CHRISTMAS PRAYER: December 29 by Martin Shannon

Praying With the Psalms Through Advent, Christmas, & Epiphany

December 29 by Martin Shannon

From My Soul Waits

Psalm 19

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in thy sight. (v. 14)


How are you to know and bring your life into harmony with the ways of God?  In some of the most poetically descriptive language of the psalmody, Psalm 19 unfolds a three-part answer to this question.  The varying structures and vocabularies of the psalm reveal distinct styles that have been merged to create a single voice of prayer, an eloquent triptych that moves the reader from a general acknowledgment of God’s ways to a personal commitment to live by them.

In part one, verses 1–6, the psalmist describes the splendor of the heavens as a vehicle for displaying the glory of God.  Interestingly, in these verses, the psalmist speaks of God only once, using the generic name, El.  The emphasis is on the created order – its silence more articulate than any sound.  The joyful rhythm of the rising and setting sun represents the knowledge of God’s presence and oversight through all creation, including the lives of men and women.  God reveals his ways in the marvels of his handiwork, and nothing escapes his notice.  Psalm 19 portrays creation as a divine masterpiece that reveals the character of its maker.  If you want to learn the ways of God, the heavens are a good place to start.

Part two, verses 7–10, leads the reader into a more personal encounter with God.  The name of God, repeated six times, is now Yahweh, the name by which he revealed himself to the Jewish people, not only as creator but as deliverer.  More precisely, Yahweh established a covenant with this nation, a relationship of love and commitment that is rooted in the Lord’s revealed word.  In a flowing cadence of phrases, the psalmist speaks of God’s law, testimony, precepts, commandments, and ordinances, all different terms for the Torah, God’s own word revealed to God’s own people.  This word, says the psalmist, is perfect, sure, right, pure, clean and true.  No wonder it is desirable, for God’s ways are found in its sounds.

In part three, verses 11–14, the psalm turns intensely personal.  Under the scrutiny of the sun’s daily heat and in the light of God’s ever-present word, who can stand by as an innocent observer, untouched – unburned even – by their convicting light?  When God’s light shines on me, the distance between his ways and my ways comes into sharp focus, says the psalmist.  I must ask for help to close the gap.  With this prayer on his lips, the psalmist ends his song by addressing God as “redeemer,” go’el, a technical term for a next of kin who is responsible to buy back his relative from slavery, (Leviticus 25:48-49), and to avenge the murder of a kinsman, (Numbers 35:16-28).  By the end of the psalm, God is addressed neither as a distant creator, nor even as the Lord of a nation, but as a member of the family.

By taking us on a journey from the infinite expanse of the heavens to the deepest recesses of the human heart, the psalmist draws an artistic map for following God, and for bringing our lives into harmony with God’s ways.  It is no wonder that C. S. Lewis considered Psalm 19 to be “the greatest poem in the Psalter and one of the greatest lyrics in the world.”


From The Fathers

If you observe a most mighty and magnificent building, you admire the builder; and if you see a skillfully and beautifully designed ship, you think of the shipwright; and at the sight of a painting the painter comes to mind.  Much more, to be sure, does the sight of creation lead the viewers to the Creator. (Theodoret of Cyr)

Lord, it seems that getting to know you can be a dangerous business.
Still, I’m not sure there is anything I want more.
What I say…what I do…who I am, redeem them all.
Buy them all back, for yourself.

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