Have you ever imagined yourself as a castaway on the popular radio programme Desert Island Discs? Along with the favourite records, book and luxury item, the guests are given a Bible as a matter of course. Now, suppose that instead of the entire Bible, you could only choose one book. Which would you go for? One of the Gospels? A favourite Letter, perhaps? Top of my list would be the Book of Psalms, the song book of the Bible: 150 rich pickings, a cornucopia of prayer, praise and worship to God. I love the Psalms and they were the inspiration for my new book Deep Calls to Deep, the title of which is taken from verse 7 of Psalm 42, one of the Psalms chosen for the collection. Through these reflections, I hope to encourage and help the reader to draw nearer to God and go deeper with him.
God has much to say to us through the Psalms and their timeless poetry gives us a language to express ourselves to God in return. We can make the words of the Psalms our own, engaging in prayer intellectually and emotionally, as we admit to God our true feelings. It's been said that the Desert Fathers regarded tears as the purest form of prayer. We offer our whole self: heart and mind, soul and spirit, as we show our longing for a closer walk with God, who desires for us to go ever deeper with him. Our prayers should be vibrant and lead us into the very heart of God.
Modern-day life may bear no resemblance to the experiences of the Psalmists, but basic human nature and emotions don't change. We can easily identify with the range of feelings expressed, as the Psalmists poured out their hearts to God in sincere, earnest prayer, holding nothing back. King David's love for his Lord and his enduring personal relationship with God shine through. He wasn't afraid to show his emotions, from the anguish and agony of spirit in Psalm 22: 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?' to the spontaneous exuberance of Psalm 103: 'Bless the Lord, all my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name.' In this collection of Psalms, many of which were penned by David, I've chosen an extract from each Psalm as a springboard for my thoughts and ideas, which are presented as a short reflection and then rounded off with a prayer or poem, a verse or two from Scripture, or part of a well-loved hymn. It's a book to dip into when you have a few minutes. You'll find a variety of themes, including upbeat praise and worship, crying out to God for help in times of trouble, admitting doubts and fears, expressing an intense longing for God, and confessing sins.
In our fraught, pressured world the call to be still before God and rest in his glorious presence is more imperative than ever, as illustrated below, in an excerpt from my book:
Be still, and know that I am God!
I am exalted among the nations,
I am exalted in the earth.
You know how it is: you're worn out, run ragged, pulled in all directions and everyone wants a piece of you. Juggling frantically to keep all the plates up in the air at the same time, you somehow keep going beyond the point of exhaustion, even though it'll all catch up with you sometime soon and you'll collapse in a heap. It's madness but you keep going.
You haven't intentionally stopped reading your Bible regularly and surely God knows how busy you are at the moment? After all, you've been working hard for God all this time, so praying on the move is ok, isn't it? Except it's hard to concentrate for more than a couple of minutes and the distractions come thick and fast. Before you know it, and however unintentionally, God has been side-lined and his voice drowned out by the clamour of daily life. There's been no time to spend quietly with God in his presence, seeking his will.
Finally, God has to shout to be heard, and it's not the gentle whisper that Elijah experienced, but loud thunder that booms over the busyness. Unmistakeably, it's God who is speaking and he won't be ignored: 'That's enough! Stop what you're doing, right now and listen to me!' It's time to refocus, put things in perspective and ask yourself what's really important in your life. Where does it get you, all this chasing your own tail? Could it be that your energy is being expended needlessly? If only you'd asked for God's help and guidance much earlier, instead of trying to go it alone.
There's no need to start feeling too guilty, though. God understands how and why this has happened to you. Instead of chastising you, he's offering a solution, a lifeline, reminding you that he is with you (Psalm 46:11) and giving you the opportunity to find a resting-place in him, amidst the apparent mayhem of life. Take it right now, don't delay! Don't be like the people the prophet Isaiah wrote about, who ignored God's message to them:
In repentance and rest is your salvation,
in quietness and trust is your strength,
but you would have none of it.
Isaiah 30:15 (NIV)
I heard the voice of Jesus say,
'Come unto me and rest;
lay down, thou weary one lay down,
thy head upon my breast.'
I came to Jesus as I was,
so weary, worn and sad;
I found in him a resting-place,
and he has made me glad.
Written by: Linda Ottewell
Deep Call To Deep is available now: Only £6:99
Margaret Rizza writes:
These beautiful reflections on the Psalms draw us right into the heart of Scripture, giving helpful insights into our ordinary, everyday lives. Deep Calls to Deep is a book which will inspire and awaken us to new horizons and this will reflect the way we go about dealing with the very ordinary things which we encounter every day of our lives. The thoughts and reflections after the extracts of the chosen Psalms are very helpful and constructive, allowing us to see anew some of the very difficult things arising from a culture which poses many things which need much reflection.
This is a book of great depth and will be a great blessing and resource to many people seeking a closer relationship with our Creator God.
'Spiritual espresso - a shot of strong, stimulating spiritual reflection to start the day!' Don Egan, Director of RSVP Trust