Praying the Psalms

A Congregational Prayer for Pentecost

In our worship we enter into a dialogue between God and God’s people—a dialogue that neither begins with our entrance nor ends with our exit. More accurately we are joining in a conversation that started long before we ever showed up. Indeed, worship is a cosmic gathering in which we are privileged to participate.

One way we participate in this cosmic gathering is by using the psalms as we pray together. The psalms have been the prayer book for the people of God for thousands of years. The psalms help us to pray about wide-ranging concerns: matters of social justice and personal piety, national crises and congregational praise, world missions and quiet meditation.

When we pray about these things that matter to God and have mattered to God’s people across generations and around the world, we experience a connection that develops our relationship with and trust in God as well as a connection to God’s people of all times and places.

I got the idea for this Pentecost prayer from Peter’s sermon in Acts 2:26-28. Peter directly quotes Psalm 16:8-11 and demonstrates how this psalm is fulfilled in Jesus Christ. In particular, Peter holds up for his listeners the resurrection of Jesus Christ as the beginning of the recreating work of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

In the first part of this prayer I considered the parts of creation that are in decay. In the second part, I considered the variety of ways we see the Spirit breathing new life into a decaying creation. I also returned to some of the images of decay found in the first part in order to praise God for the evidence of new life that we see (if and when we have the eyes to see it).

I’m convinced that praying the psalms in worship is a vital way to help God’s people pray. Praying these ancient words acknowledges that our prayers are offered in the context of a long-running conversation with God and with God’s people of all times and places.

The response of our congregation to these prayers has been overwhelmingly positive. People have told me that praying the psalms has expanded their horizons as it helps them pray about matters that they would not normally consider. They find they are eager to pray along as I pray these Psalm-based prayers, evidence that these ancient words are still vital for God’s people today.

Excerpt

Praying Psalm 16

O Lord God,

1 Keep me safe, O God, for in you I take refuge.

2 I said to the LORD, “You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing.”

3 As for the saints who are in the land, they are the glorious ones in whom is all my delight.

you are our warrior, our strength, our refuge. With you at our right hand sustaining us we will not be shaken. Because you surround us with your love we will not fail. You are great and worthy of all praise. You are glorious and in you we put our trust.

4 The sorrows of those will increase who run after other gods. I will not pour out their libations of blood or take up their names on my lips.

5 LORD, you have assigned me my portion and my cup; you have made my lot secure.

6 The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance.

O Lord God, when we look around we see that everything is prone to decay. Everything that that was once young, new, and bursting with life ages and is overcome by death.

The flowers in the field and the fruit on the trees wither and fade. Trees that once produced a kaleidoscope of colors are blown over and turned into ash. Puppies and cubs, kittens and chicks all grow up, live on your earth for a while, and then die. Homes are swept away in torrents of water. Lives are taken by disease or violence. Marriages are threatened by neglected vows and forgiveness neither asked for nor given. Once-stable societies are thrown into chaos by civil war or economic collapse.

Sin has its grip on your creation, and so when we look around we see that everything is prone to decay and death.

7 I will praise the LORD, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me.

8 I have set the LORD always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.

9 Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure,

10 because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay.

But you, O Lord, would not let your Holy Son see decay. You did not abandon him to the grave.

By your power you raised Jesus from the grave. By the same power that raised Jesus from the dead you sent your Spirit to bring us resurrection life. Therefore our hearts are glad and our tongues rejoice because you are the one who has transformed death so that it leads to life.

When we look with eyes of faith we praise you for a world that is bursting with life. Because you are the God of life, the very seeds that are scattered after the fruit has fallen will spring to life again. The tiny acorn will someday become a mighty oak tree that brings you glory. Every living creature—hares and hounds, field mice and cats—all proclaim the wonder of the life that comes from the Creator who rejoices in their power and grace.

11 You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.

Even in the face of tragedy, loss, and death we see your body the church alive and carrying on the ministry of reconciliation. Homes that were destroyed by nature or by war are rebuilt in the name of Jesus. Families that were torn apart by neglect or even by hatred learn how to love again and have hope. People and nations rise up out of the ashes of war to live together in peace and learn again to trust. By your powerful right hand you have loosed the grip of death, and “death itself is working backward.”

Life-giving Spirit, we ask you to translate the groaning of our hearts to the listening ear of our Father in Heaven, because we pray in the name of Jesus Christ, who has sent you to be our Comforter. Amen.

Michael Hoogeboom is minister of outreach at LaGrave Avenue Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.