By Nicholas Lewis
I wanted to start a line of posts that is basically about reading and praying through the Psalms. I have been trying to get into the habit of simply reading a Psalm, breaking it down, and then learning to pray through the different parts of the passage. This week, I wanted to post one of my favorite Psalms which is 27. This Psalm is about the battles, trials, and difficulties we face and how to pray and seek God through them. As I read through this portion of Scripture, I like to use simple analogies or ways of remembering the Psalm. The way I break this one down is by using warfare analogies. In order to be successful in any trial and battle you need several things. You need intelligence, strategy, objective, the right weapon, a battle cry, and finally a charge. In every situation wherein I must seek God, I assess if I have each of these elements working in my spiritual life. I hope this post sparks more interest in the Psalms and encourages deeper thinking when it comes to reading the poetry. There is a lot more there than at first glance.
“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” (27:1)
Set before you the truths of who God is! David first and foremost lifts up the character and person of God in that he is light, salvation, and strength. These are not what God has but rather who he is. All good prayers begin with an initial declaration of who God is. The Lord’s Prayer itself acclaims and declares the nature of God as holy and hallowed.
The great fault of many followers is that they all too often approach God’s word near sighted and selfishly. We come to learn more about who we are without first learning who God is. We tend to read ourselves into God’s Word rather than having God inform us who we are. We got it mixed up! As we approach God’s Word let us learn to long for and seek out the heart of God as David would do because he was a “man after God’s own heart”. This knowledge of God is so pure, clear, and applicable that it certainly will render great help in knowing who we are and what we ought to do, but we need the path blazed before we can walk it.
So then, how might we precisely apply this in our prayer life? Set the truths of God before you. Literally, write down the promises and reflect on Him. How does who he is shed light on who I am?
“When evildoers assail me to eat up my flesh, my adversaries and foes, it is they who stumble and fall. Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war arise against me, yet I will be confident” (27:2-3).
“For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will lift me high upon a rock. And now my head shall be lifted up above my enemies all around me, and I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing and make melody to the Lord” (27:5-6).
David then puts the truths of God at work by viewing reality with the lens of revelation. This is how we ought to see the Scriptures. Many times, we see the Scriptures as a prescription for medicine wherein we cherry pick vitamins, pills, and all other assortments of concoctions to band aid and fix our troubles, circumstances, and emotions. But the Bible is not a list of troubleshoots for your life and neither is it large enough to be exhaustive to give every answer to every problem. We can’t view the Bible this way.
Instead, the Bible is much like a prescription for glasses wherein we view the world rightly through the lens of scripture. The Bible doesn’t show us everything but by it we see everything. So, David takes his circumstances, troubles, and struggles and with these blurry images he puts them under the light of God’s revelation and thus he is changed in attitude and resolve.
Thus, the past is reinterpreted rightly. David sees that the evildoers and adversaries and enemies who mean harm, injustice, and evil will not prevail under the sovereignty of a mighty God for God protects the righteous and holy. David recalls how his enemies in the past failed and how this was God’s faithfulness.
Now David takes the lens by which he views the past and looks ahead to future circumstances that may arise but in light of this truth and with a new perception of reality, David will not fear. His confidence is in God. This is especially true in the dread and suspense of future conflict. Most of humanity’s pain seems to come from the fear of what is to come or when the shoe might drop. This is where the great testing is found, in the waiting, in the breath before the plunge. It’s the ride up the roller coaster hill that is the scarier than the drop. It is the ominous build up of a storm that spreads dread before the lightning and thunder and wind. It is the few moments before jumping off the cliff and into the water that ignites more anxiety than the actual fall.
So then, David strategizes with this knowledge of God, informing himself of God’s past faithfulness and even his future faithfulness. Just as the anticipation for the war may cause dread, the anticipation for victory can thrill! The end result is what causes the anticipation to become dread or excitement and David is not only secure but excited for God’s deliverance. How will he be delivered? He will be hidden from his enemies and lifted up as a victor! There will be no shame and despair in the end of the Christian life. David response should be ours! Thrilling joy and public rejoicing marks his thankfulness and enjoyment of the spoils of victory. He will be in God’s presence and will be public with his thankfulness. Are we ever public about God’s faithfulness? Do we ever go public with our faith? This is not a measured action we methodically plan but rather it is a natural response! When your favorite sports team won, did you not shout out with joy? When you got back a fantastic grade, did you not tell your nearest friend? When you met a significant other, did you not exult with joy? Was it ever hard to contain your praises for something? An author, a movie, a speaker, an artist, a loved one? So why should it be different with God Himself?
Passive acknowledgement of who God is does not equal success in spiritual affairs. There has to be an intentional meditation which seeks to inform our experience with the reality of who God is.
“One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple” (27:4)
David’s prime objective is to be with God, in his presence, beholding him! He has a clear and worthy objective and one needs this in any battle and war. Clarity gives way to a taut and defined battle. It understands the settings and stakes. A worthy objective gives way to the motivation to fight. To fight for money is a worthless objective in war. To fight for freedom and loved ones, now that is a worthy goal in war. The worthiness of your objective will determine your motivation and strength to endure in the battle. Is it worth the bloodshed and tears?
What is the objective of the Christian faith? What is the end goal of all this striving, learning, praying, and depending on Christ? What was the end goal of Christ’s work? So now, in your Christian life do you have the objective set before you? Read the Word of God and you will see a relationship, holy and pure with God through Christ by the Holy Spirit is the end goal. To glorify God by enjoying him forever! Enjoyment is the end goal! Enjoyment of God! How marvelously simply this all is.
Choosing the Right Weapon
“Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud; be gracious to me and answer me! You have said, ‘Seek my face.’ My heart says to you, ‘Your face, Lord, do I seek.” Hide not your face from me. Turn not your servant away in anger, O you who have been my help. Cast me not off; forsake me not, O God of my salvation! For my father and mother have forsake me, but the Lord will take me in. Teach me your way, O Lord, and lead me on a level path because of my enemies. Give me not up to the will of my adversaries; for false witnesses have risen against me, and they breathe out violence” (27:7-12)
How do you fight a battle? Well it depends on the setting and objective and when these are in place, you must know what weapons you must employ. If you know you cannot win this spiritual battle or walk the Christian life without utter dependence on God, then accomplishments, good looks, religious merit, charity, will power, or even academic prowess will be poor weapons to choose from. The only weapon is prayer and David employs prayer in this battle for his soul and heart. To confront doubt, he cries out to God and lays out his petitions.
What is the nature of his petitions though? They are worthy petitions, honorable, and spiritually noble for they help him towards his end goal. If your objective in war is to capture a fortress for future campaigns, you might want to refrain from using airstrikes and heavy explosives otherwise you will destroy the fortress. If you are S.W.A.T and your goal is to capture a domestically violent drunk held up in his house, then you will want to refrain from using lethal action otherwise you might kill your objective. If your objective is to obliterate the enemy like D-Day then you are going to want to use heavy explosives and light machine guns. Tear gas, rubber bullets, and riot shields will not help you! So then, the right weapon of choice in these spiritual battles is prayer and petitions that match the objective! The objective determines the weapons.
More specifically though, for every situation, circumstance, difficulty, and struggle in the Christian life, there is a promise and truth about God that fits precisely. We might sometimes need to reflect on a certain characteristic of God to remind us of the reality and truth in a certain battle. For the depressed, they may need to be reminded about the God of joy or the sorrows that Jesus Himself also endured on this earth. For the weary, they may need to be reminded of the God of Rest who created the sabbath and works in and through them. For the guilty and fear-ridden, they may need to be reminded of the grace and mercy of God offered every day. For every spiritual struggle, there is a truth to reflect and meditate on in prayer.
“I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living! Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” (27:13-14).
We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many many long months of struggle and of suffering. You ask, what is our policy? I can say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalog of human crime. That is our policy.” – Winston Churchill during Hitler’s Retreat
“You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other Fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the eliminations of Nazi tyranny over oppressed people of Europe, and the security for ourselves in a free world.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower
How to rouse the saint and the follower to take up arms and fight! There must be a charge, a declaration of war and most importantly of hope. See how David rouses himself and his fellow saints to the cause of hoping in God and longing to one day be in His presence. He charges himself to remember the goal and long for it. He then encourages the others to wait and take courage. All of this in light of the reality of who God is and what he has done for us!
We apply this in light of the work of Christ, that because of Christ we will see the face of God and His goodness in the land of the living. Preach this to yourself and preach this to the ones next to you. Do you exhort others to hope in God? Do encourage others spiritually? Do you ever speak of the spiritual truths in God’s Word and do you apply them to yourself and one another? This is what prayer can look like in your life. It is so much more than a list of things we would like or an academic log of facts to spew out or oratory beauty to yawn at. This is a battle for the soul to persevere and endure in battle and it’s source of hope is in God’s Word.