A new year often brings a plethora of articles about a fresh commitment to scripture. Maybe as you start a new year you are looking for something fresh—a fresh Bible reading plan, or a fresh devotional book, something to give a different perspective on God’s word.
Here’s something I’ve been doing for the past few months.
Let me invite you to come with me to the book of Psalms—to take time with pen and paper to go through each one. But with a difference.
Come with me to the synagogue at Capernaum or Nazareth. Sit with the Psalms open before you, and listen to the congregation there. Let your ear pick out a single voice, Galilean like the others, but yet one who sings and prays them as you’ve never heard before. As if they were written for this one man out of all the thousands who had sung them over the millennia before.
Write down what you hear as you listen in to the man from Nazareth sing these prayers, prayers written by the Spirit to be his own praise book.
Often we sing the psalms as if they are about us. In our better moments we realise that they are about Jesus. They speak about him, they portray him. But they were also for Jesus. And what an insight we get into his heart, his love, his care, his burden for his people as we hear him sing them.
I wonder how often the disciples sang a psalm in those days after the ascension, and as they sang the old familiar words, did their voices waver and even fade into an amazed silence as they remembered that Galilean voice singing those words? Now they see with fresh eyes what it was he sang—what he sang to them, with them, for them.
They hear his anguish at living in this sin-filled world, “Woe to me that I dwell in Meshek, that I live among the tents of Kedar… Too long have I lived among those who hate peace. I am for peace; but when I speak, they are for war.” (Ps 120)
They hear his trust: “The Lord is my shepherd… even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.” (Ps 23)
They hear him pray for his beleaguered people, “How long will the enemy mock you, God? Will the foe revile your name forever? Do not hand over the life of your dove to wild beasts; do not forget the lives of your afflicted people forever.” (Ps 74)
They hear his committed love for His people, “I will seek your good.” (Ps 122)
They hear his anguish at the relentless attacks he faced, “How long will all of you attack a man to batter him… Hear my voice, O God, in my complaint; preserve my life from dread of the enemy.” (Ps 62, 64)
They hear his fears, they see his tears, “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you… You have put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?” (Ps 56)
They hear him approaching the cross, voicing his weakness and loneliness, yet expressing his trust, “I have become a reproach… an object of dread to my acquaintances… I have become like a broken vessel… as they scheme together against me, as they plot to take my life. But I trust in you, O LORD.” (Ps 31).
They hear his prayers for them when they are weak and stumbling, “Oh, save your people and bless your heritage! Be their shepherd and carry them forever.” (Ps 28)
Now it seems so clear, how had they missed it?
The Psalms have been described as an anatomy of the soul, but first and foremost they take us into the soul of the God-man. They help us see and appreciate just how fully he entered into our humanity.
Oh, how wonderful to hear him singing. So reassuring to hear him praying—he may be absent, but they, we, can still hear his heart, his prayers. What views we get of his head and heart as he lives in this world, and he approaches the cross, as he prays now for his people. And what gratitude and love for him this fuels in us.
That’s what I’ve been doing in my devotions for the last number of months—reading the psalms with one single question in mind, “What would I hear or learn if I heard Jesus singing this?”. That’s the question I’m asking. I’m not trying to understand the whole scope of the Psalm, or to see how it applies to me—all that’s for another time. This time I’m simply asking, “What if I listened in to Jesus singing it?”
Why not get yourself a notebook—or even one of those journaling notebooks with the Psalms on one side and a lined page on the other—and work your way through them?
It’s not always easy—some psalms seem to flow from his lips more than others. But he would have sung them all. Each one has something to teach us. With the psalms that are more obviously about him—eg Psalm 2, Psalm 45, Psalm 110—I’ve been thinking about what he would have learned about his work even as he sang them, how they would have strengthened and ministered to him.
And what about the psalms which confess sin? Certainly our Saviour never sinned, but are we to imagine him not singing those psalms when they were sung in Jewish life? Do they not take on a deeper significance as he stands with us, like he did in his baptism and then at the cross, and bears our sin in his body to the tree—saying in effect, “These sins are mine, I’ll pay.” Do we not hear something of his willingness to be made sin for us, and also of the awful burden he knew he would have to bear?
Hear him stand in your place and sing for you; hear him stand beside you in trials and sing to you; hear him sing with his people in glad-hearted celebration; hear his prayers for his church under attack, his people under pressure. I think you’ll find your love for your Saviour growing richer and deeper and a new appreciation for what he has done, is doing and will do.
Come and hear this Galilean voice.