March 4, 2019

The Heart's Echo

Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers; but their delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night.
They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper.
The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.
—Psalm 1

Alexander Maclaren (1826-1910), a Baptist minister, authored a wonderful commentary called The Expositor's Bible. His three volumes on the Psalms opened with these words:
The Psalter may be regarded as the heart's echo to the speech of God, the manifold music of its wind-swept strings as God's breath sweeps across them.
There's no better way to begin my psalter-based year (yes, today is my New Year's Day) than to think about the Book of Psalms as the principle textbook in the school of prayer. It is in the verses of the psalter that I see the full range of human emotions expressed, and it is in the psalms that I learn the language I might use to share those emotions with God.

If prayer is conversation with God, it might be argued that no study of the subject need be made. God certainly hears all prayer, and there is no language that God does not understand. But it is not for God's sake that I might study the art of conversing with the Divine. It is I who need to be more conversant, more comfortable, more confident in my prayers. Having had to learn other languages, I know by experience that I can make myself understood with halting speech, botched grammar, and a basic vocabulary. But the beauty of true conversation leading to deeper relationship comes with practice and experience—both of which require that I listen to those who know language better than I.

And so in order to deepen my relationship with God through more meaningful conversation from my end, I meditate on the ancient prayers of God's people. Among them I find prayers that I want to pray, and I find language to better express my own thoughts. One of my favorite things about having a schedule for reading the psalms each day is that some days the psalter portion perfectly reflects my own feelings about what's going on in my life or what's going on in the world around me. But when that's not the case, it's at least as meaningful to pray a joyful or thankful prayer when I am feeling down—this reminds me that there is hope. Or to pray a prayer asking for forgiveness when I'm not feeling particularly sinful—this reminds me that I'm not perfect. Or to pray a prayer of dejection or complaint when I am feeling happy—this reminds me that there are those who suffer.

And so as I embark on the reading of the psalter one more time, I am thankful for the prayers of the Bible that teach me how to be fluent in the language of prayer. As these 150 chapters echo what's found in my heart, may that heart increasingly echo back to God what's found in the Word.

Make me an instrument of your peace, your love, and your joy, O God. May the breath of your Spirit sweep across my heartstrings, that I may sing your praise; in the Name of the One who prayed the psalter and gave me this model prayer to pray every day:
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy Name. Thy kingdom come; thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen.

Earworm to be repeated until memorized for singing throughout the day:


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