Prayer of the Saints - Lesson 1
Prayer in the Psalms (Part 1)
In this lesson, you delve into the study of the Psalms as the prayer book of the Church and Israel. You gain an understanding of how the Psalms have significantly shaped the faith and prayer lives of saints, scholars, and devout Christians throughout history, with prominent figures like Augustine, Bernard of Clairvaux, and John Calvin dedicating significant parts of their lives to the preaching, meditation, and interpretation of these sacred texts. The course emphasizes how the Psalms are a primal form of human communication, connecting music and emotions, dating back to even before written language. As the lesson progresses, you discover how the Church and various Christian movements have consistently used the Psalms as a tool for transformation and reform. In understanding the historical significance of the Psalms, you also get to see how the recitation and study of these texts were made accessible to all, transcending language barriers and forming a crucial part of Christian education. Furthermore, the course illustrates the Psalms as the voice of God's people through many cultures, transforming hymns of different origins into the worship of the one true God.
Prayer in the Psalms (Part 1)
A. Appreciation of the Psalms: Scottish Crimond
B. Importance of the Psalms in Personal and Church Prayer
II. Historical Significance of the Psalms
A. Influence on Great Saints of the Church
B. Recognition of the Psalms as a Prayer Book
C. Memorization and Use in Monastic Worship
D. Translation into Vernacular Languages
III. The Psalms in the New Testament
A. Quotations and Echoes of the Psalms
IV. Significance and Profile of Psalm 1
A. Covenant Keepers and Delight in the Law of the Lord
B. Prayer as Expression of Inspiration
C. Blessed Nature of the Righteous
D. Contrasting the Way of the Wicked
1. Antisocial Behavior
2. Sin and Disobedience
3. Mocker and Overweening Pride
V. Significance and Profile of Psalm 2
A. Recognition of God's Kingship
B. Symbolic Language of Monarchy
C. Context of Ancient Near East and Israel
- You'll gain comprehensive insights into the critical role of the Psalms as the prayer book of the Church and Israel, learn about its significant influence on saints and scholars throughout Christian history, understand its function as a tool for transformation and reform, and discover its multi-cultural origins and transcendence of language barriers in worship.
- This lesson provides you with a deep understanding of the role, context, and significance of prayer in the Psalms, analyzing its various elements, examples, and applications.
- Gain insights into Jesus' prayer life and the significance of the Lord's Prayer. Discover its evolution in early Christianity and its secret practice. Explore the Trinitarian nature of prayer and the cultural context of Jewish prayer. Understand the interconnectedness of love for God and love for others.
- In studying Augustine's reflections on the Psalms, gain insights into his passion for the Church, the influence of the Psalms on his prayer life, and his emphasis on desire, faith, reason, grace, and the pursuit of true happiness in God. Love is seen as encompassing virtues and vices.
- Gain insight into Benedictine spirituality through the lives of Benedict and Anselm. Benedict emphasized balance and prayer, while Anselm personalized prayer and sought union with God. Discover moderation, perseverance, and reverence for a prayerful and balanced life in a secular world.
- Gain insight into the 12th-century Cistercian reform led by Bernard of Clairvaux. They revived the Benedictine movement, emphasizing prayer, humility, and an enlarged heart. The lesson explores historical context, the Song of Songs revival, and Bernard's non-linear engagement with the Bible.
- Dr. Houston provides insight into the prayer life of Teresa of Avila, a remarkable woman and reformer of the Carmelite Order in 16th century Spain, is provided, covering her struggles with prayer, transformative vision of Christ, role as a spiritual director, written works like "The Way of Perfection" and "The Interior Castle," stages of prayer, and the significance of personal encounter with God.
- From this lesson, you will gain knowledge and insight into the teachings of Teresa and John of the Cross. Teresa's teachings emphasize the importance of honesty, consistent desire for God, and living by faith even in toxic cultural environments. John of the Cross's teachings focus on the dark night of the soul, a process of negation, disorientation, and trust in God. Through their teachings, you will learn about the transformative power of experiencing the darkness and the deeper understanding it brings to the light.
- By studying the lesson, you will gain deep insights into the Apostle Paul's life and ministry of prayer, including his radical teachings, personal prayers, intercession for others, and the transformative power of prayer in his ministry and teachings.
- Gain insight from Kierkegaard and Barth's prayer life. Kierkegaard emphasized integrating prayer into daily life, living by faith in challenging cultures. Despite reservations, Kierkegaard's significance remains for confronting corruption and promoting authentic faith. Deepen intimacy with God in prayer.
- By studying Barth's teachings, you will gain a comprehensive understanding of the significance of prayer in the Christian life and its connection to theology.
- Gain insight into C.S. Lewis and Hans von Balthasar's prayer lives. Lewis finds inspiration despite challenges, while von Balthasar's complex journey is influenced by theology and encounters. Understand the transformative power of prayer in their writings and experiences.
- This lesson introduces the rich prayer lives and teachings of Martin Luther and John Calvin, emphasizing their transformational roles during the Reformation, their deep theological insights, and the practical application of their faith in their everyday lives.
This class offers a captivating journey through the rich tapestry of prayer and spirituality in the history of Christianity. Each lesson unveils a different facet of this intricate mosaic, from the profound influence of the Psalms on saints and scholars to the transformative power of prayer in the lives of figures like Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross. You'll explore the evolution of prayer, from the Lord's Prayer's humble origins to its profound impact on early Christian communities. Dive into the minds of theologians like Augustine, Benedict, and Anselm, and discover how their teachings continue to inspire spiritual seekers today.
Dr. James Houston
Prayer of the Saints
Prayer in the Psalms (Part 1)
We’re now beginning a new course on the prayer lives of the saints and the scholars of the Church to complement the other course that we have done on seeking to identify various approaches to the Christian identity. The two courses then are in complement with each other.
But before we begin our first address, which is on the Psalms as the prayer book of Israel and of the Church, we of course can think of no greater hymn that we have in appreciation of the Psalter than the Scottish Crimond, that is set to the 23rd Psalm:
The Lord’s my Shepherd, I’ll not want.
He makes me down to lie.
In pastures green, He leadeth me
The quiet waters by.
I still remember as a boy listening to a famous Scottish composer that really his own identity was singing this in wonderful, choral majesty with the Orpheus Choir in Glasgow. And some of us are blessed that from our childhood it’s the singing of the Psalms that has been so profoundly important for the shaping of all our life since then.
Having finished the singing of this Psalm, now let’s reflect on how the Psalms are uniquely not only the prayer book of Israel, but uniquely have been the prayer book of the Church as well.
One of the things that is so striking is that all the great saints of the Church have been most profoundly affected by the Psalms more than any other book of the Bible. We’ve already seen how Augustine devoted all the last 18 years of his life to preaching and meditating on the Psalms every week. He preached for 18 years every Sunday on the Psalms. We think of the impact that the Psalms had also on Bernard of Clairvaux, although he was also so fascinated by the Song of Songs. We think of John Calvin and for him the greatest ministry and worship of his life was again on preaching and meditating on the Psalms. And so the Psalms have been transformative in the lives of Christians throughout all the ages.
It’s almost as if the Psalms are indicating the most primitive form of human communication that precedes human language. So in a sense it’s the singing of the Psalms that conjoins this primal communication of music with, at the same time, all the emotions that we have as human beings. It’s significant that in the discoveries of the ancient Near East, the earliest evidence of a musical lyre that could be used for strumming the Psalms goes back to 2900 BC, that is to say, over 1,500 years before written language. So one of the things that we need to recover in our worship today is to conjoin the Psalms with singing, not just reciting.
One of the things that even… we talked about the imprisonment of the Vulgate, that for so much of the history of Western Christendom the Church was locked within the Latin Vulgate so that you could have no access to the Bible unless you were a Latin scholar. But even in the 13th century, there was a concession made for, in the year 1229 at the Council of Toulouse in the South of France, the Council decreed officially that while all the other books of the Bible should remain in the Latin form, that is to say, in the Vulgate, the exception was the Psalter. The Psalms should be open to God’s people. They should be permitted to be translated into every vernacular language. So, long before the Reformation, there was a recognition that the Psalms stood alone and should be understood and sung and mediated upon in every vernacular language. In fact, the Psalms are so significant that we find that the memorising of the Psalter was expected of every bishop in the early Church. And it was commonplace for people to memorise the Psalms because they were reciting them every day.
The monastic movement was a movement that communicated the whole Psalter every week. So you can imagine how the monks had wholly masticated and memorised every word of the Psalms in their worship. One of the most striking things that we find is that in the peat bogs of Ireland there’s been discovered a child’s slate that goes back to the 5th century with the early trade that the Celtic missionaries had had with the traders of the Eastern Mediterranean and, on the child’s slate, a child’s education as primitive as that was in the use of the Psalms. So it’s a fragment of a quotation of a Psalm that is written by the child on this child’s slate.
Another example of the centrality of the Psalms in the worship of the Christian life is that of the 10th century King of Wessex Alfred the Great. He was the first Christian king of the southern part of England, of Wessex, that stood up to the Vikings as pagans that has invaded England. He realised that his role as a Christian king was to be David and as David he therefore had memorised the Psalms in his kingly role. He was re-enacting what we find in the Book of Deuteronomy 17 where it’s recorded that the role of a king is to meditate on God’s Torah day and night. And he saw that this meditation on the Torah was meditation on the Psalms day and night. So what did he as the king of this primitive Christian community in South England do? He wrote a commentary as his kingly role that should be therefore a simple introduction to each of the Psalms, so in a kind of thumbnail sketch he identifies each Psalm with an appropriate sentence of commentary so that they would be guided as to what direction is this Psalm leading us in. Can you imagine any other king in the history of mankind that has ever seen his kingly duty was to introduce the Psalter to his people? And of course, we discover that before his reign, Alcuin had written as the minister of education for the recovery of Christendom in the Empire of Charlemagne in Northern France, or in fact across Western Europe, that he made it as his duty that the education of every child should be in Psalmody.
So the Psalms have had a central place in the whole history of Christianity from beginning to end. We also, of course, realise how the Psalms are quoted in the New Testament. And it’s obvious that Jesus himself growing up as a Jewish child recited the Psalms and how throughout His life the Psalms were His companions. And so the New Testament is replete with quotations from the Psalms. They may not be long, but here and now you just get a fragment of one or two words, but they are echoing what has been not memorised, as we’ve said, as in the case of Bernard of Clairvaux not memorising scripture, but masticating scripture, eating it word by word. And so these fragments we find also as well as the quotations in the New Testament. So surely we speak of the Psalms with a reverence that we’ve long lost and which we need to recover in our generation. It’s my dream that if we have a renaissance of the wonderful classical music of Bach and Mozart, the kind of music that spurred people like Karl Barth to write their church dogmatics, we need the recovery of both that wonderful music, but conjoined with the communication of the Psalms for our life. I don’t think any of us can imagine how emotionally our life would be changed if we had meditated on the Psalms day and night. But that was the way of the righteous as Psalm 1 indicates, that right relationship with God is having the echo of the Psalms in our hearts.
So again, we see how the Psalms have been used, not only throughout all the Middle Ages, as we’ve mentioned, but also in the way that reform movements like that of the Lollards or the movement of Wycliffe or later other movements, but all these movements, which are movements of the heart, are movements of the recovery of the Psalms. And so one of the privileges I have had with Dr Bruce Waltke in doing volumes on the Psalms is to realise nothing is more central in the history of the Church, nothing more central in our own personal lives, than the Psalms. They reform the Church and they reform our hearts conjointly. We mentioned how Calvin used them in Geneva. We see how Luther used them in Germany and how, by God’s grace, they’ll be used again.
We can suspect that the Psalms have been the instrument of the reform of God’s people ever since the exile, in other words, ever since the 6th century BC. It may well be that some of the earlier Psalms were individual laments. Well, we know, of course, that one of them, which is perhaps one of the oldest, is the Song of Miriam or the Song of Moses that goes right back to the Exodus and the deliverance from Egypt. Certainly, we find it was the exiles in the synagogues of Babylon who began to compose some further contributory Psalms of praise or lament before they got back to Palestine to go back to the temple in Jerusalem. And there’s always been, I suspect, an inner tension between the structure of the Psalms as used by, liturgically, the priesthood and used prophetically by the individual in their protests of lament or praise. But this intertwining between the priestly use of the Psalter and the prophetic use of the Psalter has been there probably from the beginning. And so the ongoing composition and editing of the Psalter means that scholars thrive on the complexity of the editorial processes of the composition of the Psalms, because we’re dealing with a document that goes back to the Iron Age. It goes back to two and a half millennia, like no other text does.
Contemporary scholarship on the Psalter emphasises that we should treat the Psalms as one book, that, while we have these divisions, it’s the unity that we should celebrate of all 150 Psalms. But as we look inside the contents and the inscriptions, we recognise that there are other collections that were previously composed in the Psalter with the words of Asaph: Psalms 50 and 73–83, or the words of David in Psalms 3–41. So this so-called composition of the Psalms of David is simply a much wider range of appreciating under an archetype that we might call David, but not necessarily all his editing or composition. And that this existed in Hezekiah’s time, as we have evidence in 2 Chronicles 29–30, or again the collections of the Sons of Korah: yet another collection of 42, 49 and 84, 85, 87, 88.
All of this is mysterious to contemporary scholarship. So the Psalms are truly the reality of the voice of God’s people through many, many different cultures. And we also realise that some of the most primitive of the Psalms are actually Egyptian hymns, or they’re Canaanite hymns, or they’re hymns that belong to Mesopotamia. In other words, that God’s people have simply transformed and translated these words of worship from the worship of pagan gods to the worship of the one true God. It’s typical, as I mentioned on other occasions, that you find in places like Armenia that below the high altar of the Christian celebration of worship is still the earthenware pot of the Zoroastrian worship of God, or we find on the sites of Roman temples that above them are built the Christian churches. What happens architecturally is also true of what happens in hymnody, what happens in the Psalter, that there’s often an ancestor to that particular Psalm. So we shouldn’t stumble in saying well, this is an echo of an Egyptian hymn, that probably Psalm 8 or Psalm 18 may be examples of a previous questioning about the nature of man by another deity in another civilisation.
What we do know is that Psalm 1 and 2 are like the two pillars at the entry of a doorway. And as Eugene Peterson has suggested, Psalms 1 and 2 are pre-prayer just to get us started, helping us to prepare for prayer. And what are the prayers? The prayers are, first of all, let me have a right relationship with God. That’s what Psalm 1 is all about. It’s the Psalm of the right way of relating to God. It’s the Psalm of the righteous. And Psalm 2 is that in all the passions that rule my life, there’s the King that supremely transforms and masters all my passions. And so when we let God be God and let man be man then we enter into the life of prayer.
But of course, the Psalms direct us to pray effectively by praying wisely, praying obediently and the reason why this is significant is because prayer is much more than prayer. It’s reflective of our way if life before God. So the question is what way of life are we engaged in? And the second thing about prayer that, of course, we find in the monastic tradition is that the life of the Christian is a life of obedience. It’s a life of submission to the sovereignty of God. It’s saying not my will, but thine be done, O Lord. It’s the way of obedience, the way of wisdom. It’s the way of obedience. And what is obedience? The word in the Latin tells us: it’s listening to. Being obedient is listening to God and that’s then how we enter into the Psalter. We also realise then that our hearts have to be prepared to participate not only in the liturgy of Israel, but in our communication today with God.
And so the significance that the first Psalm is showing us is fundamentally that we live as covenant keepers. The significance that we find in this Psalm is that when we confess that the Lord God is our Lord, he’s our Lord Jesus Christ, we are really confessing that He is our I AM. He is the I AM God. And so my colleague Bruce Waltke has consistently used the theme of I AM in referring to God throughout his skilled exegesis of the Psalms. And who is the I AM? He’s the God who never breaks his promises. His promises are yea and amen and that’s why we conclude our prayers with amen because we’re saying so let it be, submissively so. So we prove that we have a new nature, that we regenerate when we pray as covenant keepers. That is to say, that our delight is in the law of the Lord. And the law of the Lord is the Word of the Lord. Whereas, the unregenerate who have their own nature cannot welcome God’s law into their life.
The second thing that we realise is that prayer is expression of inspiration, that we’re inspired to pray. So we say come Holy Spirit, guide us in our prayer life. And, of course, this inspiration is because we’re blessed by God’s spirit in our lives, so blessed that person is, that’s how the Psalms begin. So this them of blessing is a remarkable word that informs everything. It’s our healing. It’s our prosperity. It’s our ability. It’s our joy. Blessing covers every positive emotion that we have when we’re in the presence of God. It’s much more than just being happy. Happy is a matter of an emotional state. But blessing consists of a number of things.
First of all, we have blessed fruits from living in the way of the Lord. But much more than that, is that we have a new nature that is blessed, a new spirit that He’s put within us that is not I who am praying, but He who is praying through me. Like the legend of the Aeolian harp that was able to sing the praises of the gods, so our hearts are like an instrument of music that is played by the spirit of God. Isn’t that a beautiful thought? So blessing is the primal life of what it is to be a Christian. We are having a blessed new nature—that’s what we’re celebrating. We’re celebrating new birth when we appreciate God as our covenant Lord and that He should, in fact, give us blessings that are beyond our conception. And no good thing will He withhold from those who put their trust in Him.
There is the amusing quip that Kierkegaard once described. He said you know, the difference between Jewish devotion and Christian devotion. He says in Jewish devotion the nearer you get to God, the more blessed you become. Well, the way that blessing is used is that you become wealthier, you become best-endowed—that’s blessing. Oh, he said it’s very different when you’re a Christian. The nearer you get to Christ, the more you get clobbered, the more you suffer. So when we’re talking about blessed is the man, we’re not talking about everything being positive. We’re talking about blessed is the one who suffers for Christ’s names sake. That’s not the kind of blessing we like to adopt. And you say how in the world can you be so depressed and so blessed at the same time? Well, of course, that’s our difficulty. We can’t equate the two together. But I remember when my wife in a crisis of our life when we were called to go to Regent and we had had a Downs Syndrome little boy that was born that seemed to block all God’s call for us to go to Vancouver. There was no way. How could God call us to go there and block it at the same time by having the Downs Syndrome little boy? As I groaned on my couch alone at home and my wife had to make a decision like me to save the child’s life—I didn’t know whether she would make the same decision—I was given the inspiration to say Lord, thank you. You are giving me commander training for the call that still lies ahead. It seems blocked, but blessed is the one who suffers in His name as well.
Of course, in the exegetical skills that my colleague Bruce Waltke has he points out that Psalm 1 is really the product of a literary artist, that his teaching poem is full of designs, like Belgian lace. And if you know the beauty of Belgian lace with all the intricacies of its stitching, you realise that the stitching grammatically of the words of the text weave two motifs. There are two designs. The first three verses are the blessings of the righteous, the way that is blessed of God indeed, but then the next three verses, 4–6, are the curses that we associate with the wicked. And so he shifts from the virtues to the vices of those who are in covenant and those who are out of covenant in the same Psalm. And when we examine our own hearts, we find that there’s this intricacy within our own lives. There are times when we are celebrating our virtues. There are times when we have to confess our vices. And so we read this Psalm in order to understand a profile of idealised prayer. It seems to be both night and day, light and darkness.
But the end result of what the prayer of Psalm 1 is about is like Enoch: walking with God. And so Robert Bolton, one of the Puritans, describes in his monograph on Psalm 1 that it’s like Abraham walking with God. Of course, there are rocky places. Of course, there’s travail. Of course, there’s dryness. Of course, there are all sorts of exilic experiences that we have to go through. But that’s our prayer life; it’s walking through all the circumstances with God. The antithesis, which is the way of the wicked, is that it gets progressively worse and worse. It goes from wickedness to sin, from sin to mockery. To be wicked is fundamentally to be antisocial. It’s disruptive behaviour of the one affecting others, negative upon others. But of course, profoundly, you cannot separate the double commandment of loving God and loving your neighbour, so you don’t love God, you won’t love your neighbour either.
And so the first mark of the wrong way of walking is to live with antisocial behaviour. And in our prayer life, whenever we have resentment and jealousy, anger, towards the other, we can’t pray. In that sense, we’re the wicked and in that sense, we’re prayerless. We’re blocked in our prayer life. And so we may have to examine why it is that these hidden snags are like barriers that prevent us from having intimacy with God. But then he goes further and speaks about the way of sin. And sin, of course, is acting disobediently, acting independently of the creational relationship we should have with God as our creator and of His Word. So it could be that one of the ways that block us in our prayer life is that we’re not taking God’s work seriously enough in our lives. One of the things that we’re going to see throughout this course is that you cannot separate the Word of God from the life of prayer.
But then thirdly, sin is intensified by the fact that our hearts can become so hardened that, as hardened apostates, the word mocker is now used. It’s a terrifying word that’s used 14 times in the Book of Proverbs. It’s used here again in Psalm 1, used again in Isaiah 29:20. What is the mocker? He’s the one who’s the antithesis of the wise. He’s the one who in rebellion totally would upset all the wisdom of God. And of course, what lies behind this situation is over-weaning pride. I know better than God. I can act on my own. And so as we read people like C.S. Lewis—you should read what he has to say on pride. In Mere Christianity, he has a whole chapter on it. It’s a nature of life that we cannot rid of ourselves without His help. And of course, we know that the incident that Jesus recites of the Pharisee who, in pride, speaks of himself as being not like the sinners. That is so natural to us, to block all life of prayer. So sometimes if you feel that your prayer life is barren, humble yourself to ask God what is the pride that is hindering me from a life of prayer? Pride and godliness never work together.
And so we come to the second Psalm, the other pillar of the entry into the Psalter. And Psalm 2 reminds us that God is king. It’s one of our Scottish scholars John Eaton in his book Kingship and the Psalms who’s emphasised this so strongly throughout the Psalms. But we have to interpret how significant is a royal interpretation of the whole Psalter. Of course, to us today kingship seems rather remote in especially a republican society. It’s something we’ve become totally indifferent to. And sometimes when we look at our crown princes, we wonder whether they should continue to have a monarchy. But when we think of monarchy, we have to think in terms of the ancient Near East or post-feudal England to understand what monarchy is about. So of course, monarchy itself is a symbolic language for the character of God.
And so first of all, if we look at the ancient kingdoms that surrounded Israel, like Babylon and Egypt, and little Israel caught between the pincers of these great empires like the claws of a lobster in the geopolitical power of the ancient world, we recognise kingship was fearful. The pharaohs and the kings of Sumer and Babylon, they took responsibility for worship. They tyrannised those who didn’t worship them. These ancient religions are what we might call religions of correspondence. That is to say, that it was the king through his priests and the temple that he interpreted the signs of the heavens, so that astrology and geomancy and other practices would interpret the inscrutable will of the gods. This was done with the authority of the king. And so in Egypt, every enthronement of a pharaoh was in a sense the creation of a new school of theology concerning cosmogony. It was the pharaoh who could interpret the origin of creation and he did this from a new capital with a new temple and a new school of rethinking—all to reassert with a paradigm change his own royal authority. So worship and kingship were inextricably united in the ancient world. It’s like saying you can’t be a good citizen unless you worship the way I’m telling you to worship.
So the king took responsibility for worship. But then we also find that, especially in Mesopotamia, lament was also a royal expression of the way that the king united with his people. They all wept together. They would lament over national catastrophe together. They would lament at being defeated by their enemies. They would lament because of national catastrophes like famine and flood and fire that had struck down their communities. And then we realise that God is the God of Israel. He now takes a role that is defiant of the kings of the Earth. He delivers defiantly Israel from the hand of pharaoh. He brings back His people from the exile of Babylon for He is king and so in a profoundly literal sense Israel follows their king. He’s the king that gives them covenant. And all the enemies are therefore destroyed in the light of His power.
This helps us then to understand why there are so many imprecatory Psalms in the Old Testament, especially in the Psalter itself. We have these powerful curses that we cannot dissociate the curse from kingship because this is to seek the arm of the Lord being revealed, His judgement to be manifest, as we find in that culture. And so it’s not therefore by accident that the Psalms focus on David as the archetype of kingship. He’s Israel’s king. He’s not the king of popular acclaim. He’s chosen by the spirit of God, not by the will of the people. The will of the people chose Saul. They chose disastrously. It was the spirit of the Lord that was on the prophet Samuel, who in his own prayerful life walked close with God. Indeed, the very existence of Samuel was the expression of prayer from the barrenness of his mother’s womb. It’s always been, to me, a fruitful meditation to compare the prayer of Hannah with the song of Mary in the Gospels. Hannah prayed unto the Lord and she had a son that was the fruit of prayer and her song was reiterated by Mary in the Annunciation. So the link between Hannah and Mary indicates the sovereignty of God over the barren womb of a woman, or indeed the Immaculate Conception of our Lord Himself. Think how powerful all this is. So to be David’s greatest son, as Jesus has been proclaimed to be, as the manifestation of the one who is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. It’s all interwoven together.
And so, as we’ve already been reminded, in the Middle Ages, David was viewed as the archetype of the one who’s not only king, but he’s king because of his dependence on God. And so the celebration of David is always a celebration of humility. He’s the youngest of the family. He’s not the natural choice by primogeniture. He’s the choice of God, not man. And your choice is not your choice. Your choice to be a Christian is God’s grace that He called you to be a Christian. We’re called of God. I love the hymn that tells us I sought the Lord, but afterwards I found Him seeking me. We think we’re taking initiative with God. No. It’s God who takes initiative with us in His grace. And so in our prayer life, the premise is humility. Why me? One of the phrases of my life has been why did He transform a lonely I to a glorious we? I don’t pray; we pray together. It’s all God’s grace. It’s all His sovereignty. It’s all his kingship. And so we have illustrated manuscripts in the Celtic world, and especially later in the 13th and 14th century in English manuscripts, illustrating a humble shepherd boy surrounded by his brothers and there’s Samuel pouring the oil upon His head, the oil of anointment. He’s anointed me above my fellows is the wonder of the humble of heart.
David then is not the source of the Psalms. David is the expression of the Psalter. He’s the spirit with which we enter the Psalms. So kingship then is so profoundly important and, of course, this leads us to see that David becomes archetypal of the anticipation of Israel’s messiah. This became the great theme of Augustine, as we’ll see, in his understanding of the Psalter. Now we begin to recognise that in David we have a profile of what to expect of the coming one, of the one that would finally release us from all our afflictions and from all our sinfulness and give us this profound anticipation of a future glorious redemption.
So yes, this is why we see that the Psalms are prophetic. They’re not only for the present moment; they’re anticipatory of our future. They’re leading us to shape our hopes. They’re helping us to deepen our faith as we reach out to the future. They’re helping us to recognise what that glorious destiny will be for each one of us. And so we can see that the New Testament writers, which we’ll say more about later, we discover that the place of the Psalms in the New Testament is far more crucial than we have often recognised. The way that the Apostles interpret the Psalter is all part of the shaping of the new covenant that is manifest in their teaching. And so the Psalter keeps on being echoed on and echoed on throughout the history of God’s purposes. What we have to recognise, as we’ve already said, is that we should never stop singing the Psalms.
The Psalms in human life continue to shape us. And one of the great needs of God’s people today is for us to say for God’s sake, get back to the Psalter. Stop trivialising our worship with entertainment, with songs of this age which are so senseless and so noisy. Let us revise our electronic music with the Psalms themselves. Think how important it would be if in our churches we all went back like Luther and Calvin to the Psalms. Isn’t it time we did? But you look at the contemporary songs, devotional as they’re meant to be, and it’s all about I. One Sunday morning I was so upset, I deliberately counted that we used the word ‘I’ 80 times. And I looked at the worship leader who was so self-conscious she was the antithesis of what a worship leader should be. It was all about me.
And so in the Psalms it’s all about God. And the Psalms are expressive of the corporate ‘I’. The I is not me. It’s we. That’s why you never know who the I is in the Psalmist. Is it Israel? Yes. Is it the Psalmist himself? Yes. Is it me? Yes. Is it all the community of saints? Yes. It’s all of these things. And so our prayer life because of the linkage it must have with intercession means that we’re always thinking of the other as we pray about ourselves. It’s the self as the other. It’s the love of neighbour as myself that is what is expressive. There is this unity of corporateness that is what is the consciousness of community: Christian consciousness.