Because they don’t provide the evangelical fervor of Paul, or the face to face encounter with Christ of the Gospels, many pastors don’t preach the Psalms. Yet, the Psalter provides the steady middle way of spiritual formation. Few people leave worship thinking that the responsive reading of Psalm 91 was the best part of the hour, but in their heart, the psalm is often the most resonate voice. So, it may be good to not only make reference to the psalms throughout Lent, but also wrestle with how these ancient poems help us to grow as Christ’s disciples and spiritually integrated persons.
If you focus is on the Gospel narrative for the first week of Lent, then the best thing you might say about Psalm 91 is that it provides the inspiration for the Devil as he tempts Christ. Out of context, “No harm will come to you… you will not strike your foot against a stone” (Psalm 91:10-13), looks like the makings of a dare. “If you have faith, then you will____,” (just fill in the blank). Who doesn’t want to test their God and go walking on coals or handling snakes when they are told, “you will tread on cobras and lions [without harm]”?
Reading the whole of Psalm 91 is the key. It speaks about the continual, day to day, trust of the believer in God. God doesn’t bail us out from our self-inflicted injuries. He instead is with us in the midst of the terrible trauma that is life. We will sometimes experience the deliverance lines of this Psalm. We will slide down a snow covered hill, missing by millimeters the cars that have spun out to our right and our left.
The spiritual formation power of Psalm 91, however lies in how it gives us the same message from two points of view. First is tells us about the heart of the believer. The believer experiences God through these ‘mighty acts of salvation.’ The believer responds by trusting. Trust is meant to escalate; the believer becomes more and more rooted in their dependance upon God. The end of Psalm flips the viewpoint and shows us God responding to our trust. If we trust God, he will not forget us.