You probably haven’t heard many sermons on a Psalm. The book of Psalms is a collection of prayers and songs. The Psalms reveal to us the inner prayer life of the Jews and of King David personally as he is said to have written many of the Psalms. The Psalms, as prayers and songs, are a sign of the spiritual devotion of the writer expressing misery, fear, anger, and frustration, as well as thanksgiving, praise, and trust. While many offer thanksgiving and praise, about 40% of them are lament.
Lament is an expression of grief, either of regret or mourning. Many of the oldest poems in Greek and Hebrew tradition are laments. The Psalms, the book of Job, and Lamentations contain laments. Laments are words spoken in mourning and are a “cry of need in a context of crisis.” Another way of looking at it is all the more basic: laments simply being “appeals for divine help in distress”.
The writer of a Psalm is called a psalmist and includes several elements in a Psalm of Lament. There is an Invocation in which the psalmist addresses God and asks God to listen to his cries (27: 7 – 9, 11). There is a complaint in which the psalmist tells God what is wrong and describes the suffering which he seeks relief of (27: 12). There is a petition in which the psalmist tells God what the psalmist wants God to do and what the psalmist wants deliverance from, even cursing his enemies (27: 7 – 9, 11 – 12). The psalmist makes an expression of trust recounting what God has done in the past as a means of expressing his hope that God will help again (27: 1 – 6, 10, 13). Finally, there is an expression of praise in which the psalmist celebrates the goodness and sovereignty of God (27: 14). ,
Psalm 27 begins with an expression of trust and most of the lament is an expression of the psalmist’s trust in God. This is a statement and is not addressed to God. The psalmist is confident in God’s protection in this life and is also convinced that he will gaze upon the loveliness of God in the next. The psalmist says that he trusts God in this life and in the next. First, the psalmist says that he trusts God to prevail against his enemies. The psalmist knows the armies of the surrounding countries as a physical threat, yet, says he has no fear.
In the next part of the Psalm, the psalmist asks God or makes the petition of God for eternal life – its something the psalmist says he asked of God a hundred times. The psalmist uses references to the Temple or God’s house or dwelling as a metaphor for Heaven. The psalmist seeks to spend eternity in God’s house awaking every morning exalted to look upon the lovely and beautiful face of God under Divine protection.
We may not know physical threats or be prone to the same fears that the psalmist held. However, we have plenty that could frighten us. We might think of this in terms of the fear of Hell or of the spiritual battle against Satan and his minion of demons. We place our trust in God’s protection by the power of our faith in Jesus Christ. Because of our faith we have no need to fear in this life. We place our trust in God and so life and death are bearable knowing that Jesus has already been victorious over death.
Psalm 27 began with a statement about trusting in God’s deliverance (verses 1-6) and continues with the confidence that God will again come to his aid (verses 7-14). The second half of this Psalm is full of complaint, petition, and praise. As there is a distinct shift in the tone of the two halves of the Psalm, we might learn from the psalmist that in any situation we can begin with trusting the unchanging God then turn to face trials with the help of the One who we know will come to help.
In verses 7 – 9 and 11 – 12, the psalmist requests God’s attention, asking God to hear his plea and to not be hidden. He asks for wisdom and guidance and protection against his enemies. In verses 10 and 13, the psalmist says that he knows that God will always be with him and knows that he will experience God’s goodness.
We can know that this whole second part of the psalm is petition or asking God because it is full of verbs, hear, be gracious, answer, do not hide, do not turn away, do not cast off, do not forsake, teach, lead. These are all petitions to God to be present, to listen, to act and to instruct. It is the psalmists request of God to act; and based on the first half of the Psalm, the psalmist is confident that God will grant what he asks. All these petitions are a man’s prayers seeking to cling close to God.
The psalmist ends his prayer with a command of his own soul. He says, “Wait for the Lord. Hope in the Lord. Be courageous and strong.” The psalmist leaves himself with the encouragement to stand firm in his trust God’s goodness that will be with him as it has been in the past.
On a day when we remember our loved ones who have passed and we read a Psalm of lament and having just passed All Hallows Eve, it seems appropriate to talk about spiritual “thin places.” The psalmist may have been seeking a “thin place” as he prays to God about protection in this life and hopes in eternal life. It is believed that the “thin places” are especially thin between All Hallows Eve and All Saints Day.
“Thin places” is a Christian understanding that began with the Celtic Christians who lived in the British Isles. “Thin places” are places we can go to be closer to God. They are places where we experience a very thin divide between the past, present, and future. The Celtics were fascinated with water and doorways as modes of transition from one place to another believing that in those places “the veil between this world and the next is so sheer you can almost step through.”
“Perhaps you have a particular place that is holy to you in some way: a beach [or walking path] you’ve walked countless times where water rolls onto the sand [or the leaves rustle] in a familiar way, a place of reunion where God seems always close by and all’s right with the world…a family cemetery, or even your own yard and garden [or fishing hole]…Or perhaps you can recall a place in time which you can remember and re-visit as a source of spiritual awakening, where you felt particularly connected to God.”
Rev. Dr. Agnes Norfleet wrote this about “thin places”: “What is significant about sacred places turns out not to be the places themselves. Their power lies within their role in marshaling our inner resources and binding us to our beliefs. While places can bind us to our beliefs, so can memory, a piece of music, a special story, a word spoken at just the right time – my guess is, if we think about it, most of us have experienced a “thin place” in which we can remember God seeming very close and very real.”
As I am sure the writer of Psalm 27 knew very well, we need to seek and find “thin places” where we feel close to God – which requires practice. It requires a spiritually disciplined life to discover that places to encounter the very presence of God are all around us. Places where it becomes clear that God is very near are waiting to be discovered.
Where are your “thin places”?
We may not be able to go to our “thin place” everyday, but we can always sit in the presence of God and lament as the psalmist did. I want to challenge you to read a Psalm a day for the remainder of the month. Read them as a prayer. Read them as an expression of your praise, thanksgiving, and petition. Read them as an expression of your fear, or anger, or mourning. This act of praying the Psalms is an ancient practice and I’m convinced that Jesus was praying the Psalms while hanging on the cross. Pray a Psalm a day and see how your spiritual life is changed.