Spending January in the Psalms

My resolution for the first part of this New Year has been to read for reflection five psalms from the Book of Psalms each morning. At that pace it will take me one month to ponder prayerfully all 150 of them, even though they may not all speak to my need on the day I read them.

If my pledge strikes you as old-fashioned, please recall that the Bible is still the most read book in the world and the psalms are the most often read portions of the Bible. This has been so for generations.

Having started a few days after January 1, recently Psalm 34 was included in my assignment. As background, this psalm was apparently written after King David had a narrow escape from death. The heading to the psalm refers to an incident when he was running hard from King Saul who wanted to kill him (1 Samuel 21:10-15).

To escape, he sought refuge by offering himself in the service of a Philistine competitor of King Saul, Achish king of Gath, only to learn that his life was in danger there, too. So, he feigned insanity. By this ruse and divine providence David escaped.

This psalm itself teaches the reader how to pray during times of special struggle. It teaches us how to praise God in the times of his blessings, and to be at all times attentive to his mercies.

That’s what caught my attention in the very first sentence of the psalm. Its opening resolution is to extol the Lord — that is praise him highly — at all times.

We might call that a 24/7 pledge — to give God praise during both day and night, good times and bad.

Is that kind of devotion possible in our kind of world? Our world is fast-paced, and many distractions and issues come at us from all directions. To add to those challenges our present era is not a particularly religious one. If we don’t worship the God who rules the universe we may say it is because God doesn’t matter (secularism) or that he doesn’t exist (atheism). Even some who say these things have their superstitions, rabbit feet or hidden idols to fall back on and lend a little dash of spirituality.

Psalm 34 is a wonderful alternative, written for believers.

Here’s the psalmist’s testimony toward the end of his prayer: The righteous person may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all; he protects all his bones, not one of them will be broken (verses 19, 20).

Or here is his further word of witness: I sought the Lord and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears (verse 4). Or this: The Lord is close to the broken-hearted, and saves those who are crushed in spirit (verse 18).

I will admit, after reading Psalm 34 several times, that its Hebraic style is different from modern poetry. But reading it can be like panning for gold. Both activities take time and some sifting and careful inspection, but when gold appears in the words of the Psalms, the search proves well worth the while.

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Photo credit: News of Peace (via flickr.com)

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