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Jun 17 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

June 2, 2019


Psalm 22

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,

and by night, but I find no rest (Ps. 22:1-2)

Intro: Friday I was driving three of my grandchildren home from school

Six year old Calum was in the back seat, singing lilting, repetitive lyrics
– I wasn’t paying attention at first – then, when traffic cleared I listened
“This is a distraction song, distraction song, distraction song,
that makes it hard to think”
ME: “Calum, what’s that?!”
CALUM: “It’s a distraction song. Do you get it?”
ME: “Yes I get it! It’s so distracting, I can’t think”
CALUM: “Aha, it works!”

Psalm 22 is a song for when distractions make it hard to think

There are two things we get wrong about this psalm

First, frequently it is referred to as a “Messianic Psalm”
– that is to say, the whole psalm is a prophecy of Jesus’ crucifixion
• it does contain prophetic statements,
◦ but that was not how it was originally read
• like most everyone who suffers, the psalmist felt abandoned by God
– that Jesus quoted this psalm from cross reveals his heart
• how deeply he was plunged into human suffering (cf. Heb. 2:9-10, 17-18; 5:8)
• Jesus shared with us an agony so deep, he too felt abandoned, forgotten

Secondly, it looks like a psalm of despair– at least begins like one
– but it is actually a song of hope
• in it, the poet tells his story – not in detail, but with broad strokes
◦ that actually makes it more valuable for us
• we don’t have to know what he meant by bulls of Bashan
◦ we can think of our own adversities and obstacles
– as we read his story, we learn how he worked his way–
• or “prayed his way”–from abandonment to embrace,
◦ from anxiety to serenity, from distress to peace
• have you ever wished that prayer could change your mood?
◦ maybe there’s a way to approach prayer that does change us
◦ and perhaps God will even change us without changing our circumstances

A quick overview of Psalm 22

The poet begins with a “Why” question
– this is not always the best place to begin, and it is often useless to ask
Daniel Siegel refers to “Why” as “the [brain’s] left hemisphere’s favorite pursuit of exploring . . . . The left side of our cortex appears to specialize in the cause-effect explanations of logical reasoning that is so coveted in science, and in schools, and perhaps in modern society in general.”
• some events defy cause and effect explanations
◦ if there’s an answer to Why?, only God knows it

In the face of a devastating loss, would it really be of much help to learn why it happened?

– nevertheless, like the poet, in deep grief we cannot help but ask why
• the question pushes its way up from our soul

We could title the first two verses, “When prayer doesn’t work”
– or doesn’t seem to work
• the problem may be, we expect prayer to produce a specific effect
◦ that it is supposed to change something in the world
◦ it doesn’t occur to us, prayer is meant to to change something in us
– how can the poet jump from his unanswered prayer to verse 3?

Yet you are holy,
enthroned on the praises of Israel.

• maybe he is saying, “The fault is not in you; you are holy”
◦ this is how the system has worked in the past

In you our fathers trusted;
they trusted, and you delivered them.
To you they cried and were rescued;
in you they trusted and were not put to shame
(vv. 4-5)

• so the conclusion drawn by the poet is,
“I’m not like my ancestors. They were heroes, but

I am a worm and not a man,
scorned by mankind and despised by the people
(v. 6)

◦ this thinking is not unusual, and it is wrong!
◦ it is as wrong as assuming God had abandoned him

Shame does this to us, it undermines our confidence
– before God, in ourselves, and with others

All who see me mock me;
they make mouths at me; they wag their heads;
“He trusts in the LORD; let him deliver him;
let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”
(vv. 7-8)

• those who make fun of him, ridicule his failed system
– again, like in v. 3, he bumps into this contradiction, Yet [9-10]

Once again, as in verse 3, the poet jumps to what seems like a contradiction

Yet you are he who took me from the womb;
you made me trust in you at my mother’s breasts.
On you was I cast from my birth,
and from my mother’s womb you have been my God
(vv. 9-10)

Verses 11-21 repeat the request as the poet describes his affliction
(notice the animal metaphors he uses to describe his enemies)

Be not far from me,
for trouble is near,
and there is none to help.
Many bulls encompass me;
strong bulls of Bashan surround me;
they open wide their mouths at me,
like a ravening and roaring lion.
I am poured out like water
and all of my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax within my breast;
and my tongue sticks to my jaws;
you lay me in the dust of death.
For dogs encompass me;
a company of evildoers encircles me;
they have pierced my hands and feet—
I can count all my bones—
they stare and gloat over me;
they divide my garments among them,
and for my clothing they cast lots.
But you, O LORD, do not be far off!
O you my help, come quickly to my aid!
Deliver my soul from the sword,
my precious life from the power of the dog!
Save me from the mouth of the lion!
You have rescued me from the horns of the wild oxen!

– here is something that amazes me regarding biblical writers
• the incredible way they read their bodies
◦ he describes emotional distress in physiological terms:
◦ bones out of joint, heart melted like ways, strength dried up
– one of the lessons we’ve learned from neuroscience:
• situations that are:
◦ extremely hurtful emotionally,
◦ intensely painful physically,
◦ unavoidable or inescapable,
◦ life-threatening,
◦ or simply overwhelming,
• cause communication in the brain to breakdown
◦ the mind goes blank, logic warps, we lose control
(in sports we say someone “choked”)
◦ people say, “I feel like I’m falling apart,” “My mind is scattered”
– if trauma disintegrates, healing integrates – makes whole

In v. 22, it looks like the poet has made a dramatic turn

I will tell of your name to my brothers;
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
You who fear the LORD, praise him!
All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him,
and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
For he has not despised or abhorred
the affliction of the afflicted,
and he has not hidden his face from him,
but has heard, when he cried to him.
From you comes my praise in the great congregation;
my vows I will perform before those who fear him.
The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied;
those who seek him shall praise the LORD!
May your hearts live forever!
All the ends of the earth shall remember
and turn to the LORD,
and all the families of the nations
shall worship before you.
For the kingship belongs to the LORD,
and he rules over the nations.
All the prosperous of the earth eat and worship;
before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,
even the one who could not keep himself alive.
Posterity shall serve him;
it shall be told of the LORD to the coming generation;
the shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn,
that he has done it
(vv. 22-31)

– it seems like everything now is good, right?
• but that is not exactly what these verses are saying
• this form of speech is referred to as a “vow of praise” (cf. v. 25)
◦ its typical form is: “If you do this for me, I’ll do that for you”
– what it does for the poet, is enable him to be confident
• he is able to feel in the present, a victory that will come in the future
• he can even praise and worship as if his salvation had already come

One more thought
– even though this is one person who prays,
• the presence of others play a crucial role in his life before God
• in both his breakdown and his recovery (v. 22)
– there is a type of communication that links human hearts and minds
• when people feel safe enough to talk without fear
and others are compassionate enough to listen without judgment
◦ a primary ingredient in these conversations is is empathy
• for Paul, life in community leads to having same mind (Ro. 12:3-16)
◦ he encouraged the Philippians to be of one mind (Php. 1:27; 2:2)

When a community (or family) has this sort of integrative conversations
– each individual’s mind is moved toward integration and wholeness
This has happened for us in our weekly practice of lexio divina
(sacred, prayerful reading and sharing of scripture)

By the end of his song, the poet is no longer alone
– he has rejoined the people of God in the worship of God
• he is on his way toward integration and wholeness

Conclusion: Yesterday morning I was feeling stressed over today’s message
(I didn’t have one!)

Also, my granddaughter, Addison, added a little extra stress
– for a couple of weeks she’s been begging me to attend her dance recital
• I’ve explained that Saturday is a workday for grandpa
◦ I promised to be there, providing God worked a miracle
◦ and I had a sermon outline completed in time
• but my mind kept going to all the kids who have no one to who shows up for their little league games or exhibitions
◦ and also how important it must have been to Addison that I be there
– I took a deep breath and loosened my grip–physically and mentally
• I felt a certainty that all would be well
• and that the outcome did not depend on me,
◦ as God has been faithful to show up for me over so many years
So I went, and Addison and her sister Adrianna were the stars of the show

When I first began practice of contemplative prayer,
– God lifted a depression that had lasted for decades
• most of my old anxieties disappeared
• but what I did not anticipate was all the new anxieties!
◦ or that my nervous system is incapable of achieving trust as a steady state
◦ I assumed my mind would have the flexibility to deal with every new anxiety
• yesterday, this psalm walked me back into trust
(notice how many times the poet mentions it in the poem–three times in just two verses; 2 & 3)
◦ trust changes everything – not because it’s an effective psychological tool
◦ but because there really is Someone present who is trustworthy
In you our fathers trusted;
they trusted and you delivered them

After meditating on trust in vv. 3-5 and 9-10, and during my contemplative prayer,
– I realized that God gives us “trust moments”
• when all we have to do is rest in him and enjoy the experience of trust
• an infant at its mother’s breasts is just such a trust moment
◦ this particular example evokes a feeling (comfort, security, nurture)

But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child is my soul within me
(Ps. 131:2)

– in those trust moments we:
• learn the feeling of trust
• are receptive to grace and what it brings into our lives
(this is what we mean when we pray, Give us this day our daily bread)
• bond with the One in whose arms we rest
– a trust moment may be sitting on porch during a break from our chores
• or when you allow another person’s words or arms to hold you,
reassure and comfort you
• it can happen in the time you spend in contemplative prayer,
◦ allowing God to breathe his love into you

Trust moments clear our heads,
calm our emotions,
renew our strength
Trust moments recollect pieces of our minds
when they have been scattered by headlines and deadlines
Trust moments integrate mind and body
in a concentrated focus on our Lord Jesus Christ

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