Friday, February 7, 2014

Praying the Psalms of Ascent

photo credit: Betsy Barber

A while ago, a friend asked me to pray for her. There were some particular circumstances that prompted the request, and I wanted to be sure to be faithful to her request.

What I found myself doing was praying the Psalms for her. Specifically, the Psalms of Ascent.

The Psalms of Ascent are the songs the Israelites sang as they went up to Jerusalem to worship. They are particularly beautiful and heartfelt. They come right after Psalm 119 – that long love song to the Law – and go on until Psalm 134.

Most of them are very short. And they make very, very good prayers.

Here are a few excerpts that I find myself coming back to again and again:

A prayer for those in trouble:
"Deliver my soul, O Lord, from lying lips . . . Too long has my soul had its dwelling with those who hate peace. I am for peace, but when I speak, they are for war." -Psalm 120

"Those who sow in tears shall reap with joyful shouting. He who goes to and fro weeping, carrying his bag of seed, shall indeed come again with a shout of joy, bringing his sheaves with him." -Psalm 126

A prayer for the church:
"Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: 'May they prosper who love you. May peace be within your walls . . .'" -Psalm 122

A prayer of thanksgiving:
"'Had it not been the Lord who was on our side,' let Israel now say, 'Had it not been the Lord who was on our side when men rose up against us, then they would have swallowed us alive . . . Blessed be the Lord, who has not given us to be torn by their teeth! Our soul has escaped as a bird out of the snare of the fowler; the snare is broken, and we have escaped." -Psalm 124

A prayer remembering the Lord’s nearness:
"As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds His people . . ." -Psalm 125

(My mom sometimes revises this one to "as the mountains surround Los Angeles"! it fits!)

A prayer against the enemies of God:
"May all who hate Zion be put to shame and turned backward . . ." -Psalm 129

And, seriously, there were so many more I could have put in. This portion of scripture . . . I swear it's food. True food. And even in English translations, it has a rhythm and a meter that sounds so good in the mouth. If you take the references to Jerusalem and Zion as references to the kingdom of God and his people and work, and references to the enemies as references to the devil and his minions, they fit where we're at so perfectly and are so easy to pray.

You can put the person you're praying for right in there. When I'm praying for my friend, this can sound like: "Lord, be her keeper. Lord, be the shade on her right hand. Lord, please keep her going in and her coming forth . . ."

Having these psalms to hand to pray has been so good for me. I hope they encourage you, too!

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell


jen said...

I'm fond of quoting the end of Psalm 121 in which it is said that God will protect "our going-outs and comings-in now and forever more".

Jessica Snell said...

Yes! I love that one, too!