Cathedral Blog

Search all blog posts

The Lord our Light: Praying Together with the Psalms 20

Written by Emma Percy, posted on Saturday, April 18, 2020

In these extraordinary times, as our nation and our world face the unprecedented challenge of the Coronavirus epidemic, our first task is naturally to support and enable the efforts of frontline staff tackling the disease and supporting those who have fallen ill. As we engage in every way we can with their work, we as Christians turn for guidance to God, in whom we have our origin and our end.

Here at Christ Church the book of Psalms – the prayer book of the Bible, as it is sometimes called – sustains our daily worship, now as always. Public worship is no longer an option, but the cathedral clergy here are maintaining the daily round of prayer and warmly encourage you to share in the spiritual communion that prayer makes possible across all boundaries of time and space.

At the core of this work of prayer the psalms voice the cry of our hearts to God. With this in mind the ministry team here is sharing one psalm each day with an accompanying reflection. Recalling the University of Oxford’s motto, Dominus illuminatio mea – ‘The Lord is my light’ – we pray that, together, we may know God’s strength, encouragement and blessing in this time of need.

‘The Lord is my light, and my salvation; whom then shall I fear: the Lord is the strength of my life; of whom then shall I be afraid?’ (Psalm 27:1)

Edmund Newey, Sub Dean

Man lying down reaching out in painPsalm 143

HEAR my prayer, O Lord, and consider my desire: hearken unto me for thy truth and righteousness' sake.

And enter not into judgement with thy servant: for in thy sight shall no man living be justified.

For the enemy hath persecuted my soul; he hath smitten my life down to the ground: he hath laid me in the darkness, as the men that have been long dead.

Therefore is my spirit vexed within me: and my heart within me is desolate.

Yet do I remember the time past; I muse upon all thy works: yea, I exercise myself in the works of thy hands.

I stretch forth my hands unto thee: my soul gaspeth unto thee as a thirsty land.

Hear me, O Lord, and that soon, for my spirit waxeth faint: hide not thy face from me, lest I be like unto them that go down into the pit.

O let me hear thy loving-kindness betimes in the morning, for in thee is my trust: shew thou me the way that I should walk in, for I lift up my soul unto thee.

Deliver me, O Lord, from mine enemies: for I flee unto thee to hide me.

Teach me to do the thing that pleaseth thee, for thou art my God: let thy loving Spirit lead me forth into the land of righteousness.

Quicken me, O Lord, for thy Name's sake: and for thy righteousness' sake bring my soul out of trouble.

And of thy goodness slay mine enemies: and destroy all them that vex my soul ; for I am thy servant.

(Book of Common Prayer: Day 29 Evening Prayer)

This is a psalm written out of an experience of deep trouble. The writer’s soul is persecuted, his life smitten down to the ground and he is in a place of desolation. When we find ourselves in such a place, when the behaviour of others or circumstances beyond our control plunge us into the depths, it can be good to read psalms like this one and recognise the authenticity of these emotions. There are times when, despite our best efforts, life is harsh and wretched.

Yet, this psalmist does not despair. He reaches out to God, like a thirsty soul gasping for water, and asserts faith and trust in God’s capacity to help. From the depth of despair, he fixes his mind and heart onto the love of God, allowing that faith to pull him out of the pit towards the land of righteousness. He is not there yet, but he has hope.

Alongside the psalmist’s hope for himself is a desire for the slaying of his enemies. As Christians we often find this aspect of the psalms difficult. We are wary of aggressive vengeful language. Yet, a desire for wickedness to be overcome, for those who do wrong to cease from such behaviour, is a legitimate desire. We may not want those who have wronged us to be destroyed by God, but we do want them to be stopped. When we look at the world around us we do need to pray that those who prosper through harming others will not flourish.

As with many psalms we find genuine human emotions, deep faith and a desire that God will right the wrongs; that the kingdom will come on earth as it is in heaven.

Emma Percy