After Psalm 150
by Jack Wald | July 16th, 2017

Psalms for the Psummer

Despite what you have heard, Christians are not nice people. After all, do nice people get angry? Are nice people jealous? Do nice people feel bitter and betrayed and delight in delicious plots of revenge? Are nice people discouraged and depressed? Are nice people hypocritical?

Don’t get me wrong, Christians are not terrible people. My closest friends are Christians. I am married to one. I am one. But Christians are not perfect and no one knows this better than we who are Christians. We know our weaknesses and failings.

We know this but when people come to church, they often put on their best face and hide what has been going on that morning, the last week, and some of the deep hurts from the past years. We often see the surface and not the depths of each other when we come to church.

Followers of Jesus are not perfect. We are not always nice. We have deep issues in our lives we have to deal with. It is for this reason that the Psalms are so good for us.

We can read Paul’s letters and be impressed with the theology of Romans and Ephesians. We can read the Gospels and be amazed at the life of Jesus and how he related to people. We can read these books of the Bible and absorb the truths without it reaching into our hearts. But the Psalms are different. We read such raw emotion, moving from depression and despair to praise and giddy elation. We read about anger and a thirst for revenge. We read about surrender and contentment.

The Psalms are not for nice people. The Psalms are for real people trying to deal with all that life throws at them, trying to deal with their own weaknesses, and trying to draw closer to God.

For the next couple months we will be preaching from the Psalms. In past years I have preached from Psalm 151, Psalm 152, and Psalm 153.

Now of course you realize there is something wrong with this. There are only 150 psalms in the Bible so what are Psalms 151, 152, and 153? And the answer is that these are three psalms I have written. Now I am not proposing my psalms be added to the Biblical record – I am not that presumptuous – but there is great value in writing our own psalms. And each time I have preached from the Psalms, I have encouraged the members of RIC to write their own psalm.

King David wrote a lot of psalms and I think that is one reason why David is described as a man after [God’s] own heart (I Samuel 13:13). In many situations of his life: when he was dealing with rejection and not being valued, when he was hiding from enemies, when he was repentant, when he was fearful, when he was discouraged and depressed, when he was giddy with victory – in all these situations David sat down and wrote psalms. In order to write a psalm, David had to quiet himself, become aware of what he was feeling, and then begin to express himself and see where that led him. That is a path to intimacy with God.

Writing psalms was a great spiritual exercise for David and it is a great spiritual exercise for us.

Let me list five benefits for us of writing our own psalms.

First, writing a psalm makes me aware of what I am feeling.

Knowing what we are feeling is difficult for many people. A man wakes up feeling irritable, gets out of bed and goes to the bathroom. On his way back into the bedroom he stumbles over a basket of laundry and yells at his wife for leaving it there. He goes to wake up his children and yells at them to get out of bed, yanking the covers off of them. He has created tension in the whole family and probably doesn’t know why he is feeling the way he is feeling.

Often, what is driving our emotions has little to do with the events in our day that make us tense, irritable, or angry. We have deep roots in our psyche that produce our reactions to daily events.

Because it is difficult to do so and because we don’t want to face the pain that lies in those roots, we live on the surface where every once in a while an emotion erupts from the deep of our psyche and breaks through the path in front of us.

It takes time to identify what the feelings are that are driving our reaction to what happens to us. We have to take time and effort to understand why it is we get so upset about rather trivial things.

Sitting down to write a psalm forces me to reflect on what I am feeling.

Second, writing a psalm draws me into intimacy with God.

If I am angry, I can write, “Lord, I am angry like a raging bull,” and then go on to talk about what is making me angry. This may go on for line after line, but when I stop and still feel angry, there is more to write. So I go on and I write and write until I put my pen down and have nothing more to say. I have expressed all I have inside of me. And now that I have emptied myself, there is room for God to enter.

What I have written is not pretty, not nice, but it is real. And now God can begin to work in me. Now there is no longer all that emotion blocking me from being present with God. Now I can be present with God with all my heart, soul, and mind – not just my superficial sense of duty or task.

Writing a psalm makes me aware of what I am feeling. Writing a psalm draws me into intimacy with God. And third, writing a psalm will help keep me honest with myself in my relationship with God.

We have an amazing ability to fool each other. We can cover over a lot with a church face. We can have a fierce argument with someone on the way to church and then step inside and smile at the people we meet.

And we have an amazing ability to fool ourselves. We can push what we do not like about ourselves, what we are ashamed of from our past, deep into our psyche so we don’t allow ourselves to remember what we would prefer to forget.

It is not particularly safe to let these repressed memories come out in conversation with someone. The other person may mock us, reject us, dislike us, turn away from us. It is risky. In a marriage it is important for these things to be shared but some things are so shameful to us that we may never fully share them with our spouse or we may share them only after some years of marriage.

Standing up in church and sharing those memories might not be at all helpful to you or to others in the church. Only in the right circumstance and the right time would this be a good thing to do.

It is only with God that it is always perfectly safe to share the deepest and darkest memories of our lives. David wrote in Psalm 139:7–9
Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.

Jonah discovered this when he went out to sea to escape the call of God to preach to the Ninevites. Even in the depths of the sea God was present with him.

This is also true in ourselves. Even in the depths of repressed memories, God is there. God knows everything about us. God knows everything we don’t want anyone to know, not even ourselves – and he still loves us and wants us to be his daughter, his son.

This is why we are perfectly safe when we sit down and become completely honest with God about what we are feeling, what we are thinking, what we are remembering. We are not telling God anything he does not already know.

Fourth, writing a psalm brings what is hidden out of the dark and into the light where God can begin to heal and mend.

When you surrender to Jesus and accept his gift of salvation, you are filled with the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit begins to work in you and with you to clean and mend the mess of your life. But you still have the keys to doors that are locked. Even after your initial surrender, you have locked doors and God will not force you to open them. You have to choose to surrender once again and open those doors. This is a process that will go on and on, to the end of your earthly life.

You have to express a fear and then the Holy Spirit can work with you to give you the love you need to overcome that fear. You have to express a feeling of inadequacy or incompetency and then the Holy Spirit can work with you to find that you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you. You have to bring out a painful memory that you have repressed so that the Holy Spirit can begin to heal the hurts that resulted from that experience.

Writing psalms opens up your life so God can work in you.

Let’s take a look at Psalm 55 and see the benefits of writing a psalm in action. In Psalm 55. David is feeling betrayed by a close friend and is now in pain. He begins by describing what he is feeling.

Listen to my prayer, O God,
do not ignore my plea;
2 hear me and answer me.
My thoughts trouble me and I am distraught
3 at the voice of the enemy,
at the stares of the wicked;
for they bring down suffering upon me
and revile me in their anger.

David is troubled and distraught, but this is just the tip of the iceberg of his emotional state that needs to be expressed. He writes more.

4 My heart is in anguish within me;
the terrors of death assail me.
5 Fear and trembling have beset me;
horror has overwhelmed me.

From troubled and distraught he moved to anguish, terror, fear and trembling, and horror. The depth of his feelings make him strike out.

9 Confuse the wicked, O Lord, confound their speech,
for I see violence and strife in the city.
10 Day and night they prowl about on its walls;
malice and abuse are within it.
11 Destructive forces are at work in the city;
threats and lies never leave its streets.

As he goes deeper and deeper into what he is feeling he comes to the deepest hurt.

12 If an enemy were insulting me,
I could endure it;
if a foe were raising himself against me,
I could hide from him.
13 But it is you, a man like myself,
my companion, my close friend,
14 with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship
as we walked with the throng at the house of God.

David was betrayed by a close friend and he pours out his anger and bitterness with this curse.

15 Let death take my enemies by surprise;
let them go down alive to the grave,
for evil finds lodging among them.

Is this the end? It seems so. David begins to talk about God’s faithfulness to him.

16 But I call to God,
and the Lord saves me.
17 Evening, morning and noon
I cry out in distress,
and he hears my voice.
18 He ransoms me unharmed
from the battle waged against me,
even though many oppose me.

But David stopped prematurely. His bitterness toward his friend who betrayed him is still there. He picks up his stylus and pours out verbal venom on this betrayer.

20 My companion attacks his friends;
he violates his covenant.
21 His speech is smooth as butter,
yet war is in his heart;
his words are more soothing than oil,
yet they are drawn swords.

Has David emptied himself so God can work? Again it seems so.

22 Cast your cares on the Lord
and he will sustain you;
he will never let the righteous fall.

But David still has room to go. He cannot finish his psalm without returning once again to a call for God to avenge him.

23 But you, O God, will bring down the wicked
into the pit of corruption;
bloodthirsty and deceitful men
will not live out half their days.

David ends his psalm with:

But as for me, I trust in you.

Do you see the process David went through? As he wrote, the intensity of what he was feeling was expressed and he began to come to a point of rest with God. Then he took a step back, expressed a deeper pain and then came again to some sort of resolution. I think he had more to write. It seems there was still pain to be explored, but this is a process, not a one-time fix.

Writing a psalm is not a neat exercise. Sometimes psalm after psalm has to be written to express the depth of what I am feeling. But as I write, I come closer and closer to the point of being empty so God can come in and work in me. It is a process and each step of the process is helpful. As I continue, I will be drawn into intimacy with God.

Writing a psalm makes me aware of what I am feeling. Writing a psalm draws me into intimacy with God. Writing a psalm will help keep me honest with myself in my relationship with God. Writing a psalm brings what is hidden out of the dark and into the light where God can begin to heal and mend. And fifth, writing a psalm will help protect me from falling into sin.

In 2 Samuel 11 we read of the story of David and Bathsheba. As you remember the story, David seduced her while her husband was away at war. She got pregnant and so David called her husband, Uriah, home but he would not sleep with his wife while his men were on the battlefield. So David sent him back with a message for the commanding general to put him in a situation where he would be killed. It is an ugly story in the life of David.

At the end, when David was confronted with his sin, he repented and wrote Psalm 51. But I wonder what would have happened if David had written a psalm before he called for Bathsheba to come to him.

2 Samuel 11 begins with:
In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king’s men and the whole Israelite army. They destroyed the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained in Jerusalem.
2 One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful, 3 and David sent someone to find out about her.

When David got up from his bed, what was he feeling? Was he wishing he had gone with his troops to battle? Was he feeling impotent because he was not leading his men in battle? Did he conquer Bathsheba because he could not go out and conquer another city?

If David had taken time to assess what he was feeling and written a psalm, perhaps this tragedy would never have happened.

Peter warned in his letter: 1 Peter 5:8–9
Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 9 Resist him, standing firm in the faith,

How do you resist the devil? You cannot simply shout out doctrine. The words of what we believe do not have power in themselves. What has power is Jesus in our lives and our dependence on him.

We resist the devil by being in an honest relationship with Jesus. We resist by knowing we are weak and easily tempted. We resist by opening up our lives and allowing the Holy Spirit to clean and mend the mess and pain in our lives. We resist by not claiming to be more than we are. We are sinners desperately in need of Jesus. We cling to him. We trust in him. We open ourselves completely to him.

In the time left, let me help you with some thoughts about how to write a psalm.

The first place to start is to sit down where you will not be disturbed and think. Begin with a prayer asking God to help you as you work on this psalm.

Get quiet and ask yourself, “What am I feeling?” This is the most critical part of writing a psalm, identifying what it is you are feeling. You have to be patient. This may take some time. After reflecting get out your pen and start writing down words that come to your mind.

Being angry, frustrated, happy, grateful, worried, apathetic, depressed, hopeful, loved, bitter; all these are good places to start with your psalm. In fact, whatever you are feeling is the best place to start when you write your psalm. A psalm is not written with your head but with your heart.

Make a series of notes about what you are feeling. Describe the feeling you have. Use a picture to describe your feeling. “I am happy like a kite soaring in the wind,” or “I am angry like a tornado about to rip apart a house in its path.” Psalm 42 begins with this:
As the deer pants for streams of water,
so my soul pants for you, O God.

What are some other ways you can describe how you are feeling? Explore the depths of your feeling. Find a number of ways to describe your feeling. You may not use them all, but they will help you to articulate your feeling. Put flesh and depth on what you are feeling.

Then try to explain why it is you are feeling this way. If you are happy, what has happened that made you happy? If you are worried, what is it you are worried about? If you are bitter, what happened that made you bitter?

If your psalm is a happy or joyful one, let it erupt into a wonderful praise of God who has blessed you.

If your psalm started out with worry or anger or depression or apathy, work your way to the point that you have expressed the feeling as completely as you can. Keep writing until you have nothing more to write and then sit. Put the pen down and think.

Where has the expression of your feeling taken you? Think through other times in your life when you have felt this way? What happened in those times?

Can you think of how God was faithful to you in the past when you felt this way? Remember those experiences. Describe them.

If you have expressed fully the way you are feeling, you will get to the point where you will be able to surrender to God and submit to his will. This will take you from anger or bitterness or apathy or discouragement to recognition of God’s goodness to you and you will be able to end in praise with hope.

Some Psalms do not end that way. So if you write a psalm and get to the end and you are still feeling angry or depressed, then write another and try to more completely express what it is you are feeling.

Let me present some cautions for you as you write.

1. Be honest about how you feel. The less honest you are, the less helpful this exercise will be to you. Don’t hold back. Don’t be afraid that someone else might see what you wrote. After you write the psalm you can always destroy it. No one needs to see or hear what you have written. This is an exercise for you and not necessarily for the rest of the world.

2. Let what you write be a prayer to God that allows you to feel heard. The benefit of such an exercise is that you clarify to God what it is you are experiencing and that helps you to know you have been heard.

3. Don’t be afraid of hurting God’s feelings. God has big shoulders. When the Sons of Korah wrote Psalm 44 and said this,
Awake, O Lord! Why do you sleep?
Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever.
24 Why do you hide your face
and forget our misery and oppression?
do you think God was hurt by their accusation that he was sleeping on the job and had forgotten about their suffering?

You may begin by writing about how much your father or mother hurt you and then discover that the person you are really angry at is God for allowing you to be hurt at all.

God can handle whatever it is you are feeling so get it out and put it down so you can begin to deal with it. I am saying this over and over again, but it is critical. Until you fully express what you are feeling, in all honesty, you cannot move to an authentic relationship with God. There is nothing you can say about God that God has not heard many times before. God is not unaware of the intensity of your feeling. Writing down what you feel is not telling God something he does not already know. Writing down what you feel is helping you to be honest and more open to God.

4. You don’t have to share with others what you write, but when you write your psalm and you have been true to your feelings, chances are your psalm will speak to others in a similar situation. So don’t be afraid to share what you wrote with some friends.

Over the Sundays of this summer we will take a look at different kinds of psalms. Some are full of praise, others express severe depression. Some are incredibly angry, others are repentant. The psalms express a host of emotions and that is why it is helpful for us to write our own psalms.

If you go to the doctor and tell her you have a headache, she will tell you to take two aspirin and call her in the morning. If you come to a spiritual doctor he might tell you to write two psalms and call him in the morning. So take some time this week to breathe and relax, figure out what you are feeling and then write a psalm or two over the weeks to come. It will be good for your soul.

I would love it if you would share with us the psalms you write. Give it to me next week or email it to me and I may put some of the ones I receive in the RICEmail, if you give me permission to do that.

The goal is not to write a psalm this week. The goal is to draw more intimately into your relationship with God who loves you.

May God bless you as you open your heart to God.