Psalms of Gut Wrenching Honesty
Eugene Peterson’s heart for people stirred him to paraphrase the Psalms into a contemporary language. He writes, “As a pastor I was charged with, among other things, teaching people to pray, helping them to give voice to the entire experience of being human, and to do it both honestly and thoroughly. I found that is was not as easy as I expected. Getting started is easy enough. The impulse to pray is deep within us, at the very center of our created being, and so practically anything will do to get us started–“Help” and “Thanks!” are our basic prayers. But honesty and thoroughness don’t come quite as spontaneously.”
“Faced with the prospect of conversation with a holy God who speaks worlds into being, it is not surprising that we have trouble. We feel awkward and out of place: ‘I’m not good enough for this. I’ll wait until I clean up my act and prove that I am a decent person.’ Or we excuse ourselves on the grounds that our vocabulary is inadequate: ‘Give me a few months–or years!–to practice prayers that are polished enough for such a sacred meeting. Then I won’t feel so stuttery and ill at ease.'”
“My usual response when presented with these difficulties is to put the Psalms in a person’s hand and say, ‘Go home and pray these. You’ve got wrong ideas about prayer; the praying you find in these Psalms will dispel the wrong ideas and introduce you to the real thing.’ A common response of those who do what I ask is surprise–they don’t expect this kind of thing in the Bible. And then I express surprise at their surprise: ‘Did you think these would be the prayers of NICE people? Did you think the psalmists’ language would be polished and polite?'”
“Untutored, we tend to think that prayer is what good people do when they are doing their best. It is not. Inexperienced, we suppose that there must be an ‘insider’ language that must be acquired before God takes us seriously in our prayer. There is not. Prayer is elemental, not advanced language. It is the means by which our language becomes honest, true, and personal in response to God. It is the means by which we get everything in our lives out in the open before God.”
“But even with the Psalms in their hands and my pastoral encouragement, people often tell me that they still don’t get it. In English translation, the Psalms often sound smooth and polished, sonorous with Elizabethan rhythms and diction. As literature, they are beyond compare. But as PRAYER, as the utterances of men and women passionate for God in moments of anger and praise and lament, these translations miss something. Grammatically, they are accurate. The scholarship under-girding the translations is superb and devout. But as prayers, that are not quite right. The Psalms in Hebrew are earthy and rough. They are not genteel. They are not the prayers of nice people, couched in cultural language.”
“And so in my pastoral work of teaching people to pray, I started paraphrasing the Psalms into the rhythms and idiom of contemporary English. I wanted to provide men and women access to the immense range and the terrific energies of prayer in the kind of language that is most immediate to them, which also happens to be the language in which these psalm prayers were first expressed and written by David and his successors.”
“I continue to want to do that, convinced that only as we develop raw honesty and detailed thoroughness in our praying do we become whole, truly human in Jesus Christs, who also prayed the Psalms.”
I’ve met Eugene Peterson and heard him speak. This work comes from the heart of a caring pastor. The Psalms is where The Message paraphrasing began…with teaching his congregation to pray honestly. God’s work, through Peterson, a humble man of God, with first the Psalms grew rapidly and exponentially to people seeking God all over the world. Peterson then tenaciously worked through the entire Bible, first with the New Testament and then, book by book paraphrasing the Old Testament into the language of the day. This is why I use The Message in my own devotions and writing of Daily Manna with Your Mug so extensively over the past year. I want to understand more. I want others to know God more, too. I want us to learn to communicate honestly with God.
NOTE: “As we go through, Psalm by Psalm, we will discover that Peterson uses the term Yahweh for God. Here is why: “Unlike most (but not all) English translations, this version uses the distinctively personal name for God that was revealed to Moses at the burning bush as ‘Yahweh’ (Exodus 3:13-14). Christian translators have commonly followed the later Jewish practice of substituting ‘LORD” or “Jehovah” for the unique name. The reasons for the Jewish practice is reverence (our lips are not worthy to speak The Name) and caution (lest we inadvertently say God’s name ‘in vain’ and blaspheme). In the Christian context in which ‘the Word became flesh and dwelt among us,’ this no longer seems to me appropriate, and so I have returned to using the original Hebrew, ‘Yahweh'”. –Eugene Peterson
And we’re off!
Psalms 1, The Message
1 How well God must like you—
you don’t hang out at Sin Saloon,
you don’t slink along Dead-End Road,
you don’t go to Smart-Mouth College.
2-3 Instead you thrill to God’s Word,
you chew on Scripture day and night.
You’re a tree replanted in Eden,
bearing fresh fruit every month,
Never dropping a leaf,
always in blossom.
4-5 You’re not at all like the wicked,
who are mere windblown dust—
Without defense in court,
unfit company for innocent people.
6 God charts the road you take.
The road they take is Skid Row.
Something to chew on….
We read about two ways–the way of blessing and the way of judgment–which was the choice Israel had to make (Deut. 30:15, 19). Jesus used a similar image (Matt. 7:13-14). Bible history seems to be built around the concept of “two men”: the “first Adam” and the “last Adam” (Rom. 5; 1 Cor. 15:45)–Cain and Abel, Ishmael and Isaac, Esau and Jacob, David and Saul–and Bible history culminates in Christ and Antichrist. Two men, two ways, two destinies.
Psalm 1 is a wisdom psalm and focuses on God’s Word, God’s blessing on those who obey it and meditate on it, and God’s ultimate judgment on those who rebel.
Where is my focus right now?
Where am I planted?
What do I think about most often?
What is my heart cry…honestly?
Two ways…which road am I on?
Prayer of honesty….
Dear Heavenly Father,
May our hearts be filled with gratitude, gut wrenching honesty, repentance and praise with a heart to listen. It is all about You first, Lord. We must make and choice and stick with You. We come in raw, sincere honesty before You, along with the men who first prayed these prayers. Bring our focus keenly sharpened on You! Yahweh, This is the cry of our hearts!
In Jesus Name, Amen