Text: Psalm 107
There is a story about late Catholic priest, Henri Nouwen, who made it his goal to memorize as many psalms as he could. Story has it that it was a lofty goal, but Nouwen wanted so badly to make the psalms more than words on a page.
Nouwen concluded that if he memorized the psalms, they would become a part of him, a part of his very being–The psalms would be his forever. If he ever got arrested or had his Bible taken away because of his faith, if he ever lost his sight or the ability to read, the psalms would always be ingrained in him.
This is an appropriate position to take towards the psalms: They served as ancient Israel’s prayers, and the book of the Psalms (which is actually a collection of five books) served as the community’s prayer book for such things as personal devotionals or songs sung on holidays or at Temple.
Even now, nearly 3000 to 4000 years later, the psalms serve a special role in the lives of Christians:
- Go to the local monastery during church services, and you’ll hear the monks singing the psalms.
- Look at our slides in between songs during our worship service, and the psalms adorn the wall.
- Go to the hospital for a visit or spend time with a friend who is going through a hard time, and you’ll find yourself reciting Psalm 23.
But the psalms are also useful for our prayer life. I agree with Nouwen–We need to know the psalms more; we need to set some of them to memory. There is a psalm for every need, for every prayer; and they need to become a part of who we are.
For anyone illiterate in prayer, they give words to say. For people fearful of approaching God with all of the emotions they feel, the psalms give courage to be honest and vulnerable.
Psalm 107 is a good place to start in our study of the psalms because it starts with God’s steadfast love and our gratitude. It also speaks to our need for prayer in the first place:
“When everything goes well, we are tempted to forget God, but when trouble surrounds us the way of prayer is sooner or later found.”*
The psalm begs us to thank God in good times and bad times, and it also reminds us why we thank God–it has something to do with who we are: Verses 2-3 reminds us that we are a people in an alien landscape, sojourners in a world gone adrift. But God is one who gathers us together from the outskirts of this landscape, from the many places from whence we come.
- Some come from a place of wilderness and loneliness (v. 4-9). We are lost and thirsty for something more in life. The “why” of prayer is because of our hunger for the Lord.
- Some come from a place of captivity and bondage (v. 10-16). We are enslaved people, and the “why” of prayer is to seek redemption and deliverance.
- Some come from a place of illness or sickness (v. 17-21). We are frail and fragile in our bodies, and the “why” of prayer is to gain the healing words of God (v. 20).
- Some come from a pretty comfortable lifestyle (v. 23-32)–But even then, there is a hunger for something missing in life. The storms of life do not discriminate against any economic or social class; the “why” of prayer is to place our trust in God rather than in material possessions or the economy.
So we all find ourselves in similar places of brokenness, and we all long for something more. When God gathers us who are scattered together, it’s because we all have similar needs:
- Our souls faint (v. 5).
- Our hearts bow (v. 12)
- Our stomachs growl (v. 18)
- Our courage melts away (v. 26)
In response, the psalm encourages us to “cry out” to the Lord.
Have you ever been at the end of your rope and cried out to God? I’m sure there were times in your life when you were heart-broken or confused, hurt or suffering. You try and distract yourself by working or going on with your daily routine, and then something in you breaks down. You cry like a baby, and there is no turning off the tears.
The good news is that, according to Psalm 107 and the repetitive pattern throughout, our cry is always met by God’s deliverance. We give thanks because of who God is: Tom Wright noted of Psalm 107 that behind this “glorious poetry there is glorious theology: The theology of God the creator, God the life-giver, God the rescuer.”*
And even if our prayers are not answered in ways we expect, “with that cry for help, the world tilts a fraction back towards its proper balance.”*
Our response is that of gratitude: What are you thankful for?
In light of Easter’s hope and the psalm’s poetry, reversal happens when we cry out to God:
- God turns desert into pools of water (v. 35).
- God feeds the hungry and establishes community for those who are lonely (v. 36).
- God sows a strong economy (v. 37).
- God blesses our storehouses (v. 38).
- God raises the needy and shames the rich (v. 41).
- God makes our hearts glad (v. 42).
Reversal happens, and we are called to give thanks!
“O give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His steadfast love endures forever!” Amen.
1. Frank Ballard, “Psalms (Exposition)” The Interpreter’s Bible, v. 4 (New York: Abingdon Press, 1955), p. 575.
2. Tom Wright, Lent for Everyone: Mark, Year B (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012), p. 89.