St Barbara’s 29.09.2019
Rev Tulo Raistrick
Over the last three Sundays we have been looking at the Psalms, this wonderful collection of 150 prayers and songs we find in the Bible.
We began by looking at Psalms of Praise, and the Hallelujah psalms, which all begin and end with that catch-phrase “Hallelujah – Praise the Lord”. We then looked at Psalms of Lament, psalms which express raw honesty as people cry out to God in the midst of crisis and tragedy. And last week we looked at Psalms of Trust – those psalms where in the midst of difficulty the psalmist expressed trust that God would still prevail.
Well, today we are taking a brief look at Psalms of Thanksgiving, psalms that express thanks and praise to God for some specific act of deliverance, for some specific answered prayer. If the Psalms of Lament are prayers made in the midst of crisis, Psalms of Thanksgiving are those made having come out of crisis – having emerged from the darkness of the storm into the brightness of the sunshine.
Take Psalm 30 that we heard this morning. The psalmist begins by describing the difficult times he had been in – he was in the depths, his enemies were gloating over him, he was ill, close to death. We don’t know whether he meant this literally or metaphorically. What we do know was that he was in a bad way, in the midst of crisis and challenging times. The psalmist then describes how he “called to the Lord for help”, he “cried to the Lord for mercy”. This is the kind of prayer we heard two weeks ago in Psalm 80 – crying out to God. There the psalmist cried out: “Restore us O God; make your face shine upon us”. But here the Psalmist is describing his prayers in the past tense, because now his prayers have been answered: “you have lifted me out of the depths, you have healed me, you have turned my wailing into dancing, you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy”. His prayers have been wonderfully answered and he is giving thanks to God. God has answered his prayers.
I wonder, can you think of times when God has answered your prayers, maybe in times of crisis, or times of struggle, or when in need of direction or affirmation? Have you given thanks to God for those times? Sometimes God answers our prayers in dramatic ways that leave us amazed and awed. I remember praying to God about a big decision during my university days while brushing my teeth, and by the time I had finished I had gained a very clear sense of what God was calling me to do.
Other times God may answer our prayers in subtle and gradual ways that sometimes we can fail to notice until we look back and realise how much has changed. At the Pilgrim Group on Thursday night a couple of people were saying how one of the psalms reminded them of the Footsteps poem – that poem of two sets of footprints in the sand – ours and God’s – but then at points there is only one set of prints. Is it because God has abandoned us? “No”, God says in the poem, “those are the times I carried you”. Sometimes answers to prayer are like that – we only see as we look back.
But whether dramatic or gradual, when God answers prayer we are to give him thanks. I wonder, when was the last time each of us gave thanks to God for answered prayer. Maybe some of you have done so already today; maybe for others of us it may have been a bit longer.
What is notable also about the Psalms of Thanksgiving is that they are not just psalms directed to God. Highly personal though they are, they were written for communal worship, to be used in the Temple. They were sung or spoken for the benefit of fellow worshippers as well as for the praise of God. They are about testifying to others about what God has done, about encouraging others to know that God has answered prayer, that God has helped them through.
We are not all isolated individuals trying to plough our own furrow, keeping our heads down, and taking encouragement just from our own individual circumstances. We are a community, we are a family, that are here to encourage one another to build one another up in faith. We are to speak our own psalms of thanksgiving to one another, psalms that speak of how God has answered prayer for us, of what we can be thankful to God for.
So today I’ve asked four people to come and answer a few questions. As you listen take heart from what they say, be encouraged.
How long have you been coming to St Barbara’s?
What brought you to St Barbara’s, and why have you stayed?
What are you thankful to God for about the church?
Can you tell of a time when God answered your prayers?
Psalm 30 is a particularly appropriate psalm for us to use today, because it was a psalm written for the dedication of the temple. As we remember and give thanks to God for the dedication of this church 88 years ago, it is good to see that at the heart of the dedication of the Jerusalem temple all those hundreds of years ago, was this personal testimony of praise, of answered prayer. Why was this a part of corporate worship? Because it acted as an encouragement to the whole congregation, it pointed to the character of God that was true for all people. An individual’s joy in seeing answered prayer can become the words of all the community.
We’ve heard from just a few people so far this morning. Over teas and coffees, over lunch, why not share with others. And can I encourage you to think about joining a home group – please talk to me if you would like more details – they are possibly the most natural place in our church of hearing others talk about answered prayer and sharing your own experiences too.
For 88 years God has been at work within the people of this church, answering prayers, changing lives, bringing hope. Let us be a people who readily share the work of God with one another.