Sermon illustrations

The Psalms

Dietrich Bonhoeffer on Reading the Same Psalms as Jesus

How is it possible for a man and Jesus Christ to pray the Psalter together? It is the incarnate Son of God, who has borne every human weakness in his own flesh, who here pours out the heart of all humanity before God and who stands in our place and prays for us. He has known torment and pain, guilt and death more deeply than we. Therefore it is the prayer of our human nature assumed by him which comes here before God. It is really our prayer, but since he knows us better than we know ourselves and since he himself was true man for our sakes, it is also really his prayer, and it can become our prayer only because it was his prayer.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Psalms: The Prayer Book of the Bible (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1970), p.20-21.

“The Psalms Found Expression in His Innermost Feelings”

In 1977, at the height of the Cold War, Anatoly Shcharansky, a brilliant young mathematician and chess player, was arrested by the KGB for his repeated attempts to emigrate to Israel. He spent thirteen years inside the Soviet Gulag. From morning to evening Shcharansky read and studied all 150 psalms (in Hebrew). “What does this give me?” he asked in a letter:

“Gradually, my feeling of great loss and sorrow changes to one of bright hopes.” Shcharansky so cherished his book of Psalms, in fact, that when guards took it away from him, he lay in the snow, refusing to move, until they returned it. During those thirteen years, his wife traveled around the world campaigning for his release. Accepting an honorary degree on his behalf, she told the university audience, “In a lonely cell in Chistopol prison, locked alone with the Psalms of David, Anatoly found expression for his innermost feelings in the outpourings of the King of Israel thousands of years ago.”

Philip Yancey, The Bible Jesus Read, p. 120,. Zondervan.

The Prayers of The Psalms

The prayers in the Psalms use words of waiting, watching, listening, tasting and seeing, meditating, and resting. It’s remarkable how inefficient these actions are. They aren’t accomplishing anything. There isn’t a product on the other side of these prayerful actions. Yet over the years they bring steadfastness, joy, life, fruitfulness, depth of gratitude, satisfaction, wonder, an enlarged heart, feasting, and dancing.

Taken from The Possibility of Prayer: Finding Stillness with God in a Restless World by John Starke Copyright (c) 2020 by John Starke. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

The Psalms Show us to How to Be Honest with our Pain

It is easy to be honest before God with our hallelujahs; it is somewhat more difficult to be honest in our hurts; it is nearly impossible to be honest before God in the dark emotions of our hate. So we commonly suppress our negative emotions (unless, neurotically, we advertise them).

Or, when we do express them, we do it far from the presence, or what we think is the presence, of God, ashamed or embarrassed to be seen in these curse-stained bib overalls. But when we pray the psalms, these classic prayers of God’s people, we find that will not do. We must pray who we actually are, not who we think we should be.

Eugene Peterson, Answering God: The Psalms as Tools for Prayer, HarperCollins, 1989.

Whatever Your Need

From the early centuries of the church, the Psalms were memorized and used regularly in Christian worship. Fourth-century bishop Athanasius spoke eloquently about how they are God’s medicine for humans in all different circumstances: “Whatever your particular need or trouble, from the same book you can select a form of words to fit it, so that you not merely hear and pass on, but learn the way to remedy your ill.” Whether in St. Benedict’s monasteries or John Calvin’s Geneva, a wide range of Christians have expereienced the Psalms-in good times and bad-through meditating, praying, and singing. They are ideal for corporate worship as well as personal devotion.

J. Todd Billings, Rejoicing in Lament: Wrestling with Incurable Cancer & Life in Christ, Brazos Press, 2015.

Still Looking for inspiration?

Consider checking out our quotes page on the Psalms. Don’t forget, sometimes a great quote is an illustration in itself!

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