Ok, first, if you thought about Jimmy Buffett when you read the title, so did I. I’ve always loved the song, “A Pirate Looks At Forty.” It’s something we do as we grow up, look at the life that formed us and and reflect on what we’ve become. This is a song that captures a snapshot of what that process is like. For a pirate.
When I started this blog, it was really to explore the Scriptures from the perspectives of the five fold gifts: Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Shepherds and Teachers (here’s an example). Have you ever noticed that some people read the same passage and come up with totally different ideas about what it means? After you factor out the crazy, I’m convinced that each different APEST walks away from a passage with a different take.
Psalm 40 is a song of reflection.
When an Apostle reads Psalm 40, what themes might jump out at them? First of all, I don’t think this is an Apostle’s favorite Psalm. “I waited patiently for the Lord,” that’s not likely in an Apostle’s skill set. Maybe, “The Lord waited patiently for me.” Haha. C’mon, I’m just…serious. In the times where this personality is vulnerable, however, Psalm 40 is more than just a great U2 song.
The Evangelist might see this Psalm as an invitation to share with people who express the unanswered emotions of fear, despair, hopelessness, isolation, anxiety. They might see this Psalm as lyrics to life renewal for people who are in desperate need. They might see this as almost a script for trusting in Christ for a new life.
The Prophet. How might the Prophet see this as a song of reflection? Because the prophet has lived it.
Psalm 40 is a look at a life where God has been experienced in nearly every dynamic of human existence.
The rock n’ roll prophet Tom Petty said it best when he said, “The waiting is the hardest part. Everyday you see one more card. You take it on faith, you take it to heart. The waiting is the hardest part.”
The Prophet starts reading this Psalm with a Hallelujah chorus of a holy, “I know, right???” Prophets wait. It’s part of the job description, like, “Must listen for God, must have little previous experience, must not speak until the Lord gives you something to say, must love dogs, must wait. You don’t have to like it, you just have to do it.”Jesus doesn't need you to love waiting, he just needs you to love him enough to do it. Click To Tweet
And while the Prophet waits, they feel.
The beginning of the Psalm:
I waited patiently for the Lord to help me,
and he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the pit of despair,
out of the mud and the mire.
He set my feet on solid ground
and steadied me as I walked along.
The Prophet waits patiently for the Lord to help, so they are obviously in a situation that requires God’s rescue. How long do they sit in the state of waiting? As long as it takes. How deep are the emotions of fear and anxiety? Pretty low, apparently: into the pit of despair, into the quicksand of spiritual struggle.
Through the eyes of the Prophet, Psalm 40 is a mirror into the soul: the experience of our lives, the full expression of our emotions.
Don’t forget, like Jimmy Buffett, this is a reflection song; a prophet looking back on their life remembering the situational pain and the rescue of God. Prophets plumb the depths of suffering and climb the heights of joy. This is a song about that and how God is present in both.
You know, one of the things that helps me land in this Psalm is that even when God sets my feet on solid ground, even when he steadies me as I walk along, I don’t necessarily have to feel better. He just sets me in a place where I can work on the emotions. And I don’t have to work on the emotions without Him. His presence provides.
The song I was singing about hurt and sorrow…I can keep singing that one. I can sing the new song he provides, a song that praises Him; a song that tell His story; a story that inspires others to trust in Him. Or I can sing them both, a medley, or a mashup
He has given me a new song to sing,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see what he has done and be amazed.
They will put their trust in the Lord.
As long as I sing my story, like the Psalmist, my past can sing hope into someone else’s present.Psalm 40 begins with the kind of personal reflection that enables my past to sing a song of hope into the noisy soundscape of someone else's present. Click To Tweet
The Psalmist is looking back, remember a time where darkness eclipsed him, and into that darkness the glory of God shined. The Prophet looks at 40. Can you feel me?
Read Psalm 40 and think of it as a personal reflection of life long lived; the Prophet looking back twenty years later describing a season of life that encompassed every emotion, every sensation, every cry for rescue. How does this shift change the way you read it?
We could walk through this Psalm one line at a time, breaking it down, but who wants another 4K word blog post? Instead I’ll wrap it up with something that is A) freeing, B) important and C) consistent with prophetic witness: the psalmist is saying, “What I’ve learned is that if you want to get to the Lord, religion leads you in the wrong direction.”
You take no delight in sacrifices or offerings.
Now that you have made me listen, I finally understand—
you don’t require burnt offerings or sin offerings.
Over the course of a life long lived, the Prophet reflects and realizes that false starts and stops in the realm of religion (the duty and forced ritual, the crap we are afraid not to do to keep God happy with us) are totally unnecessary. They understand that “doing faith” won’t get you close to “loving God”; more importantly, “doing religion” won’t help you be “loved by God.”What I've learned is that if you want to get to the Lord, religion leads you in the wrong direction. Click To Tweet
Have you ever thought about this line, “You take no delight in sacrifices or offerings”?
People were already killing things. They killed things for gods that didn’t exist to make them do things that they couldn’t do in the first place. God didn’t require them, He just re-purposed the mis-spent worship that was already happening. It’s strange, but it worked for a time. And the prophets rightly diagnosed it, sacrifices aren’t the way to the heart of God. Doing religious things isn’t the way to full With-God life.
What is? Prayer, the song of the With-God Life.
Listen to the prayer song of Psalm 40:
So Lord, don’t hold back your love or withhold
your tender mercies from me.
Keep me in your truth and let your compassion overflow to me
no matter what I face.
Evil surrounds me; problems greater than I can solve
come one after another.
Without you, I know I can’t make it.
My sins are so many!
I’m so ashamed to lift my face to you.
For my guilt grabs me and stings my soul
until I am weakened and spent.
Please, Lord! Come quickly and rescue me!
Take pleasure in showing me your favor and restore me.
Passion Version, v. 11-13
When the Prophet looks at 40, they remind us that feelings go with being alive; sorrow happens; God rescues; doing religion moves us far from the heart of God; relationship moves us deeper into his heart; prayer is the language of relationship; the Lord is on the Way, presently, now. Making all things new. Again.
In the comments, share your reflection on the Psalm. What other ways do prophetic personalities read it? If you really want to mix it up, check out the four prophetic types and filter those through this post. Can’t wait to hear what you have to say about that!