Praying as Music

Psalm 145.21
My mouth will speak in praise of the Lord.
    Let every creature praise his holy name
    for ever and ever.

From John:
One of the reasons we read Psalms every year in our two-year reading plan is that it teaches us so much about prayer. It is not that we should copy the psalms, although reading them as our own is a valuable practice. As Charles Spurgeon says of this psalm, we should make our own music in prayer: “Let each Christian reader present his own praise unto the Lord, and call it by his own name. What a wealth of varied praise will thus be presented through Christ Jesus!”

For our reflection today we turn to the conclusion of the book we have often drawn prayers from for our Worldwide Prayer series, Hallowed be Your Name: A collection of prayers from around the world. The conclusion is written by the editor, Dr. Tony Cupit, and, similar to Spurgeon’s challenge, calls us to join our prayers musically in a worldwide, Spirit-empowered unity. 

May it be so.

Reflection: Praying as Music
By Tony Cupit

If music is a universal language, prayer can be similarly described. Prayer is humankind’s universal language of love to God, a song of praise to our Maker, a cry of anguish for our sin, a note of pleading for our needs, an expression of thanksgiving for all God’s wondrous grace. And prayer is a whole lot more. We join as a fellowship of Christ’s followers to lift our hearts in prayer.

And prayer produces a beautiful union, a harmony between God and humanity. Before we begin to sing our song of love to God in prayer, we realize that in an amazing way God is already waiting for us to speak, to listen, to pray. This interaction between God and us, we call prayer. And always this duet is part of a glorious symphony as we join our prayer to God with fellow believers.

All around the world, God’s people sing an anthem of praise to God. Prayers—songs of worship and praise—are offered in this booklet so we can all enjoy heavenly music, duets, ensembles, choirs, congregations, whose music soars heavenward. These become an expression of reverence, of awe and wonder, to our Creator God whose mystery is wonderfully intriguing, to God’s Son whose person is beautifully enchanting and to God’s Holy Spirit whose presence is fiercely challenging and gently reassuring.

Whether we pray as a duet, a trio, a quartet, or a choir, may our worship in prayer be harmonious, melodious, clear and constant—for it was Jesus who taught us to pray, “yours is the Kingdom, the power and the glory, forever and ever.”

*Excerpt from the conclusion of Hallowed be Your Name: A collection of prayers from around the world, Dr. Tony Cupit, Editor.

Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
May you be blessed by the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth. — Psalm 124.8

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Joshua 12-13 (Listen – 8:18)
Psalm 145 (Listen – 2:19)

Thank You!
Thank you to our donors who support our readers by making it possible to continue The Park Forum devotionals. This year, The Park Forum audiences opened 200,000 free, and ad-free, devotional content. Follow this link to join our donors with a one-time or a monthly gift. 

Readers’ Choice Submissions

It is once again time for us to seek out the voices of our readers and hear from you about posts from the past eleven months that have challenged and comforted you and helped you find new meaning in the scriptures.

Readers’ Choice posts will be republished during the month of August and periodically throughout the Fall.

Follow the link to fill out the form. Feel free to fill out the form multiple times for multiple submissions. Please limit your submissions to posts published this calendar year, between September of 2018 and today.

For any questions about The Park Forum, or to make suggestions of posts via email, contact John Tillman at john@theparkforum.org

Read more about Prayer from the Cave
When we read the Psalms, we observe masters at prayer. If we read with more than a passing glance we can see their technique well enough to improve our own.

Read more about Hope Still Rises :: Worldwide Prayer
May the church follow Christ’s footsteps as he moves to help those affected by these persistent signs of the sinfulness and greed of our world.

Breath, Reconsidered

Psalm 144.3-4
Lord, what are human beings that you care for them,
mere mortals that you think of them?
They are like a breath;
their days are like a fleeting shadow.

John 3.5-8
Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

Reflection: Breath, Reconsidered
By John Tillman

We rightly think of the psalmist comparing us to breath as humbling. But not everything that humbles humiliates. When humbled we are prepared to be lifted up, by God.

In Aramaic and Greek the word for “Spirit,” “breath,” and “wind” is the same word. This makes Christ’s conversation with Nicodemus one in which we must carefully attune our ears to context. Jesus is purposefully mixing his meanings. As Eugene Peterson rhetorically asks in his book, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, “What’s being talked about here, breathing, or weather, or God?”

Although the length of a breath may be a humbling downside, perhaps, there is also an upside.

Breath, Reconsidered
Lord, what are we that you care for us?
We are like a breath.

Like a breath, Lord, we pass from the earth.
Like a breath, Lord, insubstantial we seem.
Like a breath, Lord, some deep and some shallow.
Like a breath, Lord, we dissipate in the breeze.

But you gave us breath,
Your mouth on Adam’s lips.
And you redeemed breath
When Christ first drew it in
And you received his breath,
When his Spirit he released
He gave that Spirit to us
When on the disciples he breathed…

We are Adam’s first breath,
His first breath, re-breathed.

We are like a breath, we are a beginning
We are like a breath the first sign of life
We are like a breath, divine inspiration
We are like a breath, a baby’s first cry
We are the breath, of a worker,
drawn to take strength

We are the breath, of a mother,
that can warm frigid hands
We are the breath, of the preacher,
whose voice carries a dream
We are the breath, of a singer,
whose song fills the land

Breath sustains symphonies
Breath extinguishes candles
Breath ignites embers
Breath powers prophets
Breath connects lovers
Breath fills balloons
Breath is life

Breath serenades
Breath enlightens
Breath enlivens
Breath laughs
Breath shouts
Breath prays
Breath fills
Breath comes
Breath goes

Lord, what are we that you care for us?
We are like a breath.

Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Come, let us sing to the Lord; let us shout for joy to the Rock of our salvation.
Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving and raise a loud shout to him with psalms. — Psalm 95.1-2

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Joshua 11 (Listen – 3:52) 
Psalm 144 (Listen – 1:56)

Thank You!
Thank you to our donors who support our readers by making it possible to continue The Park Forum devotionals. This year, The Park Forum audiences opened 200,000 free, and ad-free, devotional content. Follow this link to join our donors with a one-time or a monthly gift. 

Read more poetry: Accepting Jesus
She takes within her body
The cure for the sickness of sin
She gives the maker of the Garden
Tiny feet to walk earth again.

Read more poetry: He Stoops to Raise
He strips himself.
He lays aside
His Heaven
His throne
His clothes
His life

Prayer From the Cave

Psalm 142.1-2
I cry aloud to the Lord;
    I lift up my voice to the Lord for mercy.
I pour out before him my complaint;
    before him I tell my trouble.

Reflection: Prayer From the Cave
By John Tillman

Watching a skilled athlete, chef, or performer may be entertainment for the masses but can be a master class for the observant. “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

When we read the Psalms, we observe masters at prayer. If we read with more than a passing glance we can see their technique well enough to improve our own. Like someone analyzing the handgrip of a pinch-hitter may improve his own swing, we can analyze how tightly the psalmist grips the hand of God and do likewise. Like someone noticing the way a champion tennis player shifts her feet in the instant before the serve may adjust his own return technique, we can detect the psalmist’s shift from self-focused complaining to kingdom minded proclamation and train our hearts to move in a new way. 

Charles Haddon Spurgeon, in his commentary on Psalm 142 notes the importance of being instructed in prayer in this manner:

“This maschil is written for our instruction. It teaches us principally by example how to order our prayer in times of distress. Such instruction is among the most needful, practical, and effectual parts of our spiritual education. He who has learned how to pray has been taught the most useful of the arts and sciences. The disciples said unto the Son of David, ‘Lord, teach us to pray’ and here David gives us a valuable lesson by recording his own experience as to supplication from beneath a cloud.”

We have but to watch and read the Psalms with careful observation and our own prayers may be approached with new energy, new attitudes, and new aptitudes.

Prayer does not come easier in dark times, but we may feel it does since we more quickly and easily turn to it in distress. Spurgeon also notes that caves, such as the one this psalm is written from, make excellent places to pray:

“Caves make good closets for prayer; their gloom and solitude are helpful to the exercise of devotion. Had David prayed as much in his palace as he did in his cave, he might never have fallen into the act which brought such misery upon his later days.”

May we pray in our caves.
May we pray in our palaces.
May we pray in our soul cages, and pray for those in physical cages.
May we not allow any earthly light to keep us from seeking an inner, humble cave to pray in.

Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
“Because the needy are oppressed, and the poor cry out in misery, I will rise up,” says the Lord, “And give them the help they long for.” — Psalm 12.5

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Joshua 10 (Listen – 7:23) 
Psalm 142-143 (Listen – 2:35)

Thank You!
Thank you to our donors who support our readers by making it possible to continue The Park Forum devotionals. This year, The Park Forum audiences opened 200,000 free, and ad-free, devotional content. Follow this link to join our donors with a one-time or a monthly gift. 

Read more about The Stretching Arm of Salvation 
We pray on behalf of those suffering worldwide, but we remember with special focus those inside our own borders who are suffering now the sting of unjust treatment and the careless disregard of the powerful.

Read more about Prayer from the Belly of the Beast
Prayer and thankfulness seem natural around a table of friends and family. But prayer can be even more powerful in the dark places of our lives.

Our Least Favorite Commandment

Psalm 137.4-6
How can we sing the songs of the Lord
    while in a foreign land?
If I forget you, Jerusalem,
    may my right hand forget its skill.
May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth
    if I do not remember you,
if I do not consider Jerusalem
    my highest joy.

Reflection: Our Least Favorite Commandment
By John Tillman

When violence or injustice harms those close to us, we typically react with admirable compassion toward the victims. “Even sinners do that.”

What is more revealing of a heart shaped by Christ is how we act toward perpetrators. Down in the comment streams below fundraisers and bake sales, you will also find our baser instincts. You will find those vowing violence against the perpetrators. You will find those calling for merciless application of the fullest extent of the law’s punishment. You will find those wishing prison rape on the attackers.

All hearts shaped by our violent culture react this way. Even Christian communities react this way—sometimes when they have only been attacked with harsh words. There is, perhaps, no commandment of Jesus that we flout with more impunity than, “do good to those who hate you.”

Our first instinctive thought regarding injustice is, “someone has to pay.” And we prefer “justice” done by our own hands, in our own way. 

In scripture there are often violent men and calls for violent actions. Psalm 137 has long been struggled over by faithful believers as almost too terrible to exist in the same Bible with Psalm 139 that speaks tenderly of life in the womb. (Yet, even Psalm 139 calls for the death of the wicked.)

Speaking of this most violent of Psalms, Charles Spurgeon recognized that as bitter as the psalmist’s cry is, he still is relinquishing his own anger to be tempered by God into the sword of justice and administered by God at a time of his own choosing. 

“We may rest assured that every unrighteous power is doomed to destruction and that, from the throne of God, justice will be measured out to all whose law is force, whose rule is selfishness, and whose policy is oppression…shall despots crush virtue beneath their iron heel and never be punished? Time will show.” — Charles Haddon Spurgeon

Injustice is before us, behind us, beneath us, and above us. Yet we rest assured that Christ who is before us, behind us, beneath us, and above us sees it too. God has given judgment to the Son and he will carry it out. All “whose policy is oppression,” will answer to the judgment of Christ.

The next time we think, “someone has to pay,” may we also hear the voice of Christ speak within us saying, “I will pay. It is finished. Forgive them. They know not what they do.”

Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
The Lord is full of compassion and mercy, slow to anger and of great kindness. — Psalm 103.8

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Joshua 7 (Listen – 4:58) 
Psalm 137-138 (Listen – 2:13)

This Weekend’s Readings
Joshua 8 (Listen – 4:58), Psalm 139 (Listen – 2:26)
Joshua 9 (Listen – 4:58), Psalm 140-141 (Listen – 2:44)

Thank You!
Thank you to our donors who support our readers by making it possible to continue The Park Forum devotionals. This year, The Park Forum audiences opened 200,000 free, and ad-free, devotional content. Follow this link to join our donors with a one-time or a monthly gift. 

Read more about Killing With our Hearts
Some of the most popular sayings of Jesus are here in Matthew’s fifth chapter. So are many of the most ignored sayings of Jesus.

Readers’ Choice Submissions
It is once again time for us to seek out the voices of our readers and hear from you about posts from the past eleven months that have challenged and comforted you and helped you find new meaning in the scriptures.

Readers’ Choice posts will be republished during the month of August and periodically throughout the Fall.

Follow the link to fill out the form. Feel free to fill out the form multiple times for multiple submissions. Please limit your submissions to posts published this calendar year, between September of 2018 and today.

For any questions about The Park Forum, or to make suggestions of posts via email, contact John Tillman at john@theparkforum.org

Read more about Choosing Gentleness Over Violence
We cannot continue posting and liking things that are resentful, quarrelsome, and the opposite of gentle, yet expect to represent Christ and the Gospel in the world.

Jericho’s Wall

Joshua 5.13-14
Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?” 
“Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.”

Reflection: Jericho’s Wall
By John Tillman

If you ask most Christians how the inhabitants of Jericho responded to Israel and their silent marching around the city, most will probably say they taunted them and that the point of the story is that the Israelites demonstrated faith by following God’s strange plan despite being made fun of. This is a complete fabrication. There is no textual evidence to suggest that the Israelites were teased or taunted at all by Jericho.  

Scripture doesn’t shy away from a great taunt. The scriptures are full of them. God himself delivers sharply barbed taunts. Even Jesus gently taunts Nicodemus. But no taunts are recorded here.

Jericho wasn’t in a taunting mood. They were terrified. No matter how funny the French Peas are in a Veggie Tales video, the reality is that scripture tells us multiple times how terrified everyone in Canaan was of Israel, but it never tells us once that they taunted Israel or made any comment about God’s plan of marching around the city.

It’s not difficult to see why Jericho was terrified. This gigantic group of former slaves destroyed the entire army of Egypt—the world-wide superpower of its day. Today, this would be comparable to the United States military being wiped out by an opponent. Then this same group traveled through the desert completely destroying any king or nation that stood up to them. Then, these desert-crossing, dangerous, religious fanatics show up at Jericho’s border, crossing the river without permission and in a miraculous fashion.

One possible reason for our extremely poor handling of scripture, in this case, is that, when teaching children, we are so uncomfortable with the idea of God ordering the Israelites to wipe out an entire city, we need a distraction. “Perseverance amidst taunting” is a kinder-gentler lesson to teach children. 

This erroneous reading of scripture turns the power dynamic upside down allowing us to feel “persecuted” like the Israelites and justified in destroying our enemies.

But God isn’t interested in destroying people we call our enemies. If the commander of the Lord’s army was not on Joshua’s side, we can rest assured that the commander of the Lord’s army is not on “our” side today. Especially if we define our side so narrowly as to exclude those outside of something so meaningless and trivial as a political party.

The lesson of Jericho’s wall is not that God’s plans are weird, and people will make fun of us, but we should follow God anyway. The lesson of Jericho’s wall is that it is God who initiates judgment, not us. The lesson is that we don’t deserve what God has given us and that if we are unfaithful, we too will face God’s wrath and no wall will stand in its way.

*Tomorrow, as the United States marks its independence, may we be reminded of our utter dependence on God and that our true citizenship is in the new Heaven and the New Earth to come. 

Prayer: The Request for Presence
Our soul waits for the Lord; he is our help and our shield.
Indeed, our heart rejoices in him, for in his holy Name we put our trust.
Let your loving-kindness, O Lord, be upon us, as we have put our trust in your. — Psalm 33.20-22

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Joshua 5-6.5 (Listen – 2:38) 
Psalm 132-134 (Listen – 2:42)

Tomorrow’s Readings
Joshua 6.6-27 (Listen – 4:47) 
Psalm 135-136 (Listen – 3:53)

Thank You!
Thank you to our donors who support our readers by making it possible to continue The Park Forum devotionals. This year, The Park Forum audiences opened 200,000 free, and ad-free, devotional content. Follow this link to join our donors with a one-time or a monthly gift. 

Readers’ Choice Submissions

It is once again time for us to seek out the voices of our readers and hear from you about posts from the past eleven months that have challenged and comforted you and helped you find new meaning in the scriptures.

Readers’ Choice posts will be republished during the month of August and periodically throughout the Fall.

Follow the link to fill out the form. Feel free to fill out the form multiple times for multiple submissions. Please limit your submissions to posts published this calendar year, between September of 2018 and today.

For any questions about The Park Forum, or to make suggestions of posts via email, contact John Tillman at john@theparkforum.org

Read more about Over Jordan
When we cross over the Jordan with Christ, the land has no enemies to be defeated. It has no cities to march around and no battles to be fought. 

Read more about Prayer for Enemies
How quickly do we celebrate our enemies’ sufferings? Should we, rather, pray for them instead?

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