Praying With the Psalms (And the High Schoolers)

Dave Stepp, Ruling Elder

How’s your prayer life? I am often intimidated and discouraged by this question; I feel like my prayers should be more eloquent, less repetitive, and somehow embody the incomparable mystery and depth of a personal relationship with the living triune God.

So where do I turn? Where are the riches of Christ to help me grow?

Historically, the Psalms have been a key resource for Christian meditation and prayer. The Psalter functioned as the Jewish common prayer book, so the Psalms also served as Jesus’ common prayer book. Psalms were read, recited, sung, and prayed. But why doesn’t this book seem to resonate with me like that? Many of them can seem critical of God and I find myself wondering if they are even appropriate prayers for a Christian. Others can seem strange, even simplistic or cold, and don’t clearly relate to Christ.

With the help of a Gospel in Life group bible study entitled, “Praying with the Psalms,” the High School Sunday School class has been learning to pray since the beginning of the summer. The key? Approaching the Psalms as something that teaches us to pray through imitation and response.

This may seem strange at first: a more vibrant prayer life through imitation? And how does that enable a rich or personal response? Think of small children and how they learn to speak. Children are spoken to by their parents first. They hear words and phrases repeated again and again, and they learn to imitate the words and phrases they have heard. Then, gradually, children acquire the capacity to respond to their parents with an answer. They start by imitating, and learn to respond.

We see this same dynamic in scripture, such as 2 Samuel 7:27 where David proclaims, “For you, O Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, have made this revelation to your servant, saying, ‘I will build you a house.’ Therefore your servant has found courage to pray this prayer to you.” Read it carefully: God’s speech initiates and motivates David’s prayer of gratitude. Prayer is an answer to God’s revelation and promises.

Take note: this approach of being taught through imitation and response is challenging. It forces us to go “against the grain” and deal with a broad range of emotions (pain, suffering, praise and thanksgiving) when we don’t feel them personally. It forces us to deal with God as He is and trains us in conversation with theknown God, revealed through Jesus Christ, based on how He speaks to us. But, for the same reasons, it draws us close to God as we learn to answer and respond to Him.

Finally, let me offer three suggestions for you on your own journey of praying with the Psalms. First, ask a High Schooler! Our students have been studying Psalms of meditation, repentance, and sorrowing; they will be studying Psalms of petitioning and adoration later this semester; and they have learned a lot! Second, on your own, select a Psalm and imagine Jesus literally singing or praying it (consider his humanity, his deity, his humiliation, his exaltation, and the particular circumstances where the Psalm fits into his life). Third, focus on praying the Psalm to Jesus (start by praying some of the very petitions you read; then rephrase some of the statements as petitions to God so more of the prayer is in your own words; and finally move to praising, repenting, and supplication on the basis of the statements and subjects of the Psalm but in your own words). May the riches of Christ permeate deep into your heart and abound, in response, through your prayers!

The Lord Will Fight For You

Adam Cottrell, CCC Member

I am a school teacher.

Summers can be nice for school teachers. Mine, though, ended with getting 9 rabies shots. It's a long story.

As the school year started this past week, I found myself reflecting quite a bit on how my relationship with God progressed through this past summer and into the start of a new school year.

I had, for a period, been good about reading a bit of the Bible every day as well as the daily passage from Oswald Chambers'My Utmost For His Highest. I was feeling pretty rad about myself. Go me!

Then, of course, summer vacation started with later nights, less structure and more travel. My daily work evaporated pretty quickly, and being out of town kept me away from CCC more Sundays than not. So, all in all I hadn't been thinking about or speaking much to God.

The return of the school year created a bit of a "there are no atheists in foxholes" type of situation for me. I needed God again.The grind to get prepared and nerves over meeting new students took over. I wrap up a lot in having a "successful year". Before this one started, I worried about how the land mines of problem students, helicopter parents or hard-driving administrators might get in the way of my "successful year".

Inevitably, I instinctively started in with lots of "low level" prayers. Please let this day go well. Please let my students like me. Please let me plan good lessons. Please let these kids understand the math I'm teaching them.

With time, I thought a bit more about what a successful year would really look like, and I started to ask for things that aren't just about making myself look good. Please help me stay patient. Please help me show my students Jesus. Please help me remember that it's not about what students learn, it's about who they become.

If God answers my "low level" prayers (and I hope he does!), I know in my own sin I'll be tempted to think those were things I accomplished on my own. I can probably convince myself that I have good days, create interesting lessons and a get a few kids who pass some tests "on my own".

But if the "big stuff" works out and the little stuff doesn't, I'll be thankful because at least I know I'm more apt to see God's hand in it. I know I can't be completely patient for 180 days. I know I can't be selfless and ego-less and Christ-like to cocky teenagers. I know I can't value what happens to a student's heart above the test scores that could make me look like a "world class educator". On my own, that is.

Thankfully as Christians we are not on our own! Where us emptying our tanks ends, God's work begins! And it's moments like the exciting but stressful beginning to a school year that shows me that God can accomplish what I can't. I remember Exodus 14:14, "The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still."

Learning to Talk Like Jesus

Greg Norfleet, Associate Pastor

According to Scripture, “wisdom” is the art of knowing how to live, and one behavior that the Book of Proverbs is especially concerned to highlight and transform is the way we speak. Since God is the speaking God, and since we are created in his image, key questions confront us: Does the content of our talk image God’s truth, and does the intent of our talk image God’s love. The words that we speak are never neutral: They are either wise (a truth spoken to build up) or foolish (a lie spoken to tear down).
 
When we follow the thematic thread of “wisdom” from the Book of Proverbs to where it leads in the New Testament, we find that wisdom comes to full expression in the person of Jesus. In him “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom” (Colossians 2:3). So, having been united to Jesus by the Holy Spirit, and by drawing daily from Jesus by faith, we can grow up in the wisdom that walks and talks like Jesus!
 
As we survey the Book of Proverbs with an eye toward growing in wise, Christ-like speech, what emerge are both a vision to pursue and a method to employ. The vision set before us? “Like cold water to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country” (25:25). Like a city planted beside and nourished from the river that runs through it, so the Book of Proverbs envisions God’s people planted beside and nourished from a river of wise counsel infused with Good News: “Take heart; your God reigns!” (cf. Isaiah Isa 52:7). And the method to guide us? Proverbs outlines at least three principles.
 
First, Proverbs calls us to listen carefully before we speak: “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame” (18:13). What is more, we must listen carefully in two directions. One the one hand, we are to probe and pay close attention to God’s Word, “For the LORD gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding” (2:6). On the other hand, we are to probe and pay close attention to our neighbor’s heart, for “The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out” (20:5).
 
Second, Proverbs calls us to think biblically before we speak: “The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things” (15:28). Failing to match a true word with a real need pays a great price: “Whoever sings to a heavy heart is like one who takes off a garment on a cold day, and like vinegar on soda” (25:20). But, wisely connecting the word of truth to the need of the hour reaps a great reward: “Like apples of gold in settings of silver is a word spoken in right circumstances (25:11; cf. 15:23).
 
Finally, having listened carefully and pondered biblically, Proverbs calls us to speak truth lovingly. In some cases, speaking truth in love looks like coming alongside to comfort. For example, “An anxious heart weighs a man down, but a kind word cheers him up” (12:25); “Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones” (16:24); “Oil and perfume make the heart glad, so a man’s counsel is sweet to his friend” (27:9). In other cases, speaking truth in love looks like coming head-on to confront. For example, “An honest answer is like a kiss on the lips” (24:26); “Better is open rebuke than hidden love” (27:5); “He who rebukes a man will in the end gain more favor than he who has a flattering tongue” (28:23).
 
Oh, the beauty and utility of wisdom that talks like Jesus! Curious to learn more? Join us this Sunday, August 27th, from 9:15 to 10:25 a.m., in the Franklin Room, as we begin a six-week Adult Sunday School that explores how the Holy Spirit transforms the way we speak.

Flow'rs of Earth and Buds of Heav'n

Jeremy Purvis, Ruling Elder

As summer winds down, the weather cools, and the days shorten—we have an opportunity to reflect on the beauty of God’s General Revelation. Sometimes our praise can best be captured in a song, like the famous words by the English poet, Folliott Pierpoint:
 
For the beauty of the earth,
For the beauty of the skies,
For the love which from our birth
Over and around us lies,
Lord of all, to thee we raise
This our joyful hymn of praise.
 
Borrowing ideas from Psalm 19, the hymnist knows that God’s love shines brightly through his creation, permeating the physical world in an unmistakable way. Our focus then narrows to the ground level of the earth, where we live out each moment of our lives:
 
For the beauty of each hour
Of the day and of the night,
Hill and vale, and tree and flow’r,
Sun and moon, and stars of light,
Lord of all, to thee we raise
This our joyful hymn of praise.
 
God measures out each day and hour, setting them into motion and sustaining them by his sleepless governance. Pondering this thought, our quiet moment of reflection is interrupted by the sweet sound of approaching friends, family, or neighbors—each person bearing the stamp of God’s image:
 
For the joy of human love,
Brother, sister, parent, child,
Friends on earth, and friends above,
For all gentle thoughts and mild,
Lord of all, to thee we raise
This our joyful hymn of praise.
 
All of this beauty is like a whisper, a clue, leading us to understand the message with more clarity. What greater purpose is behind this gift of creation? Again, like the Psalmist, Pierpoint’s hymn points us forward, reminding us that every perfect gift comes from above, and that those most special gifts—those saving gifts of mercy and grace—stand out like divine versions of our earthly ones:
 
For each perfect gift of thine
To our race so freely given
Graces human and divine
Flow'rs of earth and buds of heav'n
Lord of all, to thee we raise
This our hymn of grateful praise.
 
Listen to John Rutter’s wonderful modern rendition of this hymn here.

Hearts and Guts

Asia Clarke, CCC member

 “You wanna know something? This thing is really loud.”
–Isaac Holbrook, 3, learning how to use a leaf-blower
 
There are lots of things that children can learn from their parents. I work with small children and their families as an in-home speech language pathologist, but I am not a mother myself. Sometimes, I think about what kind of mom I’ll be; what I’ll want to teach my children. In particular, I’ve thought about how I want my children to grow up seeing different women who are good at a variety of activities: kneading bread or clay, sewing clothes or sowing seeds, giving advice about cars or vitamin supplements, writing computer code or writing songs, using power tools (I’m looking at you, Ashley Yarnoff), unclogging drains, starting a fire.
 
A couple weeks ago, our community group spent one evening doing yard work together for a church member. Lisa and Landon Holbrook brought their two young children, Isaac and Natalie, to work alongside us: Isaac picked up yard debris (and used the leaf-blower for a few precious moments) while Natalie made sure I was hydrated, bringing my water bottle to me every five minutes or so. I was happy that Isaac and Natalie saw their mommy, Ms. Teresa, and me working just as hard as their daddy to pull, heave, rake, and mow together. I realized that my gut desire is for children to understand that women are strong and capable of so many different things.
 
But why do I desire that?
 
Is it to prove that women are just as good as men? Certainly we learn in Genesis that, though we are different, God created both of us in his image and values us equally. Is it to prove that women can be independent? Certainly we know that, in being united with Christ, we are also united as one body with our brothers and sisters in Christ. We are not created to be alone.
 
Hm. My “gut desire” was starting to feel like a desire to glorify women.
 
I began to think more critically about what God’s desire is for our children—and for all of us who are called his children. In Philippians 2, Paul reminds us to “do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than [our]selves. Each of [us] should look not only to [our] own interests, but also to the interests of others” (v. 3-4). In light of this passage, I thought again about my desire to surround my children with diverse, capable women. While I certainly don’t think that desire is wrong, I think it is more important to consider the hearts rather than the abilities of these women. What’s the use of knowing how to make bread if no one is nourished by it? What’s the use of knowing how to use tools or start a fire if these skills aren’t used to build or mend or keep people warm?
 
In other words, we, as God’s children, are called to use our gifts and strengths to love our neighbor and to help those in need. Reflecting on our community group’s work day, I was encouraged to see evidence of God’s work in the children of our church: In Isaac, I saw a heart that desires to serve his neighbor by picking up debris. In Natalie, I saw a heart that cares for the needs of others by offering water when they’re thirsty. My hope is that God continues to teach our children—and, indeed, even us—what it looks like to use our diverse minds and bodies to love and serve others, rather than to glorify ourselves.

Baseball, Bunts, and Sacrifice

Lori Stepp, CCC Member

A colleague of mine who is both the baseball coach and Bible teacher where I work has a sign on his classroom door that states, “Sacrifice is more than a Bunt in Baseball.” I daily walked by that sign for over a year without really understanding what it meant. While I technically knew what a bunt was, I didn’t comprehend the nuances of baseball enough to understand why it was considered a sacrifice. Then, my youngest son entered the world of competitive baseball.

One thing that I have learned as a “Baseball Mom” is that each time a young player is “at bat” is a monumental moment, one where he (or she) is hoping to hit harder and farther than before, always hoping for a chance at a home run! I absolutely love each time my child is up to bat, video camera in hand, anxiously hoping for him to get an even better hit than before. So, the first time that my child’s coach strategically called him to take a bunt, I finally understood why it would be considered a sacrifice. My son was called to forfeit his opportunity to get the “hit of a lifetime” and most likely get tagged out in order for his team to get a better play. My son happily took a bunt wanting the win for his team; yet, I sheepishly admit that I felt cheated, wanting my son to have his opportunity to shine, clearly, thinking more about my son than the team.

The next time that I read the sign on my colleague’s door, I was reminded of my self-focused attitude on the baseball field and then it “hit” me (pun intended), “Sacrifice IS more than a bunt in baseball.” I now understood why a bunt could be seen as a small sacrifice to a player yet how much more does the word sacrifice mean to a Christian. In Ephesians 5 we find the command to, “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” Christ is our model for what it means to sacrifice. In love, He gave the ultimate sacrifice, his life, for our sin. And this sacrifice was pleasing to our Father.

As I embark on a year where the church is asking us to consider,“Lord, how may I serve you?” I think of ways that I could sacrifice myself in service of others. Yet, I have grown convicted that many of the things that I see as sacrifices in my life (my time, my comfort, my self-ambition) are really just “bunts.” Through my service towards the church and others, how can I better imitate Christ’s example of sacrifice? Even more, how am I foolishly tempted to view giving “bunts” as sacrifices, and thereby miss out on the beauty and closeness of obeying the Lord in precisely what He is calling me to do? Praying through and embracing this truth in Ephesians motivates me to seek out ways to serve and love others, not focusing on my personal gain or glory but focusing on God’s Kingdom and more importantly on Christ and what he has done for me.

As we look for ways to serve our Lord in this upcoming year, which will most likely lead us to sacrifice part of ourselves for His Kingdom, I pray that we all will see that SACRIFICE is more than a bunt in baseball; it is a tangible and beautiful way to serve Christ and participate in His love for us.