May his name endure forever; may it continue as long as the sun. Then all nations will be blessed through him, and they will call him blessed. (Psalm 72:17, NIV)
Psalm 72 is a prayer for the king of Israel, and it uses rather extravagant language in asking God to bless the king. “May he endure as long as the sun” (v. 5). “May the kings… of distant shores pay tribute to him” (v. 10). “May all kings bow down to him” (v. 11). These are just a few lines of the Psalm that are slightly over the top in prayers for the king!
Usually, when I come across a Psalm or prayer in the Bible that is for or about the king or some other leader of God’s people, I try to pray that prayer for the leaders of our church– the elders, the staff, the ministry team leaders. Sometimes it works well, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes the Psalm is clearly more political in nature, and in those instances, I assume God is prompting me to pray for the governing leaders of our nation (whether we like them or not, we still ought to pray for them).
Neither approach seemed to be working for Psalm 72 this morning. I struggled to pray the things this Psalm was saying, statements like those I quoted above, for either our governing leaders or our church leaders. Then, verse 17 hit me. I was reminded of God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 22:18: “and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed” (although I confess, I didn’t remember the chapter and verse; I had to Google it). Who is Abraham’s descendant, the one great and glorious King about whom all the extravagant statements of Psalm 72 are right and through whom all nations will be blessed? Jesus. I wasn’t supposed to be praying Psalm 72 for church leaders or national leaders, but for Jesus!
Reading back through the Psalm as a prayer for Christ, other statements stood out. “May he judge your people in righteousness” (v. 2). “May he defend the afflicted… save the children of the needy… crush the oppressor” (v. 4). “In his days may the righteous flourish” (v. 7). “For he will deliver the needy who cry out… He will take pity on the weak… He will rescue them from oppression” (vv. 12-14). As I thought about how to pray these things for Christ, God brought to my mind that we live in a society in which we need Jesus to do all these things, to bring justice, defend the voiceless, rescue the oppressed, and crush the oppressor. But how often do I pray that he will do these very things in Stoughton? Aren’t most of my prayers asking for safety and blessing for my kids, asking for patient endurance for my wife, asking for strength for those in our church family who are hurting, asking for provision for those we know and love who are struggling to make ends meet, asking for safe travels for those on the road?
Is it wrong to pray for those things? Not at all! But if that’s the sum total of our prayers, we’re not praying the full countenance of God. I asked the Lord to forgive me for failing to pray his full will for Stoughton, and prayed through Psalm 72 again, this time asking Jesus to do all the things this Psalm says for the people of Stoughton, many of whom may not recognize him as their King (yet!), but who need his gracious justice nonetheless. Will you join me in praying Psalm 72 for your community this week?