Reflections on Discipleship – Praying with the Psalms

My job at the moment is developing discipleship in one Anglican diocese, so as you can imagine I do quite a bit of thinking about what discipleship is, what it means, and what it looks like. Here are some random thoughts, gleaned from my reflection on the Bible and current thinking …

You know those moments when you get a sudden flash of insight, when you get for the first time something which you then realise is blindingly obvious? I had one of those moments when a visiting preacher came to the church of which I was vicar. It was this time of year, in the gap between Ascension and Pentecost, and our diocese was encouraging us to use what is called the ‘Novena’ or nine days to pray for a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit to renew and revive the church. In a throwaway comment our preacher told us that of course the disciples gathered for that period in the upper room would have been praying the Psalms. That was how Jews prayed.

Duccio di Buoninsegna. Maestà (back, crowning panel) The Descent of the Holy Spirit.

Now I’d never really thought about it but I realised that the unconscious picture in the back of my mind was nine days of a kind of evangelical prayer-meeting, or a 24-7 prayer week. But since that insight I’ve found myself viewing the Psalms in a whole new light. We all know that they contain pretty much the full range of human situations and emotions, and they can give us words to express just about anything we’re feeling and wanting to say to God. I know that during a period of my life when I was under intense persecution and bullying those psalms about smashing my enemies to bits became very real and heartfelt. They certainly gave me permission to feel what I was feeling! The fact is that we read and pray the psalms through the filter of what we’re going through or thinking about at the time. So to read them during the novena, as prayers for the renewal and revival of God’s church, can be a very helpful and powerful thing.

Of course some psalms are more applicable than others to any given situation, but I think the dynamic is that the bits which speak to us come out of the page and thump us in the face, while the other bits slip quietly by until another occasion when because of a new situation they will speak to us.

So how about thinking yourself into the situation of those first disciples, gathered with both fear and expectation, not knowing quite what to expect but hopeful of something new and powerful? Link that to your situation now, admitting how you feel about the state of the church and your hopes for it. Then start reading some psalms, either from the beginning, or using the passages set in the lectionary. At the end of each psalm, or when something leaps out and hits you, ask yourself the question ‘How does this text make me want to pray for the church?’ My expectation is that prayer will come alive, and my hope is that like those first disciples we will know the powerful presence of the Spirit among us as we pray.

Image from http://www.abcgallery.com

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