Not on my account!

Save me, O God!
For the waters have come up to my neck.
I sink in deep mire,
where there is no foothold;
I have come into deep waters,
and the flood sweeps over me.
I am weary with my crying out;
my throat is parched.
My eyes grow dim
with waiting for my God.

Psalm 69:1-3

Familiar, angry, painful, strange, pleading, wonderful words from the Psalmist. The worshipper singing the Psalms is so often invited to join with the voice of another in so many different stages of life. There are songs of joy, commitment, remembering blessing and enjoying the benefits of life under God’s rule, with wedding songs and praises for a good king. Songs for a nation and for a single person.

Yet a turn of the page will force from the lips a very different song. Rage and regret and sorrow. Anger, pain, vengeance. Weariness and hopelessness. How long, Lord? a frequent refrain.

So, as I read Psalm 69 I was somewhat expectant of what I would see. I would pray with the Psalmist that the God who had acted before would come to me again and again show his transformative care. So, though at the start of this Psalm I have told God I am waiting for him, by the end I might expect to be picturing myself in his presence, in the Temple of Zion.

Yet after Psalm 69:4-5, where the singer tells God what he is facing, comes this curious stanza:

Let not those who hope in you be put to shame through me,
O Lord God of hosts;
let not those who seek you be brought to dishonor through me,
O God of Israel.

Psalm 69:6

Do not let them be put to shame through me.

The singer hasn’t confessed any sins, though he doesn’t pretend otherwise (Psalm 69:5). In fact he seems to exclaim his right standing before God. Yes, he has not always been wise or pure, but he has confessed these things to God and knows that God has not held these things against him.

So why would he pray for the congregation of Israel? What would bring them to shame?

For zeal for your house has consumed me,
and the reproaches of those who reproach you have fallen on me.
When I wept and humbled my soul with fasting,
it became my reproach.
When I made sackcloth my clothing,
I became a byword to them.
I am the talk of those who sit in the gate,
and the drunkards make songs about me.

Psalm 69:9-12

What kind of a singer is this? Is he ashamed of the calling God has on him? Is he conscious that he is so different to the other members of the congregation?

He has been looked down on as a fool, a sinner perhaps, for showing such devotion to God.

And yet his prayer is that others would not be turned away from God on his account.

Because sometimes I suppose our walks, our callings become so intensely personal that someone else, even another Christian, may not understand in the slightest what is occurring in the heart.

Yet if such a unique person, such a unique journey is found in the pages of scripture, maybe I’ll find the patience to listen to the songs of people in a totally different place to me. Though my faith might be shaken, the fact that this song is here tells me that each song of the wannabe saint is a sweet melody to God. A melody I am invited to hear.

And who knows? Maybe one day I’ll find myself singing along.

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16 Comments

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  1. Do you know Ian that we are not Old Testament Old Covenant Believers – the psalmist could pray no other way because he was having to look forward to redemption. We are blessed to have been born in the age of Grace where we look back on a past event – and don’t have to respond like the old testament psalmists. We live under a different covenant. A better covenant with better promises. Can you find me one post resurrection prayer that expresses the same doubts and sadness as the old testament psalms. Just because we find these examples in the old testament – doesn’t mean they are there for us to copy of feel chuffed because we feel the same way – they are there for us to learn from so we don’t repeat the same mistakes.

    If you feel akin to an old testament psalmist – could I suggest it’s because you don’t yet comprehend who you are in Christ and what Jesus has done for you?

    To you who has obtained like precious faith with me by the righteousness of our God and Saviour Jesus Christ I pray that grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.

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    • The Psalmist often looks back to God’s past saving acts. How many times does the singer remember God’s salvation from Egypt? It is on this very basis that they pray confidently that God might do the same thing again.

      God’s past acts tell them that he is faithful in his dealings with his people. What he has done is not a one off, but a present possibility AND a future hope.

      I don’t see this as in any way different to the situation of Christians today. We can gladly look back on God’s past acts–the ministry and work of his Son, the sending of his Spirit–and we know that in the future all these things will be finished and all will be reconciled.

      Based on these hopes the Christian prays, just like Jesus, that the kingdom of God would come to earth.

      And so in the mean time, it is reasonable to ask that the same wonderful power of God would be manifestly true for us, in our daily experience.

      Such a language of asking is at the core of Biblical spirituality.

      The fact that the Church has always rejected any attempt to dismiss the First Testament tells me that Christians have always seen in it something of worth, something which must be remembered and engaged with.

      Now of course the New Testament doesn’t have anything like a Psalm in it as such, except uttered from the lips of those who met Jesus (Mary, Zechariah spring to mind) and Jesus made reference to Psalm 22 on the cross. After the resurrection such a mournful language was perhaps ill fitting for the wonder of that event.

      Yet by the time John received his Revelation, he expresses terrors of many kinds, opening up again the possibility that life after, or in the knowledge of, the resurrection isn’t always sunshine and roses.

      In fact I would argue that the Cross and Resurrection are not merely a straight narrative, but events which are the Ultimate Truth, always interacting with each other, telling good friday that it is not the end, but always tainting easter sunday with the cold memory of the great cost it came with.

      We feel what we feel, and the Psalmist so often says words which our souls cling to. Is this wrong? I don’t think so. I think it’s just how life often is on God’s earth.

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      • Can you see the difference between a future hope and a past definite achievement? You say “pray confidently that God “might” do the same again” The difference in our new covenant is that he HAS ALREADY done it ALL – and therefore our prayers and praise are coming from a completely different place and we no longer need to look forward but thankfully and gratefully look back to the cross and claim all that God has already given us through Jesus.

        Is your soul clinging to the right things I would ask? Your language never seems to contain confident declarations just anxious hope. I wonder what you believe was actually achieved for you on the cross and through the resurrection. Was it just the pie in the sky and we just have to put up with everything in the meantime – or was it access to life eternal here and now with all power to be more than conquerers through all the persecution we will face? Are you fighting to gain the high ground or are you on the high ground already (already victorious) fighting to maintain it?

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      • God has done it all? Oh?

        Done what, exactly?

        Because I still see war and sickness and death and sadness. Yet I look forward to the day he will bring an end to all these things and wipe away every tear.

        Sometimes that wonderful future touches our reality. But only sometimes. That is how God has ordained it to be.

        Yet even that dream and those ‘sometimes’ are bought through Christ, because he suffered for the world and was raised again.

        I suppose what has frequently been the most real part of Christ for me is his tears for the world. I remember the sacred heart image common for Catholic spirituality, often depicting a mournful Jesus bearing his heart to the world.

        That for me is the part of Jesus who is most real, most present to me.

        And I have decided that’s ok. I don’t need to know all of God. Rather he must have all of me.

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      • You sound like you are walking by sight and not by faith.

        “that is the way God has ordained it” – that is a lie from satan.

        Done it all? Yes – IT IS FINISHED – COMPLETED – ACCOMPLISHED.

        Everything (and that means all) God has achieved – is appropriated by faith. If we have faith for it – we will experience it – and we will be able to pass it on to the world. We are called to be Christ to the world. Christ saw sickness and suffering and death – and did something about it – not by sympathising and crying – but by solving the problem. We are called to be in the world wherever we are allowing him to do the same things throughout the world through us that he did in Israel.

        We have and are here and now in THis world (as he Is so are We in THIS world)……… (not in some future world to come)

        All things that pertain to life and godliness
        The ability to be partakers of the divine nature
        Life in abundance here and now
        A new creation
        Complete in Him
        can do ALL things through Christ (and all means all – whatever we can conceive doing – through God’s power we can do- and that includes sorting war, death, sickness and suffering)
        the ability to see God do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think according to the power that works in us (and if you are moved by the sickness suffering war and death – then why not use this verse to see a change?)
        Blessed with ALL spiritual blessings in the heavenlys (here and now not at some future time)
        Exceeding greatness of his power towards us
        A better covenant with better promises (and the Israelites saw real live results from obeying their covenant – victory in war, freedom from opression, health wealth long life and happiness) If our covenant is even better just imagine what God wants to do through us.
        Redeemed from the curse of the law
        Already delivered from this present evil world
        A yes and amen here and now to all the promises of God
        etc etc etc (could come up with a list of at least 100 things we are here and now

        Hence we are told to go and sort out the worlds problems – by preaching teaching discipling the kingdom of God and confirming the word with signs and wonders – healing the sick, raising the dead, casting out demons.

        Yes he must have all of you – so that he can use you as HE WILLS – and it is HIS WILL to heal the sick and raise the dead and cast out demons ……. through you.

        Your writings above seem to come out of experience. I wish they came out of the bible!

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  2. I certainly don’t have the answers! But surely Jesus’ words confirm this need to be honest and human when he cries ‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?’? Taking reference to this same psalmists pain and hope?

    Yes of course this was still ‘pre-resurrection’ but surely these words were spoken in the full knowledge of what glory was just around the corner? And that’s the same situation that we find ourselves in everyday. Despair, but with the hope of what is around the corner.

    Just a thought.

    But Ian, this is another thought provoking article. thank you. Even in it’s self it’s a reminder for me to be to keep diving deeper in to scripture. And of course a reminder to keep a heart for ‘others’ when it might be easier to focus on self and my own relationship with God.

    God Bless you man.

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  3. You haven’t made it as a Christian blogger unless someone tells you you’re listening to the devil. ……..

    If I am wrong in saying that your statement “that is the way God has ordained it” is a lie from satan – then I would appreciate you substantiating that with references from God’s Word.

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  4. It’s interesting to see the type of faith which made the psalmist a laughing stock – it was his mourning, his sorrow which made him appear foolish. It seems he found little place to be sad and empty in his religion without enduring scorn and mocking from his peers. And yet this song of anger and pain and praise through it all made it into the Bible anyway.
    Maybe the 21st century church has more in common with 800BC Judaism than I thought. x

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  5. Hi folks.

    “Hence we are told to go and sort out the worlds problems – by preaching teaching discipling the kingdom of God and confirming the word with signs and wonders – healing the sick, raising the dead, casting out demons.”

    -adopts deep american narrator’s voice-

    ‘…and their name would be Team Entitlement.’

    Sorry, just what popped into my head as I read. It’s interesting to see such divergent yet (I am sure) completely genuine and mutually contradicting versions of the Christian faith expressed here in the comments. Someone with a -ahem- more generous temperement might wonder how it is you are both reading the same holy book as each other. A less generous person might sneer and say faith: quod erat demonstrandum, while no doubt wondering which version of the wrong answer they should dislike less.

    For myself, I will limit myself to pointing out one logical fallacy which can be typical when one cannot in any way show the truth of their own claim conclusively:

    “If I am wrong in saying that your statement “that is the way God has ordained it” is a lie from satan – then I would appreciate you substantiating that with references from God’s Word.”
    You cannot prove a negative. Even if there’s nothing to come up with using the Bible, it’s a little much to invoke Old Scratch for every mistake one might make. It is that kind of thinking which removes our mechanisms for examining our own biases and ideas for error – after all, that could be Satan whispering in your ear…

    Ian: Nice post, it is nice to read more bloggage. I am interested in the theme of unworthiness (the best word I can come up with to describe it) which surfaces here, after the quote (psalm 69:6).
    It makes me want to ask (and I could be completely off-mark here): Do you at any time think that you yourself don’t have a compelling reason (communicable to others) why they should follow God? The example of yourself, do you wonder if you’re a good instrument for advancing the kingdom? Or do you empathise more with the psalmist, as you put it:
    “And yet his prayer is that others would not be turned away from God on his account.”
    I’d venture that when one is asking those sorts of questions of one’s deity it’s time to re-examine whether one should follow it at all. Or if it is even… well, I will not go that far. Not now. I could be totally wrong about your original meaning.
    Keep well, and keep it up (the blogging; I’ve been bored 😦 ).

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    • Ben: You’ve expressed beautifully precisely the dilemma of the Psalmist in Psalm 69. It seems strange to our Platonic/Monotheistic worldview that someone might suggest that if you got bored of Yahweh one could just as easily offer praise Ba’al.

      Yet this has been an experience of the people of God since ancient times.

      As for unworthiness: That’s a very ambiguous idea in Psalms. Sometimes, the singer is asking for forgiveness and others they are expressing indignation because of unjust treatment. In this instance I’d suggest that the feeling of unworthiness is in response to those who are around him, who are deriding him.

      I would say that often I have reasons which compel me to follow God. Whether those are compelling to others is entirely beyond my control.

      The mystery of this Psalm is to what the singer is referring. Does he mean that his example is poor, not giving others good reason to follow God?

      Maybe. Maybe people found his devotion somehow repulsive or absurd. Maybe his experience and his engagement with the Old Testament religious system was somehow marked by some difference which was difficult for others to understand.

      If that’s the case, I can relate. However I wouldn’t then go on to question the validity of the God the Psalm sings of. Rather it reminds me that a single human person’s experience (of God) is so often incommunicable and incomprehensible to an observer.

      In other words I’m not hanging epistemological questions on this Psalm. In the mind of the singer, I think that’s an issue which is already settled.

      He understands himself to be in a covenant with Yahweh, participating in the religious practice that entailed and perhaps seeking to live wisely, under the spirit of God’s laws.

      Yet he is very aware that such faith is not simple.

      And I love that.

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  6. Beverly:

    “That is the way God has ordained it”

    Ecclesiastes speaks a great deal of God’s relationship to time and human experience of time. Now, I am aware that the theology of the book is very ambiguous, and essentially hosts a debate between different ideas. Yet I do think I can take a few conclusions from it:

    Ecclesiastes 3:11: [God] has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.

    Time is beyond human understanding and God has made it thus, that we only see fragments and brief spans, all the while knowing there is an eternity we cannot comprehend.

    A few verses later he says: I perceived that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. God has done it, so that people fear before him.

    It is the burden of much of Ecclesiastes to understand the limits of human life under God’s impenetrable ordering and directing of all things.

    I would suggest that Jesus speaks wisdom in a very similar way to Ecclesiastes, speaking of a coming kingdom which is accessible only through faith, which still is beyond understanding.

    And as you said; Christians are called of Christ to participate in that purpose. I would suggest that still there is great mystery. Christians know God’s purposes in Jesus and the Church becomes his body (enabled by the Spirit) which carries on his work, his teaching, miracles, his suffering and death and resurrection are the ways the life of Christ is refracted through the glory of his Church.

    Does this mean we always solve problems? Well, I would wonder what the Jesus-solution is. One could enforce peace by making a one-world army to suppress rebellion. But Jesus bore to violence of the earth in his own flesh, willingly giving himself to that dehumanising evil.

    So our faith has a definite task and a certain goal. Yet there is still so much we don’t know, don’t see and might never. In light of this, I am gladdened by the words of Ecclesiastes: God has set eternity in my heart, yet so I will not know what he is doing from beginning to end.

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  7. Ian – usual brand of non specific non relevant text. As to mystery – the Bible is very very clear on what is still mystery and what isn’t

    The Eccl quote you give does not seem to answer the question.
    you clearly state “Sometimes that wonderful future touches our reality. But only sometimes. That is how God has ordained it to be.”

    God is totally consistant and predictable – the bible clearly demonstrates this. If God has ordained that “that wonderful future touches our reality only sometimes” then I expect to clearly read that in the bible. I clearly don’t. I read and see only example upon example of sin having corrupted the world and God wanting to (and indeed achieving) solving the problem of sin.

    How can God at one in the same time solve the problems of sin – which I assume you agree with me are war sickness death and sadness – and at the very same time ordain that these problems remain. Certainly isn’t the message of the bible I read, certainly wasn’t the plan of God in the Old Testament, certainly isn’t the example of Jesus in the new testament and certainly doesn’t seem to be what Paul and the other writers confirm for us?

    So back to my original request – if God has ordained it so – please can you show me this in scripture.

    Thank you

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    • I try to read the Old Testament first and foremost in full sentences and paragraphs. I am suspicious of using a verse as a proof-text, as that takes what is a rich and wonderful piece of literature and reduces it down to the level of mere factoid.

      Thus I used Ecclesiastes’ discussion on sovereignty and time to illustrate my point, as the writer seems to wrestle with the fixed-ness of time, complaining that God’s ways are too high and unknowable, yet he celebrates the good things of life.

      In fact the writer DOES address how God’s ways are constant and predictable, see the poem in Ecclesiastes 1:2-11 and especially 3:1-8.

      Yet as far as he, one man, can know? God’s ways are an unsearchable mystery. And he is frustrated that he doesn’t always see God’s ways prevail. He notices that the wicked win over the rich and rulers lord their power. Sure, God’s ways are consistent but they are mysterious, and thus as far as we are concerned one might well pray “God let your kingdom come”.

      Jesus was asked about the coming kingdom, the close of the age and he answered them saying that there would be wars and rumours of wars (Matthew 24:3-8). So Jesus prophesies the birth-pains of the coming kingdom. It is the meaning he gives to our present suffering, and it is a meaning I believe echoes many voices of the First Testament.

      How many times did the Psalmist ask: How long, Lord?

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  8. What you say here Ian contradicts your previous statement. You said God “ordained” – that means -it’s God’s Will – God controls – so that war and sickness and sadness does not always disappear.

    Here you say the man is frustrated because he doesn’t always see God’s ways prevail. It sounds like you are saying this man expects war and suffering and sickness to disappear because he knows that’s not God’s will. And you would be right in this.

    The difference between this man in the Old Testament and us in this age of grace is that this man had to look forward to the victory Christ was going to claim on the cross – and we can look back. This man didn’t have the ability to have the Holy Spirit living permanently in him – we do, this man didn’t have the power of the Holy Spirit available to him to do God’s will (heal the sick raise the dead bring peace) we do.

    Yes Jesus did indeed predict wars and rumours of wars – because as we read on he knows that not everyone is going to follow him or do things his way – even though that is the best. However – he does tell the disciples a)not to be troubled – which means get on with the business of teaching, preaching, healing the sick, raising the dead and casting out demons, and b) all who endure to the end will be saved – another reason not to “worry” about what’s going on in satan’s kingdom – but just spend your time breaking into satan’s kingdom and setting people free.

    Jesus doesn’t want us spending time showing sympathy – that doesn’t achieve anything and wasn’t what he did. He wants us to spend our time showing compassion – and compassion takes a situation and changes it not empthasises with it.

    Do you want to be an old testament believer – forever hoping for a better time to come and feeling helpless to do much about the current state of the world – or do you want to be a new testament believer – knowing that the better time has indeed arrived and go about the father’s business of that we are commanded to of teaching preaching making disciples healing the sick raising the dead and casting out demons. The later option is the only example we find in the new testament saints. We are told to do the same things as Jesus – until we get this right we can’t really go on to do greater things than him.

    Just don’t understand why you seem to what to be an old testament believer seemingly having a form of godliness without the power.

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    • I see a tension, though I am reluctant to call it a contradiction.

      God can do all things. He raised Jesus to life and took him into heaven. God can do anything.

      Yet he doesn’t. For whatever reason seems suitable for him, he chooses not to.

      So in the mean time we pray “How long?” and “Let your kingdom come soon!”

      And just like the women and men of the First Testament, we look back to a great saving event which revealed to us God’s true form, his power and personality.

      Just like them we too have precious promises uttered from the mouths of martyrs and prophets. These words form our future as it formed theirs.

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      • What tension?

        We know why he “chooses” not to. Because he has limited himself to work in conjunction with us. That’s why he wants us to work on his behalf and obey him, so that the job gets done. We are God’s plan A – and he hasn’t got a plan B.

        I have never prayed “how long” because this isn’t a prayer I have ever needed to pray. Why would I. God answers all my prayers – and he always answers yes. I confidently trust him to answer my prayer. I know that I can trust the words of God when he says when you pray believe and you shall receive – I do and I do. Why on earth would I want to pray How Long? I pray Thank You, and confidently expect. “How long” is not a new testament prayer. We new testament believers don’t need to pray How Long. We don’t need to wait for good things – we already have everything that pertains to life and godliness – here and now – now – just waiting for us to claim it.

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