Sunday, September 22

Beating in Service

Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart to revere your Name.
Ps 86:11

I have always loved this verse of Psalm 86. My heart is distracted by so many things, sort of like Martha in the kitchen. It is a prayer for a heart whose attention is no longer divided among answering the phone, writing a sermon, paying the light bill, paying the rent, keeping the car running, pleasing this or that person, and honoring God. "Give me an undivided heart to revere your Name," I pray.

And that's an excellent prayer to pray all day any day. But apparently it's not quite the prayer I think it is—at least not the prayer prayed in Psalm 86:11.  The Geneva Bible comes closer to the true translation (but still

Saturday, September 21

An Affirmation


Much of Psalm 86 is a prayer prayed in extremis—the sort of biblical prayer that is prayed so often as to be a bit discouraging, a reminder of all the pain in the world, all the things to be afraid of. But in the middle of it is an affirmation that can be prayed in the context of the psalm, but can also be lifted out of it and remembered in good times and bad,

For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call on you.
Ps 86:5 

I see four points in this affirmation:
  1. God is good all the time. Even the best human being mixes some evil or selfishness with their good intentions. But God's goodness is unalloyed with any evil. God does not limit divine blessing only to

Friday, September 20

The Answer to Someone Else's Prayer

Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me, for I am poor and needy.
Ps 86:1
Psalm 86 is one of many psalms which tell me of God's love for the downcast. Calvin reminds me that I should be encouraged by this particular psalm when I find myself oppressed or destitute, writing "that despair therefore may not overwhelm our minds under our greatest afflictions, let us support ourselves from the consideration that the Holy Spirit has dictated this prayer for the poor and the afflicted."

This is fine and well. And certainly Calvin is correct. But more than needing assurance that "this prayer for the poor and the afflicted" is for me, I need to remember that I am not the only person on earth—that there are

Thursday, September 19

The Completeness of That Blessedness

Bread Winners by Thomas Blinks (1905)
Likewise, the Lord will grant prosperity: and our land shall yield her increase. Righteousness shall go before him; and set her steps in the way.
Ps 85:12-13
A literal interpretation of Psalm 85:12 seems a bit shallow—a precursor to today's name-it-claim-it theology which states that if we're good enough or have enough faith, we'll be blessed materially. Wouldn't a strictly spiritual interpretation be better (and more realistic)? Calvin takes both into consideration, and comes down on the side of the former. But he does so (whether intentionally or unintentionally, I don't know) in such a way as to make me think.

"Some take this verse allegorically, and interpret it as the increase of spiritual blessings; but this does not agree with the particle גַּם, rendered likewise, by which the prophet, in my opinion, intends to express the

Wednesday, September 18

The Crossroads of History

Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other.
Faithfulness will spring up from the ground, and righteousness will look down from the sky.
 
Ps 85:10-11
Theologians sometimes very dryly refer not to Jesus, but to the Christ Event. I suppose this is supposed to refer to the historical Jesus, considered apart from faith. But if you were to ask me, "What is the Christ Event?" I would answer: It's what happens when steadfast love and faithfulness meet, when righteousness and peace kiss one another, when faithfulness springs up from the earth and righteousness looks down from the sky. The point at which all these gifts of God intersect is the Christ Event. Calvin agreed, saying of this

Tuesday, September 17

Still, Small Voice of Calm

Yesterday's prayer was one for revival, since that's what the sixth verse of this psalm called for. And the eighth verse puts that into context. I picture revivals to be rather raucous occasions of manipulative preaching and spirited singing, the point being to whip people into an emotional frenzy. But if Psalm 85 is any indication, biblical revival seems almost the opposite of that

Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts.
Ps 85:8-9
This context of attentiveness and peace is actually the story behind a John Greenleaf Whittier poem that we sing as a hymn. Dear Lord and Father of Mankind* is actually just a small part of a 17-verse poem called The Brewing of Soma, which describes the concocting of an hallucinogenic drink of the Vedic religion intended to

Monday, September 16

Revive Us Again

Will you not revive us again, so that your people may rejoice in you?
Ps 85:6

Eugene Peterson said that "nothing suffers from time quite so much as religion. The skeletal structure of obedience becomes arthritic, and the circulatory system of praise becomes sluggish."*

Such was the case in ancient Israel, and such is the case in the church and the people who comprise it. When I realize my own forgetfulness or when I fall into sin, I as an individual need to pray for my own quickening. The community as well needs to pray for revival, so that we as a people will not lack