Part I: Prayer as Doxology
“Come”, cries the psalmist, “Come! Let us sing to God. Make a joyful noise to the Rock of our Salvation!”
The Hebrew here, for joyful noise: think, war whoop. Think, David Ortiz hits a game-changing home-run in bottom of the ninth! Think, explode into celebration, no holding back, let it all hang out, give it up for God! The Hebrew word for joyful noise implies an exultant explosion of voice and instruments.
You see, the psalmist imagines himself or herself as a cheerleader, stirring up the church to praise, exciting us to holy, jubilant adoration, urging that we pull out all the stops, give it up for God … no matter what, no matter the wilderness you are enduring, no matter your doubts, no matter your sense of despair.
The psalmist wrote at a time when Israel’s leadership was in question. The monarchy had fallen apart. The people were at a loss where to turn, to whom to turn.
The ancient psalmist knew in his day what we know in ours: that our earthly rulers will fail us. Will disappoint. Our human kings and potentates, our presidents and prime ministers—even the good ones—are human, failed, corruptible. Even the best and brightest are limited by virtue of their humanity. They will fail. They will disappoint.
But not God. God is the rock of our salvation: the foundation upon which all else is built.
Upon this rests the psalmist’s jubilation: that God is God.
If you cheer Tom Brady’s fourth-quarter comeback—if you rise to your feet, lift your voice, clap, fist-bump, cheer, and laugh with abandon over a football game—would you not do the same for the Holy One, Creator of the Universe in whose hands are the depths of the earth and the height of the mountains?
Let’s give it a try now. Feel free to join in, to rise to your feet, yell, applaud, stomp your feet, clap your hands and give up for God.
For the God in whose hands are the depths of the earth and the height of the mountains, give it up Church!
For the God who loves and liberates slaves, give it up.
For the God who breaks open the prison doors, who lets the oppressed go free. Let’s hear it for God!
Let’s hear it for the God who conquered death, who wrought resurrection, who gives wings to our beloved dead and welcomes them into the citizenship of heaven. Give it up!
Give it up, church, give it up for the God who painted the giraffe, the zebra, and the lady bug. Give it up for God.
Give it up for the God who loves the poor, blesses the meek of the earth and celebrates the peace makers. Give it up!
Give it up, church, for our Creator God, Author of the Universe, who hung the stars in the sky, filled the oceans, and set the planets spinning.
Part II: Prayer as Intercession
Psalms can be jagged things … taking enormous mood swings, from jubilation to despair. Here, the psalm takes a sharp, hard turn.
God is remembering when the people were in bondage. When God heard their cries, their suffering, swooped in, came to their rescue, freed them from slavery in Egypt, saved them from Egypt’s swords and arrows, parted the Red Sea for them, and guided them safely into the wilderness.
They’d made it. They were free and they were in love with God who had rescued them. Oh, they were full of doxology then, laughing and singing of what God had done for them. But they were hardly into the wilderness when they grew anxious. Anxious about this. Anxious about that. Fretting over their fate, their future. Having already forgotten God, forgotten God’s sovereignty, God’s providence—having lost the palpable sense of God’s presence—they worried over everything.
And, do you remember what they did then? They made their own god. A golden calf, a paltry thing. Because that’s what we do: when we’ve lost God and lost our way, we make our own gods. We fashion some cheap, tawdry substitute: a golden calf, or wealth, or fame, or capitalism, or a political ideology, or a social ideology, or nationalism, or a sports team, or maybe, because they’re so good … maybe food or alcohol or opiates or sex.
This is the burden of the second portion of the psalm, the sharp, hard turn … that God has seen this pattern before: one minute we are all high praise and jubilation, our lungs filled with doxology. The next minute it’s all turned to dust, turned to forgetfulness, and we are cheating on God. We are carrying on an illicit, seamy affair with money or fame or food or nation or ideology.
For this, for the sin of forgetting God and fashioning our own gods, let us ask God’s forgiveness.
Part III: Prayer as Plea
The psalmist tells us clear as day how to fix what is wrong with us. Bow down before the greatness of God. Bow our heads. Humble ourselves. Kneel before the presence of God, our Maker.
And there, in prayer, head bowed, knees aching, remember your promises. Remember you promised, you vowed to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.
And you knew what you were getting into. You did. You knew that to be wed to God, joined to God, is to be married to God’s story of freedom. It is to hew to God’s plumb-line of justice. It is to trust God when God is nowhere in sight. That’s the deal.
These are hard vows to keep. That’s why you’re here. That’s why I’m here. That’s why we need each other. It’s why we need church: and prayer, and ancient, sacred texts, and holy food, and sacred drink, and hymns and musical instruments, and acts of confession, and the stirred waters of baptism by which we are marked for God.