In the fall I had the privilege of leading a study on the Psalms. Two groups met for ten weeks to dig into the text. There was a Tuesday morning group and a Wednesday night group – about 20 people total.
I expected to grow in my knowledge and understanding of the Psalms, and I did. I expected to have my faith enriched by the individual reading and group discussion, and that happened. I expected to enjoy getting to know people better through study, and that happened too.
Then there were things that I didn’t know to expect but that I was blessed by.
One of these things was how much the study made me think about worship. The Psalms were used in the context of worship in ancient Israel. Some of the Psalms are hard for me to read. In one verse there’s an outpouring of praise for God, and in the next verse there’s a plea for God to crush enemies or a question about God’s presence.
When I include a Psalm in worship I often leave out the challenging verses. This study pushed me to reconsider this. Reading and hearing challenging words together is an opportunity for our congregation. The Psalms reflect honest emotions that God’s people have felt forever and that God’s people in our congregation have likely felt too. In the new year I am committed to using more full Psalms in worship, even the Psalms with verses that make me cringe.
One of the activities our study asked us to do was to pray the Psalms. This means reading and praying the text as though it was our own prayer. Praying the Psalms is a challenge and a gift.
To pray and ask God to destroy enemies is counter to what Jesus teaches. It also was hard for me because it forced me to admit that there are times when I really want to have enemies destroyed. I’m not talking about the person who takes my parking spot but about the Syrian forces slaughtering people in Aleppo.
The Psalms remind me that I can be honest with God about this, about the dark thoughts and feelings I have. God knows I’m not a perfect Christian, so I don’t have to pretend in my prayers. As one wise class participant noted, praying the Psalms in this way gives us a framework for being honest.
During a week when we focused on lament we discussed whether or not people at Grace can be honest about how they are doing when coming to church. Is it okay to say, “I’m having a hard time,” or is the expectation to say, “Everything is great?”
In light of this conversation I have a challenge for all of us for the New Year. In 2017 when you ask someone at Grace how they are doing, ask them how they are doing; don’t tell them. Too often we say, “Are you doing well? Did you have a good Christmas?” These questions set the responder up to have to answer, “Yes, everything is good.”
By making a simple change you leave space for the person you’re engaging with to be honest with you when you ask, “How are you? How was your Christmas?” It’s a small change but one I hope creates space for more honest
community at Grace.
2016 was a good year at Grace, and God is on the move here. I’m excited about where the Spirit will lead us in 2017.