Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.
His love endures forever.
When my oldest son Matt graduated from college, he took an internship with an NGO called Food for the Hungry and headed off to Uganda for three months. It sounded like a great opportunity to learn and serve and grow, and so mom and dad were proud and happy to see him go.
Unfortunately, as Matt’s plane neared the airport in Kampala, we received a call from his new organization that roiling tribal unrest had led to rioting, violence and killings in the capital city. Matt, of course, was completely unaware of this and completely unprepared for what awaited him when he landed. Thankfully, upon arrival he was met by a driver and taken to the organization’s compound—only to discover that everyone had left and he would be virtually alone for several days! There he was…alone, disoriented and afraid. What would he do?
When I finally got a chance to speak with him, Matt’s voice was shaky. He was strong and smart and full of faith, but this was stretching him to the limit in every one of those areas. I had no way to help him. Even if I had been there with him I would have been pretty helpless! And so, I gave him the best advice I could think of, “Matt, ‘God is good, and His love endures forever.’ Pray that truth ten times every hour. Not because it feels that way right now, but because it’s true.”
What I was suggesting, without really knowing it at the time, was that Matthew pray the psalms. We can learn a lot if WE READ these great songs, of course, but as spiritual giants throughout history of discovered, sometimes it is better to let the psalms READ US! That’s what happens when we pray the psalms.
Psalm 136 is just one of several places in scripture where we can find the particular phrase Matt prayed that day. It’s also found in the Chronicles, In Psalms 100, 106, 107, 118, and in Jeremiah 33. But here in Psalm 136 we repeat “His love endures forever” twenty-six times in twenty-six verses! The next time you think your worship leader is repeating the chorus too many times, think of Psalm 136!
The song is about who God is and what God has done for His people. He is the all-powerful Creator of the universe (vs. 1-9); He is the God who delivered his people from Egypt (vs. 10-15), through the wilderness, and into the Promised Land (vs. 16-24); and He is the God who continues to love and care for us (vs. 25-26). In each verse, we can imagine a singer proclaiming each of the mighty deeds and the people joyfully responding with “His love endures forever!” We could even imagine inserting our own litany of God’s praiseworthy and thankful acts into the song and extending it another 26 verses!
We could pray this song, and we could pray a psalm of our own. Praying the psalms, in fact, might just be our very best prayer teacher.
Today is Maundy Thursday. We are in the midst of what we call Holy Week, the days between Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and his even more triumphal resurrection on Easter. One of the notable elements of Jesus’ Holy Week journey was how much and how often he and his followers prayed the psalms—Psalm 118 on Palm Sunday, Psalms 113-118 on Thursday (the Passover Hallel), Psalm 75:8 in the Garden of Gethsemane. Even as he was dying on the cross, Jesus used his last breaths to pray from Psalm 22 and Psalm 31. If such prayers were part of Jesus journey, maybe Jesus’ followers should make them part of our journey—at our most joyful moments and in our darkest days.
I found this brief article by Chad Harrington (HIM Publications) to be helpful and inspiring as I consider how the words of these great psalms might move from my head to my heart and from my heart to my hands and feet. How they might move me, literally and figuratively. If we begin to pray the psalms this week, I think we will discover that not only was Jesus filled with the psalms but the psalms are also filled with Jesus. He is our strength and our song, and he has become our salvation (Psalm 118:14). He is the Singer and He is the Song. He is Living Water…stay thirsty, my friends.