I will extol you, my God and King,
and bless your name forever and ever.
Every day I will bless you,
and praise your name forever and ever.
Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised;
his greatness is unsearchable.
One generation shall laud your works to another,
and shall declare your mighty acts.
On the glorious splendor of your majesty,
and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.
The might of your awesome deeds shall be proclaimed,
and I will declare your greatness.
They shall celebrate the fame of your abundant goodness,
and shall sing aloud of your righteousness.
The Lord is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
The Lord is good to all,
and his compassion is over all that he has made.
All your works shall give thanks to you, O Lord,
and all your faithful shall bless you.
They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom,
and tell of your power,
to make known to all people your mighty deeds,
and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
and your dominion endures throughout all generations.
The Lord is faithful in all his words,
and gracious in all his deeds.
The Lord upholds all who are falling,
and raises up all who are bowed down.
The eyes of all look to you,
and you give them their food in due season.
You open your hand,
satisfying the desire of every living thing.
The Lord is just in all his ways,
and kind in all his doings.
The Lord is near to all who call on him,
to all who call on him in truth.
He fulfills the desire of all who fear him;
he also hears their cry, and saves them.
The Lord watches over all who love him,
but all the wicked he will destroy.
My mouth will speak the praise of the Lord,
and all flesh will bless his holy name forever and ever.
I don’t know about you, but the season of life in which I find myself can be pretty overwhelming at times. I’m tired all the time. My schoolwork often leaves me feeling more confused than I was before I started it. Family, friends, and finances all need and deserve attention from me. And in the midst of all of this, it can be easy to lose sight of where God is present and working in the world. Sometimes I feel that God is absent. Can you relate?
Sometimes it feels like this dry period comes with even higher stakes for people like me who are training to become pastors. It can be easy to feel guilt or shame at the fact that we don’t really have any firmer of a grasp on God than the “average” Christian. There is a real temptation to think that pastors are supposed to have the corner on God—but this simply isn’t true. None of the pastors who have been most influential in my life have given me the impression that they think that. The truth is, a good pastor is one who obeys even when it feels fruitless.
But the temptation is still there. A couple of weeks ago I read the above psalm at our church’s morning prayer service—and I couldn’t have felt like more of a faker. I felt wooden reading “The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love,” or “The Lord is good to all, and his compassion is over all that he has made.” That day, it hurt to read that psalm because all signs were to the contrary.
I don’t admit this often enough, but evil is real. And right now it’s more real than ever to me. Perhaps it is to you, too. Perhaps, like me, it hurts to read that psalm or to try to pray that psalm. Perhaps, like me, you can’t hold on anymore to some disembodied theological explanation of why evil exists. I can’t hear “The Lord upholds all who are falling, and raises up all who are bowed down” without getting kind of angry. Because right now I feel bowed down, and I don’t feel God’s hands raising me up.
So how are we, who are struggling to see God in this world, supposed to read this psalm? How are we supposed to believe that “the Lord is faithful in all his words, and gracious in all his deeds”? This doesn’t feel like my prayer. It’s not for me right now. But that’s okay.
It’s okay, because whether I feel like it or not the Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The Lord is faithful in all his words, and gracious in all his deeds. And at any rate, these psalms aren’t for just for me—they’re for us, the Church. They’re for the Body of Christ. And I know that just sounds like a churchy platitude, but let me explain what I mean. Just the other day I was reading Life Together by Bonhoeffer, and he talks about this idea in his second chapter. There are psalms that at times will not connect, that will be really off-putting—but that doesn’t mean we don’t pray them. Because we’re not really the ones praying.
This is a quote from Bonhoeffer: “A psalm that we cannot utter as a prayer, that makes us falter and horrifies us, is a hint to us that here Someone else is praying, not we…Jesus Christ prays through the Psalter in his congregation. His congregation prays too, the individual prays. But here he prays, in so far as Christ prays within him, not in his own name, but in the Name of Jesus Christ. He prays, not from the natural desires of his own heart; he prays out of the manhood put on by Christ; he prays on the basis of the prayer of the Man Jesus Christ. But when he so acts, his prayer falls within the promise that it will be heard. Because Christ prays the prayer of the psalms with the individual and the congregation before the heavenly throne of God, or rather because those who pray the psalms are joining in with the prayer of Jesus Christ, their prayer reaches the ears of God. Christ has become their intercessor. The Psalter is the vicarious prayer of Christ for his Church.”
So even though it doesn’t feel great to pray a psalm like this, I’ve got to pray it. We all have to. Because this isn’t just our prayer; it’s Christ’s prayer for us. When I pray, “The Lord upholds all who are falling, and raises up all who are bowed down,” I’m joining in with Jesus Christ who is praying to his Father to hold me up, to raise me up. Jesus is praying for us. He's praying for you right now.
And by the way, he knows what it’s like to suffer, and to pray for relief and feel none. He prayed for the cup to be taken away from him—and it was, but he had to drink it first. And he’s praying that same prayer for us now. We suffer now, but we’re also able to rejoice in the fact that our God overcame suffering once and for all. And one day our cup too will pass.
So we can pray this Psalm with Jesus, celebrating his resurrection with him, saying, “The Lord is faithful in all his words, and gracious in all his deeds. The Lord upholds all who are falling, and raises up all who are bowed down. The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season. You open your hand, satisfying the desire of every living thing. The Lord is just in all his ways, and kind in all his doings. The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. He fulfills the desire of all who fear him; he also hears their cry, and saves them.” Amen.