses 19-21) – the psalmist is confident God can deliver him.

Heart Change – God’s Peace Is Here

Notice that the truth doesn’t take away his reality or his sorrow. But it does bring peace to his heart, the peace of knowing God is present. How can we tell? Verse 22 says it all: a change of heart, where the psalmist begins to praise God in the midst of suffering. This praise grows with great intensity to the end of the psalm.

He doesn’t praise because he “has” to (although that would be okay). He praises because God has brought him peace in the midst of his very real suffering. The psalmist knows God hears his pain. He says this in verse 24. And not just his own pain, but also the pain of everyone who is suffering.

There is a lot of peace and comfort that comes from knowing that someone else is present with us in pain and really hears our heart. We need this from each other. Most importantly, we need this from God.

Sorrow and Truth – We Need Both

The beauty of this psalm, as a prayer, is the movement between lament (expression of our sorrow) and truth. Often when we pray in times of pain and sorrow, we end up with one or the other, but not both.

We need both.

We can lament and lament until there is nothing left of us. But if we haven’t taken the next step to pray for God’s truth in our situation, we end up consumed with lament, and no peace (just like the psalmist at the end of verse 2 – unable to find rest).

On the other hand, sometimes we rush too quickly to speak the truth. And we overlook the pain in our hearts.

Sometimes we do this because we are afraid of giving words to our sorrow or struggle – afraid that once we start crying out in pain, we will never stop.

We might also avoid the pain because people around us might get uncomfortable with our expressions of grief and sorrow. Society (even in the church) doesn’t really like “lament,” and we rarely feel like we have permission to grieve. We’re supposed to just “get over it” and move on. “It’s under the blood” – we hear that so often, meaning that whatever we are struggling with, God’s already taken care of it, in some way or another.

But when we say things like that, we risk applying truth like a band-aid without draining the wound.

It’s important that we do both: That we lament, expressing our sorrows out loud to God; and that once we have completely poured out all the pain that’s stuffed in our hearts, we then remember God’s truth.

Psalm 22 teaches us beautifully how to pray both, back and forth, until God’s peace comes into our hearts. The situation may not change. But we have His peace. We can take the next step forward in our daily life, even in the midst of painful things.

Again and Again, until Our Hearts Know God Is Here

What I also love about this psalm is how very real the psalmist is. He doesn’t just stop at verse 5. He laments again. And again! Until he is done. Really done.

Only then does he turn to praise.

When you read verses 22-31, you can tell that God’s peace has come into his heart in that place of deepest sorrow. There is nothing quite like the tearful and heartfelt praise of someone who has just cried out all of her pain to God.

Jesus Prayed This for You

If you are in pain or sorrow of any kind right now, I encourage you to read and pray through Psalm 22. Remember that Jesus Himself also prayed this psalm at His worst hour. He prayed it while carrying all of your pain and sorrow in His own body, mind, and heart. So in a way, He has already prayed this psalm for you.

When you join Him now in praying Psalm 22, He will meet you there and will bring His peace to your heart, as only He can.

That doesn’t mean your pain or sorrow will lift completely, or that your circumstances will change overnight, especially if you have experienced and are grieving a loss. But it does mean that you will have the strength and comfort of Jesus’ presence with you in that place.

You will be able to experience His peace, which is a peace like no other. It’s the peace that helps you take the next breath and keep going.

It’s also the peace that reassures you, deep in your heart, that God is here, and that He loves you from a deep well of love that’s almost beyond imagining.

Praying the Psalms in Communion Liturgy

Currently, I am involved in a non-denominational church. Yet I grew up and at one point served in the United Methodist Church, whose prayer roots I continue to learn about. As a seminary student and prayer missionary, I am interested in learning about prayer traditions of the many branches of the Christian Church. It’s fascinating to me. I think we can learn a lot about biblically based prayer from Christian history and different church traditions.

When I was growing up in the Methodist church, we celebrated Communion on the first Sunday of the month. (Not enough, in my opinion.) Back then, before the days of overhead projectors, we used hymnals to read the Communion liturgy. By the age of five, I had it memorized – not because I was trying to, but simply because I had repeated it so many times. What I never appreciated, until now, were the biblical roots of that liturgy.

On Sunday, I opened my email to find this message from Dr. Timothy C. Tennent, who is president of Asbury Theological Seminary where I attend as a student. I am getting ready to take a class this spring on the Psalms, so this particular article caught my eye:

The Grammar of Repentance: Psalm 38

In this article, Dr. Tennent talks about the importance of repentance in Christian life. He also traces the roots of the typical Methodist Communion liturgy to many of the Psalms, as well as Isaiah.

And he says something that really stood out for me: ” … the Psalms have always been the prayer book for the people of God.”

With my passion for prayer, I am more excited than ever to study the Psalms this spring.

Even though liturgy and hymnals don’t seem to be used as much in the church as they used to be, it might be an interesting family activity (or church class) to look at some of the words of earlier church practices, trace the biblical roots, and pray those prayers as so many people have done across the ages.

If you are curious about the liturgy referred to by Dr. Tennent, here is the full text:

A Service of Word and Table IV

As I was reading over this text, so familiar when I was young, I realized that even in traditional services where hymnals are still used for Communion, often the prayers of confession and pardon are left out – probably to cut down on time. Yet that means we’re missing out on this rich tradition of prayer.

Instead of removing these prayers from the Communion liturgy, it might be helpful even to incorporate these prayers in other aspects of church life. They are great prayers.

I am only familiar with the United Methodist Communion liturgy, referred to in the article by Dr. Tennent. However, it would be interesting to look at the equivalent prayers and liturgy in the history of other branches of the Church.

Does your family or church pray any of the older liturgical prayers, or pray from the Psalms? What are your prayer traditions and practices?

Will You Take the Journey?

You don’t have to read very far into the book of Acts to learn how treacherous were the journeys taken by the early Christians, especially the Apostle Paul. Travel in the ancient Mediterranean was challenging in ways we can’t even grasp today. When they weren’t traveling by boat, they were on foot, with the danger of robbers at every pass.

Would we be willing today to take such physical journeys for the sake of the gospel?

As I pondered this question, it led to another. What about emotional journeys?

I’m talking about journeys of the heart: forgiveness, repentance, honoring others, loving our enemies, confronting someone with truth.

These journeys of the heart are perhaps more treacherous than the physical landscape traversed in the book of Acts.

Discomfort? Inconvenience? Pain?

Possibly all of these await us around every bend in the road of our hearts.

Yet as followers of Christ, we are asked to take those journeys, regardless of how uncomfortable we might feel along the way.

I would encourage you today to spend some time reading in Acts. Follow Paul on his travels, as he carries the gospel to the Gentiles through hostile territory. Read about the persecution of the early church in Jerusalem. Perhaps listen in, as Paul’s friends warn him not to go to Jerusalem, where he will be arrested.

Then ask yourself, prayerfully: Are you willing to journey, in the same way as Paul, through the deepest roads of your heart? No matter where God takes you?

Dear God, please help us today to trust in You. When You call us to search the deepest parts of our hearts, to live out Your love in ways that might be uncomfortable for us, remind us You travel right by our side. When we pass through the deepest waters, You will be there. We can trust You. In Jesus’ name. Amen