Yes, I knew they existed prior to that time. And yes, I memorized a few of them in their entirety. For example, Psalm 1 and Psalm 23. And I learned some other verses too. Sunday School teachers give you stars if you memorize verses, and if you get enough stars, you get pretty decent prizes. Plus, I liked having more stars than anyone else.
But in 1995, I started reading the Bible for me. Basically, I was desperate to hear from God, because I was pretty sure that being a Christian should involve more than just going to church three times a week, giving money, serving in a ministry, and being good. And I couldn't see any hope outside of the promises in the Bible--so I wanted them to be true.
That's when I discovered the Psalms, desperate prayers by men with broken hearts. They're angry at God. Or they have more questions than answers. They're frustrated watching evil men succeed while they walk through failures, often caused by the evil men. And they struggle with their faith and still worship God, knowing that he is faithful, even if it doesn't feel like it.
In other words, the psalmists were people like me.
So I meditated on the Psalms and even wrote a melodies to go with them. And I memorized them. And I turned to them when I had questions and doubts and fears.
And then a few years ago I started focusing on other passages. The Gospels. And the Epistles. And yes, the prophets. And I stopped feeling desperate. Until this summer.
I wish I would have remembered the Psalms in April. Or May. Or June.
I needed company in my misery. Company that reminds me to turn to God. He is faithful. He is loving. He will see me through the questions and the doubts. And I just need to worship him. Because he is bigger than my problems.
Listen to this section from Psalm 4, written by David.
"Answer me when I call to you, O my righteous God. Give me relief from my distress; be merciful to me and hear my prayer."
I longed for relief. I wanted the crazy questions and fears to dissipate, to stop plaguing me in my sleep, to stop harassing me during the day. I longed to know that God was listening to my fears, my questions, my doubts.
And even though I knew God was there, that he was leading me out of my job--and yes, I really did know that--I struggled with hurt feelings. Being laid off wasn't personal. But it felt personal. And that made me angry. And so I also struggled with anger. It wasn't really directed at anyone in particular, just at the situation. It felt so unfair.
And here's this section from Psalm 4.
"In your anger do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent."
Ahhh. I don't like being angry. Sometimes I suppress anger or pretend like it's not there. I think my parents told me it was "bad." I don't know. I felt like it was, anyway.
So the David acknowledges feeling angry, but reminds himself not to sin. Just to lie quietly, to search his own heart.
To ask, "What's really going on here? What am I really feeling? What do I need to let go of?"
"Offer right sacrifices and trust in the Lord," David says. Keep doing the things God has asked you to do and trust God.
He says, "Many are asking, 'Who can show us any good?'"
I think that's David himself asking, "When is it going to turn around, God? When will you intervene and when will we see something good?"
I prayed that prayer. I felt so alone. And yet, most of us pray that prayer at times. When we're out of synch with our spouses and feel like we'll never function as a team. Or when we struggle with finances. Or when our kids rebel. When we experience one hard thing after another and wonder what's really going on.
And now the prayer of hope: "Let the light of your face shine upon us, Lord, and fill us with your joy. I've experienced it before, and it's way better than lots of good food and wine." Yes, this is a paraphrase, but I think my paraphrase captures the essence of David's prayer.
He says, "We can wait, Lord. We know you will rescue us. But for now, give us peace. Fill us with your hope and your joy."