Our calling to call upon God is meant for any time place and in any circumstance of our lives. Whether we experience joy and elation (e.g. a wedding, the birth of a child) or sorrow and heartbreak (e.g. the death of a loved one), we are called to call upon God. Even more wonderfully, God has given examples of His people’s calling upon Him from the whole gamut of human experience. The record of those prayers are the Psalms.
Perhaps more than any other book in the Bible, the Psalms serve as a guidebook for how to call upon God. We call upon God in times of thanksgiving (e.g. Psalms 9, 106, 136); times of trouble (e.g. Psalms 3, 10, 130); times of repentance (e.g. Psalms 25, 32, 51); times of uncertainty and distress (e.g. 13, 22, 88, 109); times of exaltation (e.g. Psalms 103, 111, 113). No matter where you are in life, or what you are experiencing, the Psalms provide the Word of God to call upon Him. Moreover, the Psalms — which are all poetry — speak into the depths of our hearts the way prose cannot.
The Psalms draw out from us the reality that we are not simply thinking creatures, but experiencing creatures. Sometimes we cannot explain either the pain or the joy that we have —yet, those are very real experiences for us. The Psalms help us to put those experiences into words, and more importantly, give us words to call upon God. Let us consider some examples and contemplate how they give us words to call upon God.
Psalm 1 – Calling Upon God for Sustainment
The introductory Psalm in the book of Psalms sets the tone for all who desire to read and grow using God’s Word – literally. The overarching comparison that runs through the Psalm is that between the wicked and the righteous. That comparison is really the grounds for understanding the whole of Scripture. Who are the righteous? The ones who trust in the Lord. They are the ones who do not take listen to the wicked, the sinners, and the scoffers, but instead, hear the voice of their Lord and receive from Him. The righteous are the ones who do not deny their sin, but instead, bring their sin to the Lord so that He might do something about it —namely forgive them for the sake of Jesus Christ. The righteous, though they are also sinners, trust in the reconciliation to God that Jesus Christ achieves by His blood. Only in Christ will a person not be counted as a wicked one, a sinner, and a scoffer. Only in Christ will a person be blessed.
The positive image of blessing is the one who delights in the Torah (Law/Instruction) of the Lord (YHWH). He meditates on it so that he will be “like a tree planted by streams of water that yields fruit in its season” (v. 3). That word “meditates” has a significant tie to praying. That word plays on the idea that the Lord’s Word (the Torah) and the language of His Word becomes the righteous man’s language – the righteous man’s conversation with the Lord. The righteous man calls upon the Lord on the basis of the Lord’s Word.
So how can we use this Psalm to call upon God? Here is an example:
Lord Jesus Christ, You have died and risen to win forgiveness of my sins. You have called me to be Your own and established me as Your servant. You have set Your Word before me as “streams of water” to nourish me and bring forth fruit. You have promised that in You, my work will prosper. Guard my family and me this day from the wickedness of the world and guide me in Your ways of righteousness. Amen.
Psalm 23 – Calling upon God for Comfort
An entire library could be written on Psalm 23 as a prayer. This Psalm is perhaps the most recognizable of all the Psalms and it is certainly one of the most comforting. That is exactly why it was written for us – that we might call upon the Lord amidst all our circumstances in life —especially when facing death. We find comfort in these words not because of what we do, but because of what the Lord does. He is our shepherd; He makes us to rest; He leads us; He restores us. It’s only when we come to that realization that we will trust: He is with us no matter what is happening in our lives – even when we enter into the deepest darkest valleys.
Psalm 23 promises that we will go through deep dark valleys – the valley of the shadow of death. There is no avoiding it. We will experience the death of loved ones; we will one day die too. Yet, there is One who is with us in those valleys. There is One who has tasted death for us and came out on the other side. That One is the Good Shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ. He is with us in those deep dark valleys with His gifts – His rod and His staff – to comfort you.
An example prayer for using Psalm 23:
Lord Jesus Christ, You are our Good Shepherd. You have brought me into Your flock; You have promised to sustain and restore me in this life for Your namesake. Guide me and lead me always, even in the deepest darkest valleys. Protect and comfort me in the midst of trials for You have promised Your goodness and mercy to me. Strengthen me by Your Spirit to cling to Your promises through this life; and at life’s end, bring me into Your house forever. Amen.
Psalm 32 – Calling Upon God for Forgiveness
As Christians, all our sin has been paid for by Jesus Christ in His death on the Cross. Yet, in our lives, the stain of original sin —the improper relationship with God we all inherited from Adam (Romans 5:12)— still has an effect on us and the world. That dysfunction that still resides in each of us puts us always in a need to hear God’s forgiveness. Each and every day of our lives we need to hear, and more importantly trust, this word of forgiveness from God. King David understood this great need as he wrote Psalm 32.
A person is truly blessed not because of his material possessions, his social status, his gifts and talents, or anything else in this world. A person is truly blessed because God no longer holds sin against him; God no longer counts iniquity against him. A person is truly blessed when they receive forgiveness from God. To keep silent from confessing sin to God will weigh heavily upon us —like shackles on our souls. Yet, confessing sin to God and the promise of His forgiveness in Christ is freeing. We are called to call upon God specifically for that.
An example prayer using Psalm 32:
Gracious Heavenly Father, I have transgressed Your commandments. I have not loved You with my whole heart; I have not loved my neighbor as myself. Yet, in Your boundless love, You have given Your only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, to pay for all my sins. For His sake, forgive the iniquity of my sin, help me to do better. Grant Your Holy Spirit that I may trust in You and be glad and rejoice in Your Salvation. Amen.
Psalm 46 – Calling Upon God in Uncertainty
Psalm 46 is the basis for one of the most popular and powerful hymns in the Christian church, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” by Martin Luther.
This Psalm beautifully conveys the unchanging nature of God as “refuge and strength,” and “very present help in trouble.” In times of uncertainty, times when the earth gives way, when the mountains are moved, when the world is chaotic, when our lives seem to be falling apart, God is unchanged. Moreover, God brings about peace.
The promises in Psalm 46 is that where God is, He will be a fortress for His people. Though all of the world should seem to spinning out of control, God remains in control. He will not be shaken; He will not be moved; He is God. We are to be still, to let everything rest in His power, to be passive before God, and trust that He is God. He will be exalted in the earth. The Lord God has been exalted in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In Christ’s death and resurrection, the Lord God demonstrates His control and power over all things: sin and forgiveness; life and death. To rest in Him, in His mercy and grace in Christ, is to know that He is with us; He is for us; and He is our fortress.
An example prayer using Psalm 46:
Almighty God, You have made and You command all that is in creation. By the death and resurrection of Your Son Jesus Christ, You have proven that nothing can separate us from Your love. In the midst of these chaotic and uncertain times, You remain our fortress and strength. Help us to be still and rest in Your promises, trusting that You continue to work all things for our benefit. Amen.
Psalm 88 — Calling Upon God in Distress
Psalm 88 might be the darkest passage of the entire Bible. It is a Psalm of Lament —of crying out to God from a point of distress. However, what marks this Psalm as so dark is that there is no resolution in the Psalm. The Psalm ends with the person crying out in darkness — the person left without an answer from God; without praise to God. That might strike us as very odd. God is good; God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. How is it possible that the one crying out is left in darkness?
The temptation is to try to resolve this tension that the Psalm leaves us in. Yet, to do that misses the beauty of what this Psalm speaks to. We live in a world that is not always cheery, bright, and merry. In fact, we live in a world that is quite often gloomy, dark, and despairing. We live in a world where death and violence occur daily; where injustice and perverseness are present; where sin still afflicts the entire world. We often cry out to God and there seems to be no answer. Many of us have felt that way in our lives — when the stress of work gets to us; when our failures catch up with us; when the burdens of life weigh us down; when our health fails; when we are isolated and alone.
This Psalm highlights that these experiences are part of the human experience – the human experience in a sin-filled world. But more than that, this Psalm, especially in its poetic movement deeper and deeper into the darkness, grants us permission to acknowledge that darkness in and around us. Remember, this Psalm is God’s Word for His people – the Holy Spirit had it recorded and preserved for us. These are words meant for us. Yet, in the midst of the Psalm, there is one glimmer of hope for God’s people.
The writer of this Psalm did not know what the Savior Jesus Christ would accomplish. Yet, in a move of dramatic irony from the Holy Spirit, this Psalm writer actually asks the most important question in all of life and human history: Do or will You (God) work wonders for the dead? Do or will the departed rise up to praise You? (v 10). If no, then there is no hope in the midst of darkness. If yes, then against all darkness and despair, there is hope. My friends, the answer is yes, and that was shown in Jesus Christ.
In our present darkness, in our present distress, Jesus Christ is still risen from the dead. Amidst the chaos and sin of this world, amidst the pain and suffering, Jesus Christ is still risen from the dead. Jesus Christ is the light of the world, the light no darkness can overcome. That means, no matter what, the darkness cannot last – the distress cannot win — death no longer has dominion over us. Yet, that does not minimize what we go through — and we can be honest before the Lord in those times of darkness and distress.
An example prayer using Psalm 88:
Lord Jesus Christ, You are risen from the dead and You rule and reign from on high. Help me in the midst of my present distress. Shine Your light into my present darkness; grant me patience to bear this suffering; strengthen me by Your promises. Hold me fast in Your nail-scarred hands, for I am crushed under the weight of this world and my own sin. Have mercy on me O Lord. Amen.
Psalm 103 – Calling Upon God in Praise
Psalm 103 is probably my personal favorite of all the psalms. The complete story of creation, redemption, salvation, and consummation is contained in this Psalm. Moreover, you can hear the excitement and joy King David expresses in what God has done and continues to do for His people. David begins with three exclamations of blessing the Lord because of all the benefits the Lord God gives. The Lord God 1) forgives all your iniquities 2) heals all your diseases 3) redeems your life from the pit 4) crowns you with steadfast love and mercy 5) satisfies you with good. These are reasons to praise God. But David does not leave us to question how God has done these things; instead, David recounts these deeds for us.
David recounts the Lord God’s actions for the people of Israel in the Exodus; He recounts the Lord God’s promises to forgive sins; He recounts the Lord God’s compassion for His people. David then compares the fleeting reality of life for man to the everlasting steadfast love of the Lord God. That promise of the Lord God’s steadfast love will keep those who trust in Him even through death. The Lord God has established His dominion over all things and continues to work all things for the benefit of His people. In the final refrain, David again charges all things in all places, included his own soul, to bless the Lord for all that He does.
The challenge for us as Christians, particularly as fathers and husbands, is to remind ourselves and our families of the blessings God has given to us — all of His benefits. His benefits include all of our temporal (this world) possessions, but even more so — His eternal benefits. As He has called us to be His own, extended those benefits to us in Jesus Christ, so we praise Him for them. Moreover, we continue to make His benefits known to others, so that they may receive them as well.
An example prayer using Psalm 103:
Almighty God, by Your Word You created all that is in this creation. By Your love You sustain Your creation. By Your love made manifest in Jesus Christ, You shower Your benefits upon us. Thank You for His death and resurrection that wins for us forgiveness, life, and salvation. Encourage our hearts and souls by Your Spirit that we might proclaim Your benefits for Your glory. Amen.