Psalm 30

Joy
Gwen Gotsch

Read Psalm 30

Weeping may linger for the night,
     but joy comes with the morning. Psalm 30:5

The psalmist writes about reversals in Psalm 30, reversals not just of outlook, but of fortune. The writer felt secure and prosperous until, as he says to God, “you hid your face.” Eventually his cries for help are answered with healing. God’s momentary anger changes to a lifetime of favor, weeping turns to joy, mourning is transformed into dancing. And God is praised. 

It’s a traditional plot line for myths and movies. Heroes endure misfortune and then triumph over it. Travelers lose their way and find it again. Plans, relationships, lives falter but are put back together. Yes, there’s work that has to be done, churn to be endured, lessons to learn. But eventually, in the morning, or maybe many mornings later, things get better. 

But is this true ­— always? Life shows us that many stories do not end happily. And often we wake up in no better shape than when we fell asleep — or tried to sleep. The diagnosis is still what it was, the bank statement looks worse than it did yesterday, the loved one is still dead. 

But we do not have to feel that God has turned away from us. Weeping and mourning are times when God comes very close. We recognize this as we observe Holy Week and hear the story of Jesus’ Passion. One thing after another goes wrong, until even Jesus cries out, “My God, why have you forsaken me?” But God is still present. There is an earthquake. The curtain in the temple is torn in two. The centurion says of the one who suffered and died, “Surely this was the Son of God.” 

One of the things that I have learned about the experience of grief is that the tears never entirely go away. I have also learned that weeping is not antithetical to joy. Deep and radiant joy respects tears and treasures them, whether they are tears of sorrow or even tears of anger and despair. 

The assurance that we are bound up in God’s eternal life would not be true without the story of Jesus giving himself up to death. The faces of the women who went to Jesus’ grave on Easter morning were surely damp with tears, tears that became part of deep and energizing joy as they took in the miracle of the resurrection. 

Joy in the morning is more than the relief that comes from a reversal of fortune. It is faith and hope planted deep in our being, where God meets us night and day in both sorrow and rejoicing. 

Suffering God, you meet us in the night where our tears linger and in the morning sunshine. Help us to respond with faith and hope and joyful praise. Amen. 

Psalm 90

God’s Time
Scott Schwar

Read Psalm 90

Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations. Psalm 90:1

The first section of this psalm proclaims God as man’s eternal dwelling place despite our few years as individuals on this earth. I immediately recalled the Ecclesiastes quote at the start of Ernest Hemingway’s novel The Sun Also Rises: “One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh; but the earth abideth forever.” The novel’s protagonists live their indulgent dreams and passions dramatically, but soon their lives (and ours) are swept away. 

Attributed to Moses, this psalm would have been written during the Exodus as the tribes wandered forty years in the wilderness due to their sin and God’s anger. Even without holy judgment bearing down, Moses laments that our short years are but toil and trouble, soon gone before we fly away. I often told our sons with their children to enjoy these special years; they go fast. Now as I age and my time seems to pass even more quickly, I feel increasingly in tune with Moses as he calls out to God to have pity, to satisfy us with his steadfast love and to favor us with wisdom and meaningful efforts on his behalf, living each day fully to God’s glory.

God is everlasting; we are short term sinful players on this earth, important enough for our Creator to be mindful of and also angry with us. But our God is a loving liberator as demonstrated in coming to earth as Jesus, our guide and Savior who commanded us to love God and our neighbors as ourselves. Bonded to Christ by faith and living in his forgiving light, I pray to not be a bit player in a sad story but a child of God, repentant, reconciled and with hope eternal. 

Dear Lord, the years pass too quickly, and now I am weakening with age with a growing poignancy of my return to dust. Thank you. Lord, for your compassion, for your grace in forgiving my sins and restoring me with your heavenly inspiration and love. Let me respond by living my short time on this earth in wisdom, good deeds to others and praise to your eternal presence. Amen.

Psalm 25

Trusting God to Know Best
Ellie Schnack

Read Psalm 25

Make me to know your ways, O Lord; 
     teach me your paths.

Lead me in your truth, and teach me, 
     for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long.
 Psalm 25:4-5

The meaning of the word psalms is “the twanging of harp strings.” David, the author of Psalm 25, most likely sang these poetic song verses as he twanged his harp strings for his sheep – and reflected on his life: his desires, his needs, and his regrets. 

My study Bible* titles Psalm 25 as a “Prayer for Guidance and Deliverance.”.With this introduction we can see that David’s yearnings are not unlike our own desires: to know God and to know how to live a life of discipleship of trust. To learn how to accomplish this life lesson, we need only to reflect on Psalm 25, verse 2: “O my God, in you I trust.” It sounds easy, but trust takes unwavering faith! Faith shows us a God who is unwavering in that love for us. God’s promise is to never forget us. All we have to remember is “in God we trust!” In order for one to accept guidance from another, one must trust the One who is imparting that guidance. 

We become teachable to God’s love and to God’s expectations for our lives when we put our trust in God. We can pray for God to teach us all we need to know to live godly lives (verses 5, 9, 12). 

Perhaps the most difficult element in all of this — keeping our trust in God always at all times; opening our minds and hearts to God’s guidance in all phases of our lives — is to be patient with ourselves and with God. Our time may not be God’s time when we want something to happen. Yet it’s God’s time that is the right time — on this we must put our impatience aside and trust and wait for God (verses 3, 5b, 21).

O God, keep our eyes always focused on you. Keep our hearts and minds open to your guiding truth. Sustain our faith, build our trust, and give us patience to know that YOU know what is best for us. Amen 

The New Student Bible, NRSV. Augsburg Fortress, 1990.

Psalm 53

Stuck in a Spiral of Sin
Pastor Troy Medlin

Read Psalm 53

O that deliverance for Israel would come from Zion!
     When God restores the fortunes of his people,
     Jacob will rejoice; Israel will be glad. Psalm 53:6

God will not leave us in the mess we have made for ourselves. God is faithful. Being a promise keeper is at the core of Yahweh’s identity. The God whom the psalmist testifies to is one who acts on our behalf, does not reject us, and will not forsake God’s people. No matter how far we wander. 

Left on our own we seem to be stuck in a never-ending spiral of sin. Our foolish ways on full display. Like the character in Psalm 53 we “say in our heart, there is no God.” Often, we do this without even thinking about it. We trust in ourselves and in the wisdom of this world more times than we care to admit. We give in to the false-promises of a world where we are the master of our lives. We live for the moment and for ourselves. Yet ultimately this leaves us lost and alone with nothing to show for it. Things seem hollow and empty here. 

The psalmist, putting words to this spiral and its eventual destination, cries out for deliverance. The writer reminds us that God will restore the fortunes of God’s people. This is the hope our Lenten journey leads us towards. We are headed to the ultimate declaration of our promise-keeping God in the now fertile garden of resurrection where we are planted. There, God has gone all the way down into death and found us and delivered us. God has interrupted our spiral of sin with salvation and life. When we are faithless God is always faithful. In our lostness we are ever found. In our foolishness we are completely loved all the way home. God will never leave us alone. Our once empty hearts now filled to the brim with the gifts of the Holy Spirit. 

Holy God, apart from you nothing is true, nothing is holy. Do not look on our faithless ways, but on the faithfulness of your Son. Deliver us from doing evil, remove the shame of your people, and restore us to joy and gladness; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Psalm prayer from Evangelical Lutheran Worship 

Psalm 32

Confession
Rev. Frank Senn

Read Psalm 32

Versicle. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord.
Response. And Thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin. 
Psalm 32:5b

Older generations (pre-Lutheran Book of Worship) will remember Psalm 32:5b from the Order for Confession of Sins that preceded The Service in the Lutheran Common Service. 

This was a favorite psalm of both Augustine of Hippo and Martin Luther. It is listed among the seven penitential psalms. But it is really a psalm of thanksgiving that looks back on the confession of sins the psalmist has made to God and the sense of relief that confessing one’s sins has brought to the forgiven sinner. No wonder Christians like Augustine and Luther, whose consciences were afflicted by acute awareness of their sins, liked this psalm. It is realistic about the afflictions of a guilty conscious and the blessing that comes from acknowledging one’s transgressions to God. The psalmist no longer hides from God but hides in God, embraced by the grace of God’s forgiveness and God’s instruction in the way we should go. 

Our way is not sinlessness; that is not our human condition. Our way is honesty before God about our condition. As we hear in 1 John 1:8—9, cited in the Brief Order for Confession and Forgiveness in the LBW, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins, God who is faithful and just will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Lord God … we are your prodigal children, but we come back to you confessing our sins. Embrace us, that we may rejoice in your mercy, through your beloved Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. 

(Prayer from the Psalm 32 Collect in the LBW Ministers Edition, p. 359)

Psalm 34

Protected by Angels
Jill Peláez Baumgaertner

Read Psalm 34

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted,
     and saves the crushed in spirit. Psalm 34:18

Life does not come without suffering. Faith in God does not come without suffering. We are human. We suffer. And how natural it is to wonder where God is in the suffering. The psalmist begins by praising the Lord, by magnifying God, by exalting the name of God, by expressing complete certainty that “those who seek the Lord lack no good thing,” and that God’s holy angels surround us in protection. 

Martin Luther writes about Psalm 34:7: “But you might say, ‘I don’t see or feel God’s angels around me. Actually, I feel like I am under the power of the devil and am being led to hell.’” But, Luther contends, if we had been handed over to the devil, we would not be alive. He says, “You are still alive because of the protection of the holy angels.” 

One of my favorite films by the German director Wim Winders helps me to visualize what is difficult to imagine. Wings of Desire opens in a library where the patrons are reading at tables, staring into space, thinking about their current concerns, some trifles, some calamitous. Over each one broods an angel, listening in, caring, putting a hand on a shoulder, grimacing at the dark thoughts of a tortured soul. They are invisible to the humans, but they are utterly present and fill the space with their care for the distressed—and so many of these humans are in despair and utterly lonely. The angels watch and wait and listen—agents of our God who watches and waits and listens. 

Dear Lord, we have heard that you are “near to the brokenhearted” and that you “save the crushed in spirit.” Fill us with hope and the assurance that you and your holy angels hear us and care for us. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen

Psalm 6

Asking for Help
Gary Howell

Read Psalm 6

O Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger, 
     
or discipline me in your wrath. 
Be gracious to me, O Lord. Psalm 6:1-2

There is anguish here: shaking with terror, moaning, weeping, fearing death, oppressed by foes and enemies. The fears and sufferings are described, the foes and enemies called out. We can feel like this in the night hours, lying awake. Our oppressor may not be another person. It could be depression, finances, work, estrangement, or the fear of being different. Whatever the source, the anguish is real; it can overwhelm us, and cause us to want to give up and withdraw into ourselves.

The psalmist does not just recite his woes and accept them. Woven through the cries of anguish are two kinds of prayer, first, to not be rebuked or disciplined by God, and second, to be freed from his anguish.

In the face of setbacks or loss, we may wonder whether we may be getting what we deserve — as sinners, shouldn’t we feel God’s wrath and anger? But the New Testament teaches that this is not our fate. We can confess our sins, and ask for forgiveness from God, who is merciful — not angry and wrathful.

When we pray for something, our prayers may not be answered according to our expectations. Those expectations are grounded in and limited by our human knowledge and understanding, and we cannot anticipate the nature of God’s response. C.S. Lewis wrote: “Only God himself can let the bucket down to the depths in us. And, on the other side, he must constantly work as the iconoclast. Every idea of him we form, he must in mercy shatter. The most blessed result of prayer would be to rise thinking, ‘But I never knew before. I never dreamed.’” 

When we ask God for something, we enter a dialogue that we cannot control. We should not fear it. As our part of that dialogue, we must be open and alert for God’s answer.

Merciful God, when I pray, let me come to you honestly and as myself, and when I have asked for help, let me understand your answer and be thankful for it. Amen.

Psalm 121

Who’s in Control?
Irmgard Swanson

Read Psalm 121

I lift up my eyes to the hills—
     
from where will my help come? Psalm 121:1

“Head for the hills!” — a phrase which expresses the feeling of fleeing danger or troubles; a desire to seek safety or refuge. 

This is how I have been feeling many times, especially the last couple of years. I want to get away from the problems of the world; I want to be above it all, on a higher plane, looking down at the chaos instead of being in it. The continuing presence of the COVID-19 virus along with its mutations, the worry for the health and safety of family and friends, the scary indicators of climate change, the political divisions here and around the world, the outbreak of wars, and the damage we are doing to our environment are just some of the problems from which I want to flee. I can’t control those situations or make them go away. The problems remain.

BUT that really is the problem, isn’t it? The problem is me. It is not I who can control the situations that worry me. The second verse of Psalm 121 says it plainly: “My help comes from the Lord.” Herein lies one of my sins that I know too well — my lack of trust in God who is in charge. 

Time and again, the writer of Psalm 121 names many ways in which God cares for and takes care of us. It is not we who can solve the problems in the world. Neither will staying in the hills. Like Peter, John, and James on the Mount of Transfiguration, we must follow Jesus down from the mountaintop and into the world, doing what we can to live in Christ-like love and care for others. God will take care of the rest.

Merciful God, forgive me when I fail to trust you. Help me always remember that you are our refuge and strength. Amen.

Psalm 145

The Wonder of Forgiveness
Mark Bouman

Read Psalm 145

The Lord is gracious and full of compassion, 
     slow to anger and of great kindness. Psalm 145:8

Peter the Great, Catherine the Great, Putin the Great. Charlemagne. Otto the Great, Frederick the Great. Alfred the Great. Michael or LeBron, Brady or Rodgers: the greatest(s) of all time. People are saying this is the greatest list you have ever seen in your life. Bigly.

I am wary of “greatness” these sick and warring days. I would rather exalt grit, patience, humility. 

So on first read, the opening of Psalm 145 seems more “Hallelujah Chorus” than I’m ready for: “I will exalt you, O God my king, and bless your name….” For how long? “Forever and ever.” For how many verses? At least seven. It seems the psalmist has found the dial that goes all the way to eleven. I want to know why.

And there it is, in verses 8 and 9. Looks like somewhere the psalmist’s people did something like … fudge a number, spread a rumor, abide injustice, poison a creek, ignore a stranger, not think it through, unleash a war. Full stop. All have sinned and have fallen short of the full greatness and glory of God. Even the “great” and especially me. But God is surpassingly rich in love.

The love is freely given “to all who call upon him faithfully.” The praise sandwich — two thick slices of exaltation surrounding a compassionate core — starts to taste pretty good. Why wouldn’t I lift my voice and sing? “My mouth” is joined with “all.”

The greatness of the Lord — the grandeur of the psalm — is brought to earth. We exalt not only the greatness of creation but the wonder of forgiveness. The songs that are lifted to “let all the world in every corner sing” start with “this little Babe.”

Gracious God, lift up those who are bowed down, give them their food in due season, and let them sing your praises. Amen.

Psalm 105:1-5[6-41]42

God’s Unending Faithfulness
Julie Hinz

Read Psalm 105

Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name;
    make known among the nations what he has done. Psalm 105:1 (NIV)

Psalm 105 is more a historical review than anything else, but one with a very specific point. In the first 5 verses we are given the direction to “do” some very specific things. The faithful of God are called upon to give thanks, call on God, make known his deeds sing, rejoice, seek God, remember all God has done. This is all good, right, and salutary. But without verses 6-41, it’s just another directive.

These middle verses give us the “why” as they trace God’s loving faithfulness and his everlasting covenant with his people. We are reminded of Moses, Aaron, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph. We are taken to Canaan, and into exile, we wander the desert, face famine, slavery, plagues. All those familiar stories and more are referenced in these verses as we remember the God who kept the promises made to the beloved lost Israel. 

Throughout history God remembered. God rescued. God saved. 

God’s people rebelled. They sinned. They denied. They fought against the law set down for them.

Today that rebellion continues. 

And God still remains steadfast. 

And so, while the center of this psalm and sometimes the center of our lives often feel like chaos, anxiety, fear, etc., the beginning and the end, what bookends our lives is God’s unending faithfulness. Thus, we make a necessary response. To praise, to remember, to tell, and to live joyfully and freely under the law and providence of our gracious God.

Steadfast God, you are our Alpha and our Omega, our beginning and our end. Give us hearts to recognize your love and faithfulness played out in our own history. Give us lips to sing your praise, mouths to speak your promises, and feet that hurry to do your will. May we continue to choose to live in your law and in the joy it brings. Amen.