Praise, Meditation, Petition (a Prayer through Psalm 143) by Ed Mackenzie

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I love the Psalms. I love their earthiness and rawness, their embrace of emotions – lament as well as praise – and the way they give words to prayers when I don’t know what to say. The Psalms were Jesus’ prayer book too, words that shaped his ministry and vocation.

Sometimes when I read the Psalms, I come across a phrase or a line as if for the first time. I can’t quite remember reading it before, and it brings me up short. The Word jumps the gap between ancient Israel and my own very different context. I stand not as a reader of an ancient text but as a witness to the God of life breathing through the lines of sacred scripture.

This happened to me recently as I was reading through Psalm 143, a ‘prayer for Deliverance from Enemies’. On the face of it, this might not seem to have much to say today. After all, the Psalmist is concerned primarily about enemies that threaten (143:3, 9), calling for their destruction (143:4). The Psalm as a whole comes from a different life situation than what I face.

But on this occasion, I found that as I read slowly through the Psalm it merged naturally into prayer.

Praise came with the opening of the Psalm, particularly as I reflected on God’s ‘faithful’ love, even in the midst of my unfaithfulness (143:1-2). I thought about the way in which Paul develops this theme in Romans. God’s love for the ungodly, the apostle explains, is demonstrated in the death of Jesus (Rom 5:6-8). For those ‘in Christ’, such love will never let us go (Rom 8:31-39).

Meditation on who God is and what God has done is reflected in the cluster of verbs in verse 5: ‘remember’, ‘think’, ‘meditate’. I thought about how God has created all things, how God has given so much. I reflected on Jesus as the image of God who shows us in his life and works what God is like. I recalled Jesus’ words about the Spirit, the ‘good gift’ that God gives to those who ask (Luke 11:9-13).

Petition is a clear theme within this Psalm – including the concrete request for deliverance from enemies – and yet what struck me is the Psalmist’s request for right discernment. ‘Teach me the way I should go’ (v.8) became my prayer, as I reflected on decisions small and large that day. ‘Teach me to do your will’, I asked, ending with the prayer that God ‘lead me on a level path’ (v.10). Petition is not just about asking for what we think we need, but also asking for what we might not know we need.

I don’t know what it was that made me linger with Psalm 143 that day, but I did find my prayer was enlivened as I spoke Scripture to God. As the words shaped and expressed my desires, I began the day with a sense of God’s presence.

What Psalms are particularly significant for you?

How do the Psalms affect and shape your prayer?

What ‘unexpected’ phrases from the Psalms have spoken into your life?

About Ed Mackenzie

Ed is the Discipleship Development Officer for the Methodist Church, and has previously worked as a lecturer at Birmingham Christian College and as an Associate Leader of B1 Church. He has a PhD in New Testament studies and lives in Derbyshire with his wife and two sons.