Psalm 1: Prepare to Pray

psalm-1“Thanksgiving for the past, rededication for the present, and expectation for the future were the all-embracing components of Israel’s worship as voiced in the Psalms ~ a worship rooted in the healing, compelling, and hopeful revelation of God in their history.”[1]

“The Psalms train us to pray with others who have prayed and are praying: put our knees on the level with other bent knees; lift our hands in concert with other lifted hands; join our voices in lament and praise with other voices who weep and laugh. The primary use of prayer is not for expressing ourselves, but in becoming ourselves, and we cannot do that alone.”[2]

How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, Nor sit in the seat of scoffers!  But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night.  He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers.  The wicked are not so, but they are like chaff which the wind drives away.  Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.  For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.  Psalm 1 NASB

Sometimes prayer is a struggle; life leaves us gasping for air, not able to call for help above a whisper, hurt so deep we can’t find the words… open the Psalms.  It is a beloved prayer book and a magnificent hymn book.  It is the honest reflection of hearts poured out to God.  In good times and bad He is praised for His faithfulness.  The name of the Lord is called upon to save from enemies and deliver from bondage.  At times, He is questioned on why deliverance tarries, yet deliverance is always found; His goodness always declared ~ even in the face of devastation, and anguish.  Whether life is throwing punches or blowing kisses, the psalmists call on the name of the Lord ~ He is Yahweh Shammah ~ The Lord is there.  He is always faithful.

The first Psalm prepares us to pray, reminding the seeker of the favor and blessing promised to those that love God and love His law ~ meditating on His law day and night.  Oh, the peace, the comfort, the joy, that abides in one that meditates on the Word of God.  What a gift to have the Word of God so deeply engrained into our very beings… how full we will become ~ overflowing.  I  want the Word of God to be the very marrow of my bones.  When I know the Word of God this deep ~ I know Him this deep.  I pray for a love for Your Word ~ Not just scholarly study ~ Lord I want a love for Your Word.  May my heart burn within me as You open up the Scriptures to me (Luke 24:32).

“I want the Scriptures to become my thought, my life, my teaching.” Augustine

“Lord I want everything I say, and write, to be saturated with Scripture.” Augustine 
“The Psalms are the liturgy for those whose concern and delight is the torah of the Lord.” [3]

Love of God’s Word causes us to be steady as trees—

He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers.


Trees of righteousness… the Bible refers to believers as trees quite frequently.  It sounds very poetic and romantic; however, the imagery sings of something much deeper.

What does it look like to be a tree that plants itself by streams of water?  Many believe it means that we are prosperous and that we have reached a place of Sabbath, a resting.  I agree, however, that may not be the full picture.  Sometimes, we are not in a lush, green paradise, but in a dry, brutal drought or fierce and raging storm.

Palm trees are known for their endurance in the heat and the storm.  Their trunks are flexible enough to bend almost all the way over as though they will break, but are able to withstand very strong winds.  Palms are also able to dig deep below the surface to find water for nourishment.  Their roots go very deep.

When Psalms was collaborated into the book it is now, a prayer book, the Israelites were in exile in Babylon.  Babylon was not like home, Israel was beautiful, lush and green.  Babylon had only a single river flowing through it, and many irrigation canals draining from its source.  Trees were planted, and transplanted, near these irrigation canals.  The Israelites while in Babylon were trees that had been transplanted, and they needed to plant themselves nears rivers of water.

“Transplanted to the banks of these irrigation ditches the Israelites ~ refugees under a merciless sun ~ thought they were in the worst possible place for prayer.  Solomon’s splendid temple was a pile of ruins back in Jerusalem.  They didn’t think they could pray.  One of them composed a song, a kind of ‘Babylonian blues’ that soon everyone was singing: ‘How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?’ (Psalm 137).” They didn’t think they could.  But they did.  How did they do it?  By letting God’s word enter their lives again, there in exile, and letting His address pull answers out of them.  They immersed themselves in torah-meditation: before they knew it they were praying.  They were trees.  Transplanted to Babylon they put down roots, put out leaves, and produced fruit.”[4]

Life brings some harsh storms.  Many times, we feel as though we are a fish out of water in the place we are.  We suffer ruthless, damaging storms.  We are thrown about, beaten, and bruised by the wind and debris of the storm.  Prayer is hard, staying in the Word is hard.  However, we must, as trees, dig down deep with our roots to search for water in order to survive the brutal storms or scorching heat.  The storms can be so fierce that we don’t feel the strength to dig deep for water. But we do ~ and that is what forms us into trees, planted by rivers of water.  Whether in drought or storm, we allow God’s Word to pierce our hearts and abide with Him in prayer.

Jeremiah employs the same imagery in the book that bears his name:

They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water.  Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought.  Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit.  Jeremiah 17:8 NLT

To be a tree means to withstand the storms, knowing how to plant yourself near streams of water so that heat and drought don’t shake you.  Though you may become thirsty, you know how, through God’s Word and prayer to stay planted by the stream.

“We get ourselves ready to pray by looking at a tree, a transplanted tree, and seeing ourselves in it.”[5]

Maybe we don’t belong in the land we inhabit now; maybe we are in a season of exile.  We are strong trees, able to withstand the storm.  Your exile is almost over.

I go among trees and sit still.  All my stirring becomes quiet around me like circles of water… I hear my song at last, and I sing it.  As we sing, the day turns, the trees move. Wendell Berry

A tree knows how to use its root system to excavate deep for water.  We often imagine trees of righteousness planted in a lush garden, a paradise, where all is peaceful.  In real life, we are in storms ~ raging, tumultuous storms; a place far from the lush green paradise we pine for.  Strong trees know where to find water even though the surface environment is a desert  ~parched and dry ~ taunting the tree with drought.

A Tree of righteous will always find water and be able to yield fruit.  This is possible when we know God and His Word.  When life is hard ~ which is inevitable ~ we dig down deep into the Word of God to draw strength for every trial.  The first Psalm reminds of this and prepares us for prayer.

We do not grow weary in doing good, because the wicked will blow away as chaff.  I love this imagery; in Biblical antiquity when a farmer harvests the wheat, he tosses the wheat into the wind.  The chaff has no weight ~ no substance and is blown away with the wind.  The wheat falls to the threshing floor.  Both the wheat and the chaff are subject to the harvest ~ one yields food for the hungry (the righteous), the other (the wicked) are blown away with the wind.  God’s promise to those that endure, the righteous, is that however wicked this world becomes, it will not prevail.

“Lord of the Harvest, I pray that a hunger and thirst for You, for Your Word, be stirred in the hearts of Your people, that we may know You deeper in a new and fresh way.  Lord, I pray that our root system would be entrenched in Your Word, that we know where to dig for a drink of water in a dry and thirsty land.  I pray Your Word be the root system in which we dig deep for Your Living Water.

“Lord, as we pray through the Psalms ~ prepare our hearts for prayer; draw us deeper into intimacy with You ~ that we may know You in a deeper way.  Lord, I want to feel you through my entire being, that as I pray, Your Word becomes the marrow in my bones; the blood in my veins; the breath in my spirit.  Flow through us and saturate us with Your Holy Spirit.
In humble seeking I pray…”


[1] Lasor, William, David Hubbard, and Frederick Bush, Old Testament Survey, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 443.
[2] Eugene Peterson, Answering God: The Psalms as Tools For Prayer, (New York: HarperCollins, 1989), 19.
[3]Ibid,, 25.
[4] Ibid., 26-27
[5] Ibid., 27.

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