5 Jan 2016

The Psalms: The Holy Spirit’s Instrument for Forging a Biblical Worldview

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Bible, Hebrew Bible, Holy Spirit, Prayer, Psalms, Spiritual Disciplines

WorldviewI presented this to southern Arizona ministers back in November of 2013. Then I posted it in the defunct “Praying thru the Psalms in the Churches of Christ” group. I hope it is something that can help you read the and enjoy the Psalms better. The following was my outline that I used for that day … some material was filled out further.

Sometimes I look, retrospectively, at stuff I was writing and thinking and find irony that I would soon have to have my faith tested to see if I actually believe it. December 2013 was a time of great testing and tribulation.

I recommend having your Bible open as you read this short article.  Look up the references as you work your way thru the material.  Read. Reflect. Pray.

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Bobby Valentine
The Biblical Worldview thru the Psalms
Tucson Area Preachers Meeting
November 12, 2013

A Tidbit: An Introduction

The Psalms WARRANT monthly lectio continua (that is the habit of being read/prayed thru from beginning to end continually) …

Here are some factoids on praying the psalms. Eugene Peterson, one of my favorite church scholars, wrote:

“The Psalms were the prayer book of Israel; they were the prayer book of Jesus; they were the prayer book of the church. At no time in the Hebrew and Christian centuries (with the possible exception of our own twentieth) have the Psalms not been at the very center of all concern and practice in prayer.” (Working the Angels).

So true!! Think about the significance of what Peterson said. This truth is seen with the “NT” writings themselves. The homily we call “Hebrews” is essentially a sermon on the Psalms interpreting the events of Sinai in light of God’s eschatological goal.

If we move outside the NT writings we see just how deep the early church was rooted in the “OT” especially the Psalms. One of the earliest Christian documents that of Clement, an elder in Rome, written to the church in Corinth dates to the time of the composition of the Johannine literature. First Clement (as it is known) is about the length of Paul’s 1-2 Corinthians combined. In that space there are 172 citations/references from the “OT.” Fifty of these are from the Psalms alone. The Didache, a short first century or early second century document, cites the Psalms 3x. The Epistle of Barnabas written before 130 and some have as early as 80, is packed with the “OT” and the Psalms. The Psalms were sung by the church throughout the “worship service” and even during the Eucharist.

The Daily Office (a daily cycle of prayer based on Scripture), as with many things in the early church, has its roots in Judaism. The Daily Office focuses especially upon the cultivation of praying the Psalms individually and communally. Thru the centuries, millions of Christians who never actually owned a personal copy of the book of Psalms became living Psalters because they had it memorized down to the word order in places.

The great African Church Father, Augustine, was a living Psalter. One scholar estimates there are over 10,000 references to the Psalms in Augustine’s writings. Luther had the Psalter basically memorized in three languages: Hebrew, Latin and German. He called the Psalms “the Little Bible.” Praying thru the Psalms exposed the Christian to the whole purposes of God. Luther was in awe of the daring freedom of Israelites as they spoke these words to God, and with God, this is the best thing of all. This gives the word double earnestness and life. “Hence the Psalter is the book of all saints; and everyone, in whatever situation he may be, finds that situation psalms and words fit for his case” (Luther, Preface to the Psalter).

John Calvin joined the symphony of voices for the Psalter. “Whatever I am about to say I know will fall far short of the worth of the Book of Psalms … it is not without reason that is my custom to call this book An Anatomy of All Parts of the Soul, since there is no emotion anyone will experience whose image is not reflected in this mirror. Indeed, here the Holy Spirit has drawn to the life all pains, sorrows, fears, doubts, hopes, cares, anxieties – in short – all the turbulent emotions with which men’s minds are commonly stirred … Nowhere else does one read more shining tidings of God’s singular kindness to His Church and of all His works. Nowhere else are related so many deliverances, or shine so brightly proofs of his fatherly providence and care for us. Nowhere else, to sum up, is set forth a fuller reason to praise God, or are we more sharply pricked to perform this duty of piety” (Preface to Commentary on Psalms).

There is nothing more biblical than praying the Psalms. Indeed there is nothing more “Christlike” than praying the psalms. There is nothing more “NT church” than praying the Psalms. There is nothing more Holy Spirit filled than praying the Psalms. I am at a loss as to why our “Back to the Bible” movement has not cultivated this discipline. The Millennial Harbinger, a writing spanning forty years, has literally half a dozen references to the Psalms in the “Index” volume. Only one of those is actually a comment on the incomparable value of the book itself … and it is an excerpt from “Bishop Horne.” This is near the end of the life of the MH. But praying the Psalms draws into the Rhythm of Grace and moves us in the River of the Spirit. Sectarians will eschew this kind of discipline. May we let God shape us and mold us.  Constant exposure to the Psalms ground us in a healthy biblical worldview with three basic components …

 

latin psalterThree Poles of the Biblical Worldview (Headings from N. T. Wright, The Case for the Psalms)

God’s Time (Eschatology)

God’s Space (Sacred Space/Temple)

God’s World (Creation)

Eschatology (God’s Time)

The Book of Psalms shows Christians how they live at the “intersection” of time of God’s and ours.

a) Ps 90. 1-4 – Time for God is seemingly nothing

b) Ps 90. 9-10 – Time for Humanity is a flash

Therefore v.12 … we live in light of God’s Time. “Our” time is not worthless and meaningless but fully the gift of grace to us. Our time is a blend of humility, sometimes lament but above all Hope.

c) Ps 90. 15-17 This blending of God’s Time and Our Time occurs at the end of 102.23-28. This is followed by the contrast of the quickness of time for humanity (Ps 103.15-18) and the “timelessness” of Yahweh (Ps 104.29-30)

This brief look at just a few almost randomly chosen texts, reveals what I call the “mystery of discipleship” in the present age. It is this eschatological balance that occurs over and over in the Psalms – Indeed it is the framework of the whole. But this eschatological balance is bought into hook, line and sinker in the New Testament.

Note how Ps 136 and 137 are, seemingly, intentionally juxtaposed.

d) God’s victory over Sihon and Og during the Exodus (past victory) … Ps 136.17-22

e) and the pain of Exile in Babylon in Ps 137

We (Israel/Church) live at the “intersection” of God’s victory and present suffering. It is the “already but not yet” that dominates all Christian thinking but is so often completely neglected in Christian living. The Psalms celebrate (even wildly!) God’s victory in time even as the “misery” is deep and horrible.

Understanding the intersection of God’s Time and Our Time, of the then, the now and the not yet … is not only the key of the Psalms but biblical faith from Genesis to Revelation. These notions shape the identity of the People of God.

Psalm 105 – God’s Unending Faithfulness to Israel – Pure Grace (The Past)
Psalm 106 – Israel’s Unending Adultery (Our Present Reality)
Psalm 107 – God’s continued Grace. God’s refusal to abandon Israel just as he refused to abandon “adam”

Wrestling with God’s Time in the Psalms brings us face to face with God’s purposes for the world. The Psalms remind the People of God (Israel/church) that God’s purpose is not simply for us but through us. The Psalms look back to the great redemptive moments of grace in the past in order to frame the pain and mystery of the present within the hope that God will do again in the future what he did long ago. This the posture of NT Christianity.

God’s Space (Sacred Space/Temple)

One of the most important, but least understood, concepts by modern western Evangelical Christians is the notion of Sacred Space. Indeed when they understand something of it, many find it simply absurd and even offensive. Yet it is again an essential component of the Hebraic worldview that permeates the “Old Testament,” and I suggest, is bought hook, line and sinker in the New Testament. We frequently lose it for a variety of reasons – but our individualism is one of the biggest. Modernity regards this notion as laughable and most of our disciples are deeply baptized into modernism.

The Psalms testify, in nearly gushing language – over and over – that the Creator God of the Universe has decided to take up residence in the tiny, backward, insignificant and unappealing place we call Jerusalem/Zion. The corollary of this belief in the Psalms is that if God lives (=dwells in) in Jerusalem, Zion, specifically the temple, then it follows that he rules the nations from that point too. Thus Jerusalem really is the “belly button” of the world in a sense. This theology dominates the Psalms as powerfully as does the notion of God’s Time. And from the beginning

a) Psalm 2.2-6, 10-12
b) Psalm 9. 11-12

Psalm 48 is a powerfully evocative testimony to this biblical theology. Here we encounter God’s Space, God’s Reign over the nations, and God’s love all fastened together.

c) Psalm 48. 1-3
d) Psalm 48. 4-8 (what happens when the rulers of the earth come to make war against Zion? As Ps 2 warns, they are overthrown)

e) Psalm 48.9-11

The People of God, see how the promises of vv 1-3 are fulfilled by the events of vv 4-8. Which lead to bearing witness to the future. So God’s Time has now overlapped with God’s Space.

The Songs of Ascent (Pss 120-134) are permeated with this theology.

f) Psalm 122
g) Psalm 125.1-3
h) Psalm 129.5
i) Psalm 132.13-18

When we read these what kind of “vision” (worldview) do we get of how space and place work within God’s creation and covenant?

But Why this emphasis on God’s Space/Temple? Because the Temple is the symbol of God’s claim upon all creation that is currently cursed. The Temples is the remembrance of the past and the foretaste of the future. It is God’s Time made concrete. It is the bridge between God’s own Presence and fallen world in which we exist in our time.
j) Psalm 132.8,14 (God’s ‘resting place’)

God’s Creation (World)

The Psalm call us to stand at the intersection of the transformation of Time while living in God’s Space and they do this with concrete “stuff.” That is creation is physical matter. Psalm 104 is of critical import.

Again this is a core value of the Hebraic, or biblical, worldview that modern neo-paganism has ridiculed – especially the latent Platonism that accompanied the rise of Modernity. That Modern worldview makes this theology hard to “hear”

a) Psalm 19 (for example)

The NT absolutely affirms this theology from the Hebrew Bible. We think of “lifeless matter” but Scripture sees the world vibrantly animated by God’s own Spirit. Only humans, who pollute the rest of creation, seemingly have the capacity to live as other than they were created. God made the world and it bursts in praise …

b) Psalm 65.6, 8
c) Psalm 65.9-13

d) Psalm 95.3-5

Final Words

Read the Psalms regularly, that is lectio continua (I recommend five per day thru the entire book every 30 days). Pray the Psalms with Jesus and the saints thru the ages. Let the Psalms mold your praise in times of great joy. Let the Psalms be your voice in times of stress and pain. Let the Psalms be healing balm when no other words but the Spirit’s own prayer words will do. Let them give you glasses to think about God’s Time, God’s Space and God’s Creation.

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