Monday, August 15, 2011

Psalm 66 – The LORD Has Heard My Prayer

“If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened. But truly God has listened; he has given heed to the words of my prayer.” ~Psalm 66:18-19 (NRSV).

Many, many people struggle to hear the voice of God. They perhaps think it is an audible voice to be heard. Well, for few it is. But the vast majority of us have to find other ways of hearing God’s will for our lives, and knowing the Lord’s heard us.

Psalm 66 is a psalm of thanksgiving by an individual; it’s anonymously ascribed “to the Leader.”

A psalm like this—one etched in the praise of thankfulness—is a strange place, perhaps, to send someone who does not readily hear God’s voice. But when we realise that hearing God’s voice is possible for anyone, it gives us confidence to read what it might be like to hear it.

A ‘Backwards’ Psalm

Because the psalm starts in the mood of ecstatic praise and ends in the reasons for such praise, there is a natural invitation to wonder for the cause of that praise; as we read on that cause is given.

The basic structure of the psalm is like an onion—it’s to be unpeeled a layer-of-meaning at a time, consisting in:

þ A plea for “all the earth” to praise God for his wondrous deeds (verses 1-4);

þ A call to remember God’s deeds of the past (verses 5-7);

þ Another call, this time for communal praise (verses 8-12);

þ Motivations are touted toward fresh commitments to God (verses 13-15);

þ A further call, from the psalmist before the community, to acknowledge God’s faithfulness (verses 16-19); and,

þ A concluding doxology to God (verse 20).

The flow of this psalm is, hence, unveiling or revealing the clarity, cut, colour and carat of a diamond-of-salvation-experience named “God has heard me!”

The Process of Vindication

It is clear that whoever wrote this psalm felt the ecstasy of victory; the experience of having had their prayers heard. Not only has the individual been vindicated, they also had enough perspective within them to laud the historical victories of Israel (e.g. verses 5-7).

To know that God takes our problems, prayers, and petitions seriously is an enormous reassurance. Through these, in God’s hearing, we are eventually vindicated.

Intimacy with God and Having Our Prayers Heard

Learning to hear God’s voice is as much about not giving up along the journey as anything else. And surely learning to hear God’s voice is as much about learning to hear our own heart-song.

The psalmist throughout the Psalter, as they are generally presented, has an excellent sense of the Presence of God, even if at times it appears that God is absent.

What’s in the frame, here, is intimacy with God. Besides being spiritually and morally obedient, we cannot hope to be intimate with God, and the Lord with us, if we don’t put in the time and effort to nurture our relationship with the Divine.

Thankfulness in this psalm is given by verse 20: the prayer of the psalmist has not been rejected, and they’ve not lost the “steadfast love” of God.

Thankfulness is an outcome of being heard and understood. The psalmist has been heard and understood. Could he or she possibly feel this way if they didn’t already have an intimate relationship with the Lord their God?

Intimacy with God and having our prayers heard: one leads to the other.

© 2011 S. J. Wickham.

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