Ok, so you go to Koorong, or your other local Christian book store, and the shelves are heaving with books about church. Church is a hot topic at the moment (among Christians at least. For other people, it’s pretty much not on the radar!)
Plenty of books on those shelves about what is wrong with the church. Plenty of books about why a particular way of doing church is a/the right way to do church. Plenty of books about how the church needs to change or how the church needs not to change.
Which makes Praying the Psalms: 150 weeks of Psalms at the Big Table, a pleasant interlude among them all. Praying the Psalms (hereafter PTP), is a book by a church. And it’s not primarily about the church, but what the God of the church is doing among one particular expression of church here in Western Australia, but with application far wider than that. The front cover has Perth’s CBD in the background – where real power in WA lies apparently – with a baptism underway in the foreground – where God’s power lies actually!
PTP had its genesis with a church planting friend of mine, Simon, who heads up a church plant that meets at his house, The Big Table. The Big Table meets around a, er, big table. For the first 150 weeks of that church plant’s life, they read a Psalm together during their meeting. Still do, but first up they made the effort to go through the lot, week by week to begin with. A church plant that has been around 150 weeks at least! Some church plants don’t make it into double figures.
Simon’s raison d’être is on the back cover:
“The thought is simple: we are the church. We gather as His people to worship, encourage, equip and minister to one another, then scatter on mission to love and bear witness to the person and work of Jesus as we follow him.”
SO what we have in PTP is the journaled reflections of church members on all of those Psalms, replete with pictures of the church crew, and, just as importantly, pictures of those they connect with in the day-to-day world of work, sharing Jesus, baptisms, sports events for their friends etc.
Here’s the “on-the-surface” stuff I like. The book looks great! Simon is a graphic designer so it has a funky matte finish, great pics, and is a good size for carrying around with your Bible. It’s got hipster cred! (Spell-check kept wanting to change “cred” to “creed”, but I think PTP’s creed goes a bit deeper than good coffee, beards and white-wall tyred bicycles.)
But here’s the “below-the-surface” deep stuff I like. First, it’s grounded in Biblical Theology, and that means PTP showcases Jesus in the Psalms. The late, great Edmund Clowney often told his students not to preach a “synagogue” sermon in the church. By that he simply meant that we must read the Old Testament through the lens of Jesus. I think that by and large many church planters I know today have got that sorted. However, if there is one place in the Bible that it’s easy to overlook this, it’s the Psalms. I’ve often heard them preached discretely, outside the line of Jesus, and neglecting to see him as the true temple, the true king, the true one suffering injustice from the oppressor. The Big Table crew does a great job of seeing Jesus – and the Triune God for that matter – as central to the Psalms. That’s absolutely crucial.
Case in point:
Psalm 32 famously commences “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity.”
And, in keeping with Paul’s central theme in quoting these verses to demonstrate humans have always/are always/will always only ever being justified apart from works of the law (Romans 4:1-12), the reflection renders it thus:
“For those living in the light of Jesus, our Psalm is this: Blessed is the one who has received Jesus and a revelation of the forgiveness that is found in him.”
Secondly, it’s a book written by people, not a person. It would be an irony to take the communal hymnal of Israel, view it through the lens of Jesus – the one who builds a church – and simply read it as a personalised devotional. PTP maps the history of a church plant as it grows, allowing the communal hymnal to speak to the community and be reflected upon by the community. The early reflections are primarily by Simon, but that starts to change. Other names, newer dates, different perspectives start to show. Feels a bit like a vine – or a church plant – growing.
And a great reflection on Psalm 149 by Janet from June 2014:
“Then I got to verse seven and the scene turned from rejoicing to battle. With the introduction of sword and vengeance, the people’s response shifted to war. Binding kings with ‘fetters’ didn’t seem friendly. I felt a bit confused.
I was reminded. There’s a mess. There’s evil, corruption and lost hope. But God has a plan in Jesus.”
Great stuff. And great to see how God gifts all of his people with the Spirit’s power to understand and apply the Word.
And finally, there’s community. Photos throughout of meals together (around a big table as it happens), baptisms, events, running, Christians, people who are not Christians yet but are being prayed for by The Big Table. Oh, and a growing number of pictures of babies! The Psalms, indeed the whole Bible, is our community text. Our great king, revealed as the LORD in the Old Testament, has come to us in the second person of the community-oriented Trinity, God the Son, enfleshed as Jesus, and gathered a people. And yes, we go through the same struggles and stresses that Israel went through, that David went through. And that’s all in PTP. But, as I said, this a a church book, not a synagogue book. We have the words of the prophets made more certain (2Peter1:19), and as Janet reminded us, God had a plan in Jesus; a plan the Psalmists saw as a shadow in the distance, but who has come in its fullest light and pitched his tent among us.
Warmly recommend it! And would love to see a similar book by a church on Proverbs, and the community offering wisdom to live by for God’s people in an increasingly erratic world.