In this brief series of posts, I’m paying attention to Psalms that are prayed in some parts of the Christian church on a daily basis, and asking a simple question: how would this Psalm better direct our daily life with God?
At first glance Psalm 67 doesn’t seem like anything too impressive. The opening line is merely a reworking of an otherwise famous blessing from another part of the Bible: “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine on us…” This famous priestly blessing from Numbers 6 shows up here and we wonder if this Psalm will merely be a piece of pastiche or paraphrase.
Not helping this impression is the observation that two of the remaining six verses in the Psalm are identical to one another: “May the peoples praise you, God; may all the peoples praise you” (verses 3 and 5).
So why is this Psalm—verging on the very edge of blandness—a daily part of prayer for so many praying Christians?
The significance of Psalm 67 (and the reason we might consider returning to it every day) is in the interplay between the two sentences I’ve already quoted.
The prayer for blessing with which the Psalm starts is, you might say, a self-centred prayer. True, it comes from a community perspective (“May God bless us”). But it is an inward-focused prayer.
The petition expressed in verses 3 and 5, by contrast, is a prayer focused on other peoples—people who do not belong to the God-blessed group. It’s a prayer asking that God’s circle, so to speak, would come to include others.
The achievement of Psalm 67 is to lead us to put our praying to a fundamental test: praying for ourselves is appropriate, but we must ask whether we are praying for ourselves so that we’ll be comfortable or so that God’s purposes can be met. Put another way, we need to rethink our own ideas about personal blessing: for God’s people to be blessed is to be made into the kind of community that bears witness to the world that God is gracious and has good intentions for his creation (the references to God’s just rule and its connection to the land in verses 4 and 6 are essential in this regard). Our prayers must always keep the big picture in mind.
This is exactly what we see happening in verse 2. Following the famous blessing at the beginning, there comes a shift, as if to answer a question about why a community should pray for God’s blessing upon themselves. The answer is that God’s people pray for God to be gracious to them “so that your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations.”
Jesus told his disciples that whatever they asked for in his name would be given to them. I have some bad news for the prosperity gospelers: Jesus wasn’t sharing a secret trick for getting what you want. He wasn’t suggesting that as long as you say the magic words “in Jesus’ name” anything goes. If you pray, “Make me rich, make my life easy…in Jesus’ name,” you will, at best, provoke raised eyebrows in any angels who happen to overhear your words. Jesus was suggesting that all of our requests are meant to be brought in line with the things that Jesus himself desires.
If you can make a case to God that what you’re asking for will serve his kingdom well, by all means make it. He may know better. He may decline your request. But you’ll be on the right track. That is our goal in prayer. And it’s the basic training that Psalm 67 will give us if we pray it regularly. Pray for yourself and for your community, but always remember that we exist as servants of our God’s greater purposes. So:
May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine on us—
So that your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations.