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(Click or hover over the above Scripture reference link to read the passage.)
Psalm 20:1-5 read like a benediction. Picture your pastor at the end of your Sunday church service with his arms up and palms of his hands facing you, saying the beautiful benediction from Numbers 6:24-26:
May the LORD bless you and keep you; may the LORD make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; may the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace.
The word “May” is not in the Scripture text, but your pastor adds it as a way of praying these Scriptures over you. “May this be true for you, this is my prayer for you.” It is good to pray this way and to put our faith and hope in such prosperous language. That type of prayer is what’s happening in verses 1-5 of Psalm 20. The psalmist is essentially saying, “May the Lord answer all of your prayers and give you everything you desire.” This benediction is made out of love for the recipient of it, as well as out of hope and belief in God’s bounty. But while a benediction brings us hope, its intention is not to be dogma. It isn’t meaning to say, “And this is how it will always happen, 100% of the time. Slam dunk.” You see this in verse 9, which has the same strength of verses 1-5, but not the same certainty of how God will respond.
LORD, give victory to the king! Answer us when we call!
This is the actual “asking” part of Psalm 20. It is the supplication. The psalm develops like this:
Verses 1-5 May God answer all of your prayers!
Verses 6-8 I know God will answer us and give us victory! We can trust in him!
Verse 9 God, please bring us victory. Please answer us.
It’s like verses 1-8 set the faith stage for the request in verse 9.
I’m not going to lie, the Psalms continue to puzzle me and bend me theology in different directions. A psalm like this can feel a slam dunk that God is always going to answer all of your prayers and always bring you victory. But as we read through the entire book of Psalms, we know that wasn’t always the case for the very psalmists writing these prayers. We know that many of the Psalms are filled with prayers crying out to God in the midst of suffering and asking God why he is so silent. (See devotionals on Psalm 4 and on Psalm 13 for just two of a multitude of examples.)
What is sticking with me as I take this slow, meditative, devotional crawl through the Psalms is a faith paradox. That paradox is that we can and ought to cry out to God with the bold confidence we see in Psalm 20. But even in this bold confidence, we see in verse 9 that there are no slam dunk prayers for victory. There will be times when we lose. There will be times when awful things happen. Things that God could have prevented.
The other side of this paradox is that God is still our rock, refuge, and shelter during these times. We still trust in the name of the Lord our God, rather than trusting in chariots and horses, even in these times. Even when the horses and chariots are trampling over top of our broken and bleeding bodies.
God is still with us in those moments. The psalms invite us to cry out to him in those moments and to be reminded of his steadfast love and power.
The psalms are okay with paradox. I am okay with paradox, I have to be. Sometimes paradox is the only thing that makes sense in the fallen, broken world we live in. A world filled with so much pain and suffering. Yet is filled with so much love and beauty.
We live in a Kingdom that is already here, but is not yet fully here.
May the Lord answer you when you are in distress; may the name of the God of Jacob protect you.
Prayer for the day: God thank you for your strength. Thank you for your power. Thank you for your might. Thank you for your love and beauty. Thank you for hearing my prayer. Thank you for caring. Who am I that you would be mindful of me? God bring me victory. God trample over my enemies and oppressors. God protect me. God preserve me. God hold me fast. Help me to quiet my heart so I can hear your voice. Speak to me in the stillness. Speak your love and strength to me.
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