Eugene Peterson has written that the Psalms are God given tools for “Answering God.” What a great insight. God has spoken and God has acted even when we do not perceive it. This means that the first step is to invite God’s own Spirit – the owner of this divine word – to become our companion as we come to his eat his gracious word.
The second step to praying Psalm 4 is to read it. We must read it again. We must read it well. Our step here is not to analyze the text but to absorb the text. I cannot over emphasize the importance of rereading to the point where we are breathing the words of the text. Open ourselves to the mood of the text and the rhetorical flow of the text. We seek to yield to the text. I have found that each time I go through Psalms I encounter something fresh and challenging
Our third step is reflecting on various aspects of the Psalm. As noted above the Psalms are communal even when “individual.” A few features of this text signal the pulling of the person praying into the great and long line of voices that have already answered God with this psalm. The untranslated word “Selah” indicates the text was integrated into communal worship. The psalm has the individual (and the group) connecting to Moses and the people at the same time with the same words. “O that we might see some good! Let the light of your face shine on us, O LORD!” (4.6). Moses begs God to“show me your glory I pray” (Ex 33.18) and more explicitly the Aaronic blessing upon the people in Numbers 6.25-26, “the LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD makes his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you …” I becomes a we and God grants me shalom as he grants it to us. The psalm connects me with the praying church. The Rule of St. Benedict (ch. 18) encouraged all the monks to pray Psalm 4 at Compline (the canonical evening hour before bed). We are joined with Moses, Israel, the church through all the ages. Such is the individual yet communal nature of Psalm 4.
One final word on rhetorical structure before we look at responding in prayer to the psalm, which is itself, prayer. If we take this Spirit psalm seriously then we must honor the reality of injustice even when it is done to “me.” If the family of God is wronged then I am wronged as well. We cannot gloss over injustice. This is why we need to catch the words “How Long” in verse 2. There is pure frustration in those words. There is agitation in those words. There is emotion in those words … and they occur in scripture over 60 times. How Long …
I frequently pray Psalm 4 in the evening, like disciples have always done. I have come to call it “Don’t Close Your Eyes” because in my own situation I have often found the darkness and sleep to be a giant wrestling match. Praying this psalm is an act of faith that Yahweh has my back and he can take my eyes and shut them for me.
To the Psalm … from the NRSV (Psalm 4 in Italics)
Answer me when I call, O God of my right! You gave me room when I was in distress. Be gracious to me, and hear my prayer.
O Lord, the night has come again. I am drained. I come to you because you are my right. I have no secrets from you even if I tried to keep one. Its been a tough day. In fact it has been a series of tough days God. I am trying to do what you want. You know I am. I know that I have failed you all day in spite of my intentions. I beg you through Jesus who prays with me to have mercy. I know that sometimes I sound like a broken record because I just keep lifting up the same old stuff. I am more tired of that crap than you are God. So hear me one more time.
How long, you people shall my honor suffer shame? How long will you love vain words, and seek after lies? But know that the LORD has set apart the faithful for himself; the LORD hears me when I call to him.
Father those people do not think I know what they said. But I heard. And so did you!! I do not understand it God. I work hard to serve you and to be your servant. I sometimes I feel like Moses, Jeremiah, and even brother Jesus. when everyone is just whispering their gossip and destructive words. I just don’t get it. Some of the stuff that is said, from time to time, God is so obviously wrong that I find it shocking anyone claiming to be your worshiper would let pass their lips without feeling utter shame. Its BS God and you know it, they know it, so why do they do it? I am asking you O Lord. Why! But Father as flawed as I am, and I know my sins – they are many but they are not THOSE sins! Of those things I have not done. I am grateful that my standing, Father, in your holy Family is not dependent upon them. I am grateful that you know me and the faith that is in my heart. I am grateful that you hold me close and have given me fellowship with your Son and Spirit even when those in your family behave like adversaries instead of those washed in the blood of the Lamb.
When you are disturbed, do not sin;ponder it on your beds, and be silent. Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the LORD.
Abba I continue my prayer in the company of all your saints. I hear them counseling me O Lord in my frustration, and just being worn out, that I do not allow myself to become part of the problem. You know my mind Lord and I can dwell on this all freaking night long! It causes me stress because it hurts. I do not understand WHAT has happened, nor WHY it has happened, nor WHY those who seem to gloat over it do what they do. But Lord if you will give me strength through your Holy Spirit I will respond to pain and hurt and slander with love and kindness and attempt to be Jesus to even them. May my worship not be hindered because of the animosity of others as I try to walk in trusting faith with you and them.
There are many who say, “O that we might see some good! Let the light of your face shine on us, O LORD! You have put gladness in my heart more than when their grain and wine abound.
Oh God! How I would love to see harsh criticism be turned into a blessing, not only for me but for them. I would love, and it is my prayer, that healing take place and we can be a testimony to your grace. Father as you told Aaron many centuries ago, I beg you to reveal your glory and let your face shine upon us. Like the flowers that seek the sunlight Father make us seek your face. Draw us together like roses with your shalom Lord so we can be your witness to the new creation rather than showing we still are bound to the night. Fill us with joy in our common grace as when we have had a few mugs of wine.
I will both lie down and sleep in shalom; for you alone, O LORD, make me lie down in safety.
Father I know it has been the same song and millionth verse but I have laid my burdens at your feet. Keep me from picking them back up. Help me to close my eyes in your shalom that no matter what anyone says or does I am yours. Please keep the dreams away. Keep me in the palm of your hand until I wake filled with gratitude for a new day of grace and life. Father I am grateful for the long history of your family and it is with the psalmists, Christians through the centuries and most of all with Jesus that I offer this prayer up to you. Have mercy on us. Amen.