I am now continuing my reflection on the jarring prose of the Psalmist, from yesterday...
How? How does immersing ourselves in this jarring prose from the Psalmist - "Yet, You are holy..." - open the door to contentment?
In addition to King David, I have been sitting at the feet of pastor Tim Keller, via his book Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God, in the hopes of growing in my communion and conversation with our Father. One of the things he points out (himself leaning on Martin Luther and Augustine) is that in order to grow in prayer - which is to grow in our relationship with God - we must enter in to a conversation that is already happening; and the way we do that is by means of God's Word.
"If God's words are his personal, active presence [and they are], then...communication from God is therefore communion with God, when met with a response of trust from us." (p. 53)
How does our praying depend on the speech of God, found in the Bible?
"It is...essential to the practice of prayer to recognize what [Eugene] Peterson calls the 'overwhelming previousness of God's speech to our prayers.' The theological principle has practical consequences. It means that our prayers should arise out of immersion in the Scripture. We should 'plunge ourselves into the sea' of God's language, the Bible. We should listen, study, think, reflect, and ponder the Scriptures until there is an answering response in our hearts and minds. It may be one of shame or of joy or of confusion or of appeal -- but that response to God's speech is then truly prayer and should be given to God."
What this has to do with what landed on me with such a palpable thud from the Psalmist - "Yet, You are holy..." - is that it was only because David had himself listened, studied, reflected, and pondered all that he had been told of Yahweh from his ancestors, that he was able to speak this way with God "enthroned on the praises of Israel" (Ps. 22:3).
"Yet, You are holy..." was his tired, weary, tear-soaked, anguished, answering response from the depths of his heart and mind. It was "truly prayer." It is what Peterson further recognizes from the prayers of the writers in the Bible, when he says their prayers were
"not prayed by people trying to understand themselves. They are not the record of people searching for the meaning of life. They were prayed by people who understood that...God, not their feelings, was the center...Human experiences might provoke the prayers, but they do not condition them...It is not simply a belief in God that conditions these prayers...but a doctrine of God." (p. 56)
To which Keller responds,
"In the Bible, we discover a real and complex God. If you have a personal relationship with any real person, you will regularly be confused and infuriated by him or her. So, too, you will regularly be confounded by the God you meet in the Scriptures - as well as amazed and comforted. Your prayer must be firmly connected to and grounded in your reading of the Word. This wedding of the Bible and prayer anchors your life down in the real God." (p. 56)
Do you see, dear friend? What we are searching for in our rightly-ordered praying is God. God in all his majesty, God in all his honesty, God in all his sovereignty and self-sufficiency, God in all his God-ness and goodness, comfort and love. And our search must be grounded in the Word that tells me all these things, gives contour and texture to the reality of who He is.
Is this not what David himself does, as he reflects there on his knees?
4 In you our fathers trusted;
they trusted, and you delivered them.
5 To you they cried and were rescued;
in you they trusted and were not put to shame.
David reminds himself of the faith of his fathers and his people who had gone before him. They trusted God, and he delivered. They cried out, and were rescued. They believed, and were not put to shame. The path to contentment for David is trust and belief in God, and who God says he is, even if God would choose not to deliver him (for David is intimately familiar with his people's history, he knows that generations cried out for deliverance from Pharaoh, and received none, for 400 years).
David is showing us what Edmund Clowney observed, "The Bible does not present an art of prayer, it presents the God of prayer."
The question I now ask myself is: "Will I trust and believe in this God of my praying and communing?" This is a massively important question for me as a child of God. For this and only this - trust and belief in God as he is, on his terms, and not mine - is the path to contentment, and contented communion. Again, Keller:
"[This kind of] prayer is the way to experience a powerful confidence that God is handling our lives well, that our bad things will turn out for good, our good things cannot be taken from us, and the best things are yet to come." (p. 73, emphasis mine)
The best things are yet to come.
It is this kind of Bible-borne, doctrine-saturated, God-knowledgable praying which will bring about God for God's sake becoming our goal, rather than God as a way to something else. We do not want God to give us something so that we may be happy; rather, we want God to become our happiness. Augustine writes,
"We love God, therefore, for what He is in Himself, and [we love] ourselves and our neighbors for his sake...that does not mean that we shouldn't pray for anything else but to know, love and please God [for we see David do this in Psalm 22]...However, if we have made God our greatest love, and if knowing and pleasing him is our highest pleasure, it transforms both what and how we pray for a happy life." (pgs. 85-86)
Yes! That is what David is showing us, and (if he were here) I think would exclaim he wants for us. Because that is precisely what he did for his people and nation:
22 I will tell of your name to my brothers;
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
23 You who fear Yahweh, praise him!
All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him,
and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
24 For he has not despised or abhorred
the affliction of the afflicted,
and he has not hidden his face from him,
but has heard, when he cried to him.
25 From you comes my praise in the great congregation;
my vows I will perform before those who fear him.
26 The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied;
those who seek him shall praise Yahweh!
May your hearts live forever!
After reading this Psalm many times over the last two days, it does not seem to me that David has been delivered from his troubles at the time he wrote it (depending on how one takes the extent of Ps. 22:21). And yet, his theology leads to doxology. His doctrine leads to praise. And he calls on those around him, including the afflicted (Ps. 22:26), to praise Yahweh with him. To delight in Yahweh. To sing of Yahweh.
Friend, what David wants us to see is that even if all is taken away, we still have God.
He wants you to trust and really believe that, and for it - for Him - to become your happiness.
Let's believe him together, shall we? Pray it with me,
"Yet, You are holy..."