We just prayed Psalm 27 the other day in the Daily Office and we’re going to hear it again at the Sunday Communion in another couple days, according to the lectionary in the 2019 Prayer Book. So let’s take a quick look at this Psalm.
There are many different ways you can go about analyzing this Psalm and breaking it down into sections. One reasonable method is to break it in half, noting that the first 8 verses speak about God, and the remaining 9 speak to God. (This is using the Prayer Book’s versification, by the way.) The first half is like the warm-up, preparing the way for the direct prayers of the second.
Another way of looking at this Psalm is to identify three cycles that each culminate with an expression of the longing for God.
- “Whom shall I fear?” we ask, and find sanctuary in God.
Dwell with God and see his face (verses 4 & 5).
This is an expression of trust.
- “Praise God who exalts me!” we proclaim, then prompt him to answer in return.
Seek his face and be permitted to find him (verses 10 & 11).
This is a picture of pro-active trust.
- False accusations come before us, and so we wait upon the Lord.
See God’s goodness and be comforted (verses 16 & 17).
These accusers are a picture of the opposite of trust.
Although there is a lot of material in this Psalm that puts it in the “Trust” and “Lament” categories, it gives ample opportunity for pure adoration. If you’re of a pentecostal bent, this business about desiring “the fair beauty of the Lord” may be more natural to you; but if you tend to “hide” yourself in the liturgy, this sort of emotionalism may be tougher to swallow. That is why the Psalter – and thus all good liturgy – is so important for a healthily balanced spirituality! The corporate and individual expressions of piety are showcased together here so vividly. This is a courage-filled prayer for help, and we must realize that at the ground of such courage we must find (or nurture) a deep and hearty and personal love for God.
Different personalities, and different traditions, often tend to gravitate toward one sort of spirituality and prayer style over others. At its best, liturgy keeps us far better balanced than we ever would be, left to our own devices. You may be the sort who “longs for God” in a personally-emotive kind of way – you yearn to be united with the lover of your soul. In that case, Psalm 27 will have moments of brightness and beauty that you will quickly cherish. But you may be the sort who “longs for God” in more abstract ways, like wanting see his justice prevail in a particular area in our culture, or desiring his truth to be made more fully known in your understanding of the Bible, or in the minds of nonbelievers that they may be saved. In that case, Psalm 27 may strike you as awkwardly personal, maybe even exaggerated. If that’s you, this is one of those psalms that will help you grow.
So pay special attention to this on Sunday morning, when it comes up, and see what more you can get out of it than you got the other day! Or, if you’re in a parish that uses the traditional calendar, take the time to look up Psalm 27 on your own again. The desire of all creation is to belong, and this should be all the more true for us as Christians, desiring to be with and behold our Lord God.