A Prayer About the Arrogant

Psalm 73 marks the end of David‘s prayers and beginning of the worship leader, Asaph‘s in Book 3 of the Psalms.

The psalm moves from God’s goodness to Israel, to the psalmist losing his grip on reality, to a diatribe prayer about the arrogant culture in which he lives, to God’s faithfulness, ending with this beautiful line, “But as for me, it is good to be near God . . .”

What stood out initially to me in this psalm was the section about the arrogant that sounds a lot like me. It sounds like many in the first world.

My wife and I have a code that we don’t post on Facebook when people talk about certain things, but we say it to one another, and perhaps we ought to actually post it at times (we’ll get unfriended if we do, but may be for the best!). The thing we often say when someone is gripping publicly about some superficial thing like service at a restaurant, is “FWP.”

“FWP” — What’s that?

First World Problem. So, you had to wait for 30 minutes ON YOUR BUTT, while someone brings you food, and you are complaining about it? The salsa wasn’t as good as always, your coke was flat, the waitress wasn’t perky enough. These are first world problems. Half of the world goes hungry. You ought to be guilt tripped about that. Maybe we need to just start unfriending or hiding people who use social media to complain. As Steven Furtick says, paraphrased, “As Christians, we have a responsibility to be happy.” I’m sure Furtick said it somehow more colorfully than that.

So, if you get the urge to post something to complain that you think might be a first world problem, go read Psalm 73:3-12.

Reading the Times

For a long time I’ve been a “reader of the Times.” Yes, I read the NY Times occasionally, but I’m talking about another reading of the times. There’s a manner of speaking that we “read the times” by staying aware of the news and what God is doing in the world. I do that occasionally, too. But I’m talking about another way of reading the times.

The kind of reading the times I’m talking about is that I use the date as a guide for Bible reading, using the number to correspond and direct my reading. In this way I respond to the invitation of God to listen to His voice through the Word daily and regularly in a way that keeps me moving through His story over and over.

There are hundreds of methods of Bible reading, but this one I keep coming back to. It goes something like this:

Today is August 15.

I divide the Psalms by 30 days to read five psalms a day. Lots of people do this, it’s nothing new, but doing it, memorizing, reflecting, praying these Scriptures is tried and true and the most ancient of spiritual practices of Israel and the church. It’s a tried and true method, but it’s only true when tried.

I try to read an Old Testament book daily and a New Testament book daily. There are 39 OT books and 27 NT books, so basically I use the day to pick a book.

So on August 15, I would read Psalms 71-75, Ezra, and 1 Timothy. I don’t worry if I missed yesterday, because yesterday’s book will come around again next month and the month after that.

You may wonder if I read straight through the Chronicles, running my eyes over all the name lists. No. I skim those and read for the story, stopping at places, making notes, enjoying a prayer of David or a song of Moses.

This kind of reading has nothing and everything to do with the reading I do for preaching. It has nothing and everything to do with the way I live my life. It has nothing and everything to do with what’s going to happen in my day. It has nothing and everything to do with what happened in Egypt yesterday. It has nothing and everything to do with politics. It has nothing and everything to do with how I treat my neighbor. This kind of reading has nothing and everything to do with how I relate to my wife and children, my co-workers.

When I read these books tied to a date, the only thing that matters is that I’m reading Holy Scripture and Holy Scripture when read, matters. It doesn’t have to be crammed into relevance in my life. What I learn when I read Holy Scripture is that my life is not what matters, and that my life truly matters.

In reading Holy Scripture, I learn that my life is consumed in the life of God. I learn that God’s story must become my story, that my story is a drop in the ocean. I learn that I am a bucket (I use this to mean vessel but it’s a little easier for us to picture today) that may contain God but realizes containing God is impossible, that God exists and is experienced outside of me infinitely, and I am learning to enjoy that, to desire to get my bucket in the ocean to float, sink, be surrounded by God and not “merely” inviting Him into my life. God invites me into His life.

God invites you into His life. Repeatedly, He said, “I will be your God, and you will be my people.” Then in Christ incarnate He came to make that invitation personal to a bunch of fishermen. Come, follow me.

Is God Silent or Are We Silent?

Does God speak today? Most people would say that he is silent.

Could it be that one reason God is silent is that we are silent? Do we really speak to him as if we want him to talk back?

What if we actually spoke our prayers to God–aloud–even when we’re alone? Some of you probably do that. There’s times when I’m alone in the house with God, me, and the dog. I’m talking to the dog, I’m talking to myself, I’m talking to God and I’m not sure I know the difference sometimes.

Thinking a prayer, not saying it out loud in community was likely not very common in the first few millennia of humanity when anything written that was read was read aloud. Prayers and Psalms were spoken aloud in community. This is how we got the Psalms. Augustine describes his friend, Ambrose when he read.

“When he read,” said Augustine, “his eyes scanned the page and his heart sought out the meaning, but his voice was silent and his tongue was still. Anyone could approach him freely and guests were not commonly announced, so that often, when we came to visit him, we found him reading like this in silence, for he never read aloud.”

Hannah (1 Samuel) was thought to be drunk when she prayed moving her lips but without speaking.

Some of us are mouthing words, giving lip service, but it’s not ourselves but some alter ego or mimicking . . .

Robert Benson tells a story about Beattie who prays and God seems to always hear and respond. Beattie prays for a man’s back to heal, and the next day the man reports he is pain free. Beattie prays the rain will stop after a long bought of floods. And the rain stops. Benson says that he tried praying like his friend Beattie but nothing seemed to happen.

What was wrong? Was he not sincere? Was sin standing in the way? What red tape had come between he and God? Did he need to make his requests to God through someone more spiritual like Beattie? Get a quorum before the Lord through Facebook prayer requests so more people praying, maybe God would listen?

Benson says one day he finally realized that perhaps God was not answering his prayers because he was trying to pray like Beattie and not like Robert Benson. He was a fraud before God.

I confess I’ve been a fraud. I’ve asked God to rubber stamp my plans instead of humbly and openly asking God for his wisdom and complete direction on a matter. Perhaps God is unwilling to speak to me because he knows I’ve already decided and all I want is his rubber stamp.

What if I came to God with no pretense? What if I asked God to show me what to say, what to do on a daily basis, with tough decisions, with career and family and church decisions? What if God is not speaking to me because whenever I talk back to God all I’m doing is mimicking someone else’s prayers, asking for rubber stamps, and sinfully and selfishly asking only for what I want without caring one dry fig about what he really wants!

Praying aloud is a metaphor for asking God for his rule and reign in our lives. The act of saying out loud, “God, what do you want me to do today?” is an act of giving over control and power. For some of us, in the face of asking God for direction everyday, we’d rather just tough it out on our own. In reality, that’s what most of us are doing.

What if our first words aloud are, “God, I confess I don’t really want you to be in charge of my life and speak back to me because I’m afraid you’ll tell me to do stuff I don’t want to do . . . still, I want to know . . . What do you want me to do?”