Presented on The Lutheran Hour on September 3, 2023
By Rev. Dr. Michael Zeigler, Lutheran Hour Speaker
Copyright 2023 Lutheran Hour Ministries
Download MP3 Reflections
Text: Psalm 26:8
Years ago, a business consultant was working with a high-profile CEO, who ran a large company. The CEO worked in a high-pressure environment, and more often than not, he was the cause of that pressure, scuttling around his office building like a barracuda in a business suit, hunting some hapless clown fish, preying on inefficiency, driving peak performance. But the consultant noticed a change when the CEO was at home. He became like a goldfish, happily in his fishbowl. He was patient, present, relaxed, fun, funny. The consultant says to him, "I hope you don't mind me asking, but how do you do it? How do you go from psycho businessman to super dad?"
The CEO answered, "It's simple. It all comes down to my third space."
"Well," CEO says, "one day, not too long ago, I came home, opened the door to my house, and as I step in, I see my kids scatter. I caught a glimpse of them running around the corner into the kitchen and out into the backyard. They were running from me, and I realized that I was bringing my work mindset home with me. I'm finishing my wife's sentences because she doesn't talk fast enough. I'm yelling at my kids because they're not efficiently using the time available to them. I was like an angry hurricane, criticizing, shouting, leaving a trail of destruction behind me. And that's when I realized I needed a third space, a space to reset."
"So, what did you do?"
"I built another entrance into my house. Here, I'll show you." And he wasn't joking. The guy had constructed a separate entryway, a private entrance that led directly into his bedroom so that he could go straight from the car into his room, take off his suit, take a shower, relax, reset, and then come out and greet his family, which was apparently working for him.
The consultant's name was Adam Frazier. Frazier's a researcher in the field of human performance. And this interaction with the CEO gave him an idea of how to communicate his research findings to a larger audience. Frazier had discovered that the top performers in their fields, CEOs, athletes and such, the best performers were the ones who could reset, who could transition from one environment to the next, or from one interaction to the next. The ability to reset was crucial, not only for peak performance in a job, but also to find balance at home as a husband or a wife, or a friend, as a parent, a teammate, neighbor, whatever. Sadly, not everyone has the cashflow to build a separate private entrance into their house, but this conversation with the businessman gave Frazier an idea. What if this so-called third space wasn't a physical space at all, but a mental space or emotional or spiritual space? A space that you could go to in an instant in your thoughts, in your soul, in your spirit, entering it through a simple activity like walking your dog or listening to music or watching birds or admiring fish in an aquarium.
Whatever helps you transition momentarily into that head space where you can reflect on what just happened, rest and reset, and then step into whatever happens next. Frazier knew that constructing a separate private home entrance would be impractical for most people, but he believed that everyone could find their own mental space to reset. So he wrote a book about it, titled it The Third Space.
It's an old idea actually. The people of ancient Israel were doing something like this thousands of years ago after they had lost their physical worship space, their space to reset and remember who they were, where they'd come from, and why they mattered. The temple in Jerusalem was the space that they had lost. Their high-profile CEO, King Solomon, son of David, had built this temple, this house for God, roughly a thousand years before the birth of Jesus, who is called Christ the Messiah.
The temple was Israel's physical entryway into that sacred space with God, into a relationship with God, the Creator of the universe who had rescued them from slavery in Egypt, who had called them to be a kingdom of priests for all people, people who brought others into this life-giving relationship with God. But somewhere along the way, the people of Israel started treating the physical temple as their private entryway, their private property. The physical temple itself became their God, an inanimate, lifeless God. God sent a foreign army to destroy the temple. God used this loss to help His people reset. And that's when this collection of inspired poems became even more important to them. These poems known today as the Bible's book of psalms. The book of psalms is a collection of 150 poems. Roughly half the poems were written by Solomon's father, King David; about one third of them are anonymous; and the rest are ascribed to other authors such as Solomon, Asaph, Moses, and a few others.
All of the psalms are human words spoken and written as prayers to God or as poems about God. Jewish people and Christians have also received the psalms as more—more than merely human words, they are God's Words given to humans as an entryway into God's presence. Jesus Himself used the psalms in this way when He was being crucified. Cut off from the physical temple, exiled from His community Jesus used at least two of the psalms of David to reset, to reflect and remember who He was, where He had come from, and why He mattered. Following Christ, Christians for thousands of years have done the same. For us the psalms are a spiritual entryway into the presence of God. We follow Jesus in this because we believe that He is truly God's Son who became human, the Son of David, our Messiah, our Leader, our King.
God, His Father, physically raised Jesus from the dead so that the body of Jesus and the fellowship of believers in Jesus could become the new temple. The eternal temple where there is life with God, life that not even death can take away, life there for you. And these psalms are like an entryway into it. David, that famous ancestor of Jesus used his poems in this way. Wherever he was, these poems and prayers could put him in a different headspace. A good example of this is Psalm 26. Many Christians will be hearing this Psalm, Psalm 26, in their worship services this Sunday. Some churches use a list of psalms appointed for each week for worship, and Psalm 26 happens to be the one appointed for today. Now, when I hear this psalm of David, I can hear David praying and letting the poetry transport him into the presence of God.
However, when I first read this prayer aloud, it didn't sound like a prayer that I could relate to. It sounded like David was bragging about how good he was. It sounds like that prayer Jesus put into one of His parable stories. You remember it? It's the one where there's a self-righteous religious person who goes to the temple to pray, to tell God how good he is. And there's this other guy, a guy who's so ashamed that he won't even look up at God. He's a broken man. He just keeps saying, "God, have mercy on me, a sinner." Jesus says, that's the model of prayer for His followers, the prayer of the broken man. When I hear Psalm 26, at first it sounds a lot like that boastful prayer, the one we're supposed to avoid. But on the other hand, I remember that Jesus told this story about the self-righteous pray-er to a certain audience.
He told it to a group of people who were confident in their own righteousness and looked down on others. See Luke 18:9. In that context, Jesus' story is a warning to people in that headspace. But He's not saying that the brokenness prayer is the only way to pray. It can't be the only way to pray because Jesus also teaches that in Him there is a reset. There's a new life beyond this brokenness. And Jesus calls us, His broken followers, to reset and rise up to be the light of the world. To let our light shine before people so that they may see our good deeds, to witness our peak performance and give glory to God our Father. See Matthew 5. Maybe Psalm 26 is that kind of prayer, a prayer forged in a situation like this.
David is a young king. He's in his early thirties. He's trying to unite a nation still divided. Divided by a bitter rivalry between people loyal to the former King Saul and those loyal to the new King David. Now that Saul is dead, there are powerful people jockeying for status and position, doing whatever it takes, bribing, spying, even murdering to stake a claim for themselves. David is caught in the middle of it. He's an honest man. He fears God, loves God, trusts God, and he's trying not to lose his integrity or his faith. Now, David's never been a politician before. He's been a warrior. He's been a general, but politics is different. David's situation reminds me of a quote attributed to Ulysses S. Grant, the Civil War general who became president of the United States. This quote comes from a historical drama I heard about Grant. The drama follows Grant's work to heal a broken country still divided after the Civil War and the assassination of President Lincoln. The scene occurs late in Grant's second term as president.
It's a reconstructed dialogue between Grant and a colleague who is urging him to run for a third term, to heal the nation, to finish this political fight. And Grant answers, "I don't know how to win this fight. I can defeat armies on the field of battle, but I do not know how to fight an enemy who smiles in my face while he puts the knife in my back." That's what David endured as a young king in Israel. See the book of 2 Samuel.
David was an honest man trying to honor God and love his neighbor. So he's leaving one political meeting heading to another where more barracudas and business suits are waiting, and David pauses. Maybe he steps outside in the sunlight. Maybe he sits under a fig tree. And time is suspended for a moment, quiet, like a goldfish, and David enters that third space and he prays, "Vindicate me, O Lord, because in my integrity I have walked, and in the Lord I trust. I will not slip. Test me, O Lord, and try me, refine my guts and my heart because Your steadfast love is before my eyes, and I walk in Your faithfulness. I have not sat with deceitful men. I do not go along with hypocrites. I hate the assembly of evildoers. I do not stay with the wicked. O Lord, let me wash my hands in innocence. Let me walk around Your altar, proclaiming thanksgiving aloud, recounting all Your wondrous deeds. Lord, I love the habitation of Your house. I love the place where Your glory dwells. Do not sweep away my soul with sinners nor my life with bloodthirsty men in whose hands are evil schemes, whose right hands are full of bribes. But I will walk in my integrity. O Lord, redeem me. Be gracious to me. My foot stands on level ground. In the great assembly I will bless the Lord."
However they were formed, David's words became what we call Psalm 26. It's not a self-righteous boast. It's the prayer of a desperate person made righteous by faith in the promised Christ. The words of a prayer warrior who makes God his space to rest, to reset, to find strength, to fight the good fight. It's a prayer that you can make your own because Jesus the Christ has made you His own. By His death and resurrection Jesus makes a space for you with God, and the psalms are your entry into it.
A friend of mine died a few months ago. Her name was Millie. She was 98 years old. She was a member of my church. Shortly after she died, her sister gave me Millie's prayer journal and Bible to read. I knew that Millie was a prayer warrior, but I didn't know how until I read her prayer journal and opened her Bible. In the middle of her Bible in the book of psalms, the bottom corners of all the pages were darkened, weathered, worn, trodden, like a path through the woods.
Almost every psalm was highlighted or underlined or annotated with notes like "My favorite" or "A favorite of mine" or "Another favorite." And then I opened her prayer journal, pages and pages of psalms she had copied down, verses she wanted to remember, prayers of her own which she had written, inspired and shaped by the psalms. And then there were the names, names of people she prayed for daily, in priestly service for decades, bringing loved ones and their concerns into this sacred space with God. My name was there and my family's and more than a hundred others. When I think of God-given human peak performance, I don't picture a CEO or a consultant or a world-class athlete. I see Millie fighting the good fight, praying in Jesus by the Spirit, in that quiet space, in the presence of God, her Bible open to the psalms.
Would you come with me into that space now? Lord, I love the habitation of Your house and the space where Your glory dwells. Teach me to pray like Millie. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.
Reflections for September 3, 2023
Mike Zeigler: Today I'm visiting with Dr. Tim Saleska. He's a professor at Concordia Seminary here in St. Louis. He teaches future church workers about life with God in Jesus, especially as He's revealed Himself in the books of the Old Testament. Welcome, Tim!
Tim Saleska: Thanks, Michael. It's always a great pleasure to be here.
Mike Zeigler: We talked today about the psalms being an entry into God's presence. So just start by telling us one thing that you love about the psalms.
Tim Saleska: I think one of the things I love about the psalms is the complexity of language. Oh man, what does this mean? What's happening here? I see it not as a problem, but as a pleasure to be able to delve into the complexity and rather than thinking there's a right or wrong answer, I have to solve problems, just enjoy it.
Mike Zeigler: Some people might see that as a problem with language. You want language to be straightforward, but you see it as you like it because it engages you, makes you think.
Tim Saleska: Too many people approach the task of interpretation as solving problems. And then they're worried: "Am I right or am I wrong?" But I think that that's an unhealthy way to approach the Scriptures. I think it's much more helpful to not see them as problem to be solved, but as a conversation to be had with one voice or many voices of people you may know very well, but also total strangers that you have to get to know. And you come away changed in some way, influenced in some way, challenged in some way, all kinds of different directions. That's a much more helpful approach to Scripture in general, but specifically poetry of the psalms.
Mike Zeigler: So I studied engineering in college, and when I put my engineering hat on, I'm inclined to see poetry as lesser language, as inefficient or unhelpful. And we don't write laws in poetry, we don't write technical directions in poetry, but there it is in the Bible—150 poems in the psalms, and then throughout other places in the Bible. So, clearly God likes poetry. The question is why? Why do you think?
Tim Saleska: Oh, man. So there's a lot of ways we could approach that. Just a simple distinction to start it off is if you think of a code of laws or a legal contract, those are written and judges and lawyers are trained to read them in such a way that they restrict interpretation, right? In other words, the very language, the legalese of a contract discourages you from finding different meanings in its sentences. In other words, they discourage you so much that they make it in small print because they don't want you to read it. But if you do read it and say, "It means this," there's a whole legal tradition that tells you, "No, it has to mean this." It makes it difficult to read.
Poetry's just the opposite. It actually encourages you to see meaning on many different levels and in many different directions when you're talking about the mysteries of our faith, who God is, what His relationship is, even anthropologically, who we are as people, as human beings, and what our relationship is with God. All those questions have many aspects of truth to them, and poetry encourages you to think more broadly, more openly, about very important questions of our faith.
Mike Zeigler: How do we become better readers? What are some tips to be a faithful reader of a poem in a psalm?
Tim Saleska: So again, all of us are parts of, and we actually emerge from, different interpretive communities. For example, as Christians, we read the Old Testaments in the light of Christ. Other traditions don't do that. So the interpretation and the importance and significance of what they read can be very different. We saw this after Jesus was raised from the dead. He had to open the minds of the disciples to understand the Scriptures. Well, it's not as if they didn't make sense before, but they made sense in a very different way. In light of His resurrection, it's like, "Oh!" all of a sudden what the Old Testament prophets or the poets are saying, for example, makes sense in a very different way.
And that's why you see in the Gospels so much of Jesus' life as a fulfillment of the Scripture. And in the epistles, psalms are used now to help us understand who Jesus is and what He has done. We're going through the book of Hebrews in Bible class. I'm teaching that, much of what he is using in the argument that he's trying to make about Jesus is from the psalms. And the way he's reading the psalms is quite different than you might read them if you don't know Jesus.
Mike Zeigler: So, we're inviting, encouraging people to read the psalms, to see Jesus Christ and to read them in a community of Christ followers. And then as we approach them as poems, something that I've heard you say that I think is helpful is to think of the words and the lines of the psalm more like ornaments on a tree as opposed to maybe bricks in a wall where you have a lower course that's holding up the upper courses. What do you mean by that?
Tim Saleska: I read what other poets wrote about poetry and what other people who love poetry say about poetry. So I could learn how to read it. And one of the things that they reminded me of is that poems, as you said, I have that metaphor of thinking of them as beads on a necklace in contrast to a developing argument or the plot in a story in which you're waiting for the end and everything before it kind of leads to that.
Psalms don't always progress that way. Rather, the truths that they give can be more independent of each other as you go through the lines and verses of a psalm. That's why psalms are very—it's very easy to take one verse out of a psalm and put it on a poster, for example, or hang it on your wall because that verse in itself has some meaning that is connected to the others in maybe a logic, maybe more emotional level, but also has a certain independence. And I've always found that, again, a relaxing way to look at the psalms.
So, to you, the listener, we heard Psalm 26 today, and maybe it sounded like a stranger, and there were things in there that didn't register with you. So maybe just take one of the pearls on the necklace, "Test me, O Lord, and try me" or "I love the habitation of Your house and the place where Your glory dwells" or "Redeem me and be gracious to me." Maybe that's all you need this week to meditate on. And then come back to it and see if you can understand it better in the years ahead. Come back again next week and we'll hear more from Dr. Tim Saleska and how to read the psalms.
Tim Saleska: Definitely.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"Hail, Thou Once-Rejected Jesus" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House) Used by permission.