Monday, 13 February 2017

The King and his People

I contributed today’s ‘Word for the Week’, a weekly email service provided by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity.

May the LORD answer you when you are in distress;
may the name of the God of Jacob protect you...
Now this I know:
the LORD gives victory to his anointed.
He answers him from his heavenly sanctuary
with the victorious power of his right hand.
Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.
They are brought to their knees and fall,
but we rise up and stand firm.
LORD, give victory to the king!
Answer us when we call!
Psalm 20:1, 6-9

Any tendency to think the psalms are all about us vanishes quickly with this one's opening line: ‘May the Lord answer you when you are in distress; may the name of the God of Jacob protect you.’ This is a prayer for someone else. Who, exactly? The second half of the psalm tell us, if we didn’t already know: it’s the Lord’s ‘anointed... the king’.

The scenario is this: the king is going into battle against an enemy, and the people ask for God’s protection over him. They ground their appeal not only in God’s faithfulness to Zion, but in his promises of blessing going right back to Jacob himself. And they declare that they will rejoice and worship when triumph comes. God’s people are praying for the king because they know their destiny is wrapped up in his destiny. His defeat is their defeat; his victory is their victory. They are a people supporting the advance of a king.

Perhaps this psalm is about us after all.

Since our identity is bound up with the king’s identity, we can pray it for the king’s people, for Christian friends today on their frontlines: for the woman in her twenties struggling with chronic pain; for the children who don’t understand why Daddy has walked out on them; for the man who has just lost his wife of 50 years; for the friend struggling with an insufferable colleague; for the young family wondering how to make ends meet. May the Lord answer them when they are in distress.

Even more than the original poet, we pray with the confidence that our king has won the battle. For us, too, victory comes not through the paraphernalia of war, but through ‘trust in the name of the LORD our God’, all he is and has declared himself to be. Psalm 20 breathes a stance of faith before God, with prayer offered in the hope that victory will occur in the real world – the world of ‘horses’ and ‘chariots’, where we might be tempted to invest ourselves in their 21st-century equivalents.

Only the power of God can bring the salvation and victory we need. The Lord reigns, the anointed King of kings, the one who died and rose again, has defeated the powers of darkness and death forever.

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