Theme: An Evening Psalm
In this week’s lessons, we learn about David’s prayers, and how we, too, need to pray for God’s protection as we seek to live an upright life.
Scripture: Psalm 141:1-10
Several weeks ago, toward the beginning of these studies of the final worship psalms of the Psalter (Psalms 135-150), I listed some elements that belong in worship services: singing, prayer, confession of sin, reading the Bible, and the exposition of God’s Word. These are practices for which we have biblical warrant, and they need to be recovered in our day when serious worship of God has almost disappeared in many churches. The psalms that end the Psalter help us make this recovery, for they instruct us not only in what we should praise God for—his goodness, holiness, omniscience, omnipresence, love and mercy, for example, but also how we should do it.
Some of these psalms seem to focus on a specific worship element. Psalm 135 is about praise. Psalm 136 shows how we may reflect on God’s past acts in creation and salvation as a basis for our worship. Psalm 139 explores one of God’s great attributes, omniscience, and shows the effect an awareness of God’s omniscience should have on the worshiper. Later psalms deal with singing and even with the use of instruments in worship.
Psalm 141 is about prayer. In fact, it is a psalm in which every word and sentence is a prayer. It has been called an evening psalm or a psalm to be sung before retiring because of verse 2, where David prays, “May my prayer be set before you like incense; may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice.” There are other psalms like this, particularly toward the beginning of the Psalter. Psalm 4 and Psalm 63 have been called evening psalms. Psalm 5 is a morning psalm. In the liturgical tradition of the church Psalm 141 has been used for vespers.
It is common in scholarly writing about Psalm 141 to find it said that it is difficult, not because of the words themselves—they are clear enough—but because it is hard to find a meaningful sequence of ideas. The various verses, particularly in the middle of the psalm, seem to stand in isolation. That may be. These verses are difficult to relate to one another, though the New International Version does an adequate job of showing their relationship. Still, to my way of thinking, this is not the greatest problem in getting to know and profit from the psalm. The greatest problem is that the psalm is about prayer, and prayer is something most of us find difficult and sometimes even make efforts to avoid. The proof of this, apart from a lack of serious prayer in our own devotional life, is the way prayer has been disappearing from evangelical worship services. The explanation for this removal, we are told, is that people today find prayer boring.
What do the final psalms in the Psalter help us recover?
On what elements do Psalms 135, 136, 139, and other final psalms focus?
What is the focus of this psalm?
Reflection: Have you found yourself avoiding prayer or not praying regularly? What has caused this lapse in your Christian life? What steps will you take this week to correct it?
Prayer: Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you as you bring your requests before God.