On any given Sunday, we may come to church with troubled minds and hearts: vague anxieties, concrete fears. Then the worship team begins to play and sing, offering us the opportunity to join in songs of hope and deliverance. Do we hang back, thinking to ourselves, “I can’t sing that. That’s not how I feel”? Or do we join in, surrendering to the words and music, allowing them to lift our spirits?
I don’t know about you, but I know what I would do.
In an earlier post, I suggested that if the Christian life were a musical, the Psalms would be part of the soundtrack. That was certainly true for the life of Jesus; psalms were often on his lips, even as he hung upon a cross. This sacred collection of songs and poems teaches us how anger, fear, and desperation can live side by side with surrender, trust, and joy in a single heart. Because of this, learning, meditating upon, and reciting the Psalms can help us deepen our life with God.
Psalm 27 shows us the poet faithfully submitting his fear to the tutelage of hope. The psalm begins with a confident affirmation of the trustworthiness of God:
The Lord is my light and my salvation. Should I fear anyone? The Lord is a fortress protecting my life. Should I be frightened of anything? When evildoers come at me trying to eat me up—it’s they, my foes and my enemies, who stumble and fall! (vss. 1-2, CEB)
Yet the psalm soon modulates into a cry for help:
Lord, listen to my voice when I cry out—have mercy on me and answer me! Come, my heart says, seek God’s face. Lord, I do seek your face! Please don’t hide it from me! Don’t push your servant aside angrily—you have been my help! God who saves me, don’t neglect me! Don’t leave me all alone! (vss. 7-9, CEB)
The psalm ends with what reads like a memo to self, a reminder to reach out to God in hope:
But I have sure faith that I will experience the Lord’s goodness in the land of the living! Hope in the Lord! Be strong! Let your heart take courage! Hope in the Lord! (vss. 13-14, CEB)
Hebrew scholars note that vs. 13 is actually not a complete sentence. It’s a more open-ended statement that might translate as, “If I didn’t believe that I would see God’s goodness in the land of the living…”, trailing off in an ellipsis (dot-dot-dot…). I imagine the psalmist lost in thought: what would happen to me if I didn’t believe? But then he recovers himself. His troubles haven’t vanished, but he encourages himself to take heart and hope in God nonetheless.
The psalmist expresses the deepest trust in God’s faithfulness: “Even if my father and mother left me all alone, the Lord would take me in” (vs. 10, CEB). He consistently seeks refuge in God’s house, the temple, where he expects to see his beauty and sing his praises (vss. 4-6).
But this is in no way contrary to the expression of deep need: Lord, don’t turn away from me! Don’t leave me all alone with my troubles!
In part, the psalm tutors us because the psalmist tutors himself. He declares confident words of trust in God’s saving grace even as he pleads with God to not abandon him. He boldly instructs himself (and us!) to hope in the Lord, even in the face of fear. And in what is perhaps his most important prayer, consistent with the Psalms as a whole, he asks, “Lord, teach me your way” (vs. 11a, CEB).
If that is our prayer, then thankfully, God has already answered it in giving us the Psalms. Got hope? Read Psalm 27, in different translations if possible, until you find the one that resonates most (sites like www.biblegateway.com make this easy). Read it aloud, and with feeling. Read it often.
And let your heart take courage.