Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Praying the Pentitential Psalms


Sometimes we do not find the words to confess our sins either because we are bound up in self-pride and deception or simply unaware of the enormity of our sin. Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote that we ought to “pray from the richness of God’s word rather than the poverty of our own heart.” The seven “Penitential Psalms” in the Psalter provide the richness of God’s word to give voice to our confession as well as the mercy of Christ’s Absolution. They are Psalms 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, 143


When the disciples came to Jesus they asked “Lord how should we pray?” Likewise, we come to the Lord with the same question and he gives us the words to say. This is a great blessing, for often times we do not know what to pray because we are often blind to sin, and neither want nor see God’s eternal plan for us; which is eternal life and salvation.


The Penitential Psalms are often used in the liturgy of the church and ought to likewise accompany our daily prayer and meditation. They tell us how “things truly are.” They address how life is often truly a very difficult struggle. The Psalms demonstrate to us that it is ok to cry to God, and ask Him for help and consolation. The curse of sin is deep and it effects the whole world. It is the cause of suffering, strife, war, and death. In Psalm 6 we pray “Have mercy upon me, O Lord: for I am weak: O Lord, heal me; for my bones are vexed.” The Lord always hears our prayer promises to deliver us and forgive all of our sins. These Psalms prepare us with repentant hearts to hear God’s Word of Absolution. Bonhoeffer writes:


“The Christian will find scarcely any difficulties in the praying of these Psalms. However, the question could arise as to how one is to think about the fact that Christ also prays these Psalms with us? How can the sinless one ask for forgiveness? In no way other than he can, as the sinless one, bear the sins of the world and be made sin for us (2nd Corinthians 5:21). Not for the sake of his sins, but for the sake of our sins, which he has taken upon himself and for which he suffers, does Jesus pray for the forgiveness of sins. He positions himself entirely for us. He wants to be a man before God as we are. So he prays also the most human of all prayers with us and demonstrates that he is the true Son of God” (Psalms: Prayer Book of the Bible, p. 52).

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