John Franklin preaches a chapel message on Psalm 117 at RTS Charlotte. The message is entitled “A Great Commission Prayer.”
Thank you, Mr. Franklin. Psalm 117. We will read the entire chapter. Pay careful attention. This is God’s holy, inerrant, and infallible Word. Psalm 117:
“Praise the Lord, all nations! Extol him, all peoples! For great is his steadfast love toward us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever. Praise the Lord!”
May the Lord bless the reading and hearing of his holy Word this morning. Would you join me as we pray together?
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we thank you that not only is your Word true, but it is truth. We’re thankful that the grass withers and the flowers fade, but the Word of our God stands forever and ever. So, Father, we ask that you would have your Son send your Spirit to help us, that we might be changed for all eternity this day by the power of the preached Word of God. We thank you for your Word. Speak now for your servants heareth. We pray this in Jesus’s name, Amen.
Nineteen-forty-nine, there are two sisters, Christine and Peggy Smith, 82 and 84 years old. They live just off the mainland of Scotland on the Isle of Lewis. They were what we might call shut-ins, home-bound. Peggy was blind and Christine was severely bent over due to very dangerous and severe arthritis. Well, these sisters love Jesus, and they lived in a simple town as shut-ins.
At that time, there were zero young men or young women who were involved in church or religious matters at all. Not one young man, not one young woman went to the parish church. The future of the church of Jesus Christ on the Isle of Lewis looked bleak. These sisters were very concerned about that, concerned about the spiritual state of their town. So they began to pray. Their home became a safe haven where they earnestly poured out their hearts to God; they besieged the Holy Spirit to come and to transform hearts and lives, that many young people would come to know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. So they made the conscious, deliberate decision to pray on Tuesdays and Fridays from 10:00 p.m. till 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning. And Isaiah 44:3 became their theme song that they prayed back to God, which says, “For I will pour water on the thirsty land and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants.”
Eventually these two sisters approached their pastor and said, “Why don’t you start a prayer meeting?” So the pastor with many church leaders began to pray in a barn on Tuesdays and Fridays from 10 p.m. to three or four in the morning with these sisters who prayed at their house. In such a story we find godly examples of true prayer warriors, saints who pleaded the promises of God back to God, asking him to work in the very way in which he promises to do.
This morning, as we look at Psalm 117, I’d like to use it as a primer for prayer, that we might learn how to pray with the very desires of Jesus Christ at the center of our affections. So as we turn to Psalm 117, we consider how we should pray, and we can see that because God requires praise from all nations, that we should pray for conversions. And you might be asking the question, “How specifically should we do that?” There are two distinct ways that will serve as our two point outline from Psalm 117.
Christians Should Pray for Conversions of All Peoples and Nations
Number one, we should pray for conversions of all peoples and nations. Look with me back to verse 1. “Praise to the Lord, all nations! Extol [or glorify] him, all peoples.” So the Psalmist begins 117 with a strong covenantal phrase: “Praise the Lord.” This phrase functions as an inclusio, as the psalm is bookended by another “Praise the Lord” at the end of the psalm. Now, if you’re not familiar with what an inclusio is, you have not paid attention in any Currid class. It’s a literary technique frequently used in Hebrew poetry, where certain words or phrases book-end a structure or literary unit so the middle is most important. I like to think of it as a sandwich. You’ve got the bread and the bread with the meat in the middle, and that meat is what we’re going to focus on this morning, that middle section between the two “Praise the Lords.”
Even those outside the covenant community are called to worship God.So the Psalmist begins with this imperative as he invokes the presence of God and to the distinct worship of God: the covenant making—the covenant keeping—God of the Bible is to be praised. And what’s unique about this psalm is that the nations are called to praise the Lord. This “praise the Lord” language is typically attributed to Israel, not the nations. But this time, the heathens, the Gentiles are called to praise the Lord.
The Psalm makes the most theological sense in light of the Great Commission of Jesus when he gives the command that we are to make disciples of the nations. And you might be thinking at a first glance that verse 1 appears to be redundant: all peoples, all nations. But the author chose these two words intentionally. Israel was frequently referred to as the people of Yahweh, of the Lord, however, they were never referred to as the nation of Yahweh. Because this “nation” term was associated with heathens surrounding Israel: the Moabites, the Ammonites, the Edomites. So in Psalm 117, the point here is simple: all peoples (Israel), all nations (everyone else from all kinds of places) are called to praise the Lord. Even those outside the covenant community are called to worship God.
The mercies of God in Christ will not always be restricted to a single people group.Even if the Gentiles are not currently the chosen people of God, this song presents the future reality that the mercies of God in Christ will not always be restricted to a single people group. A Revelation song, if you will, a description of eternity in heaven. As praise shall burst forth to God from every nation, tribe, people, and language, it says, “They shall cry out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” (Rev. 7:10).
Do we have this kingdom perspective, one that moves beyond the color of our skin? Do we desire to see all kinds of different people, different skin color, language, culture? Let’s get specific. Do we desire that Yankees or Southerners would come to Christ? Do we have a desire to see that people who are inherently different from you or from me would be loved by the same Father in heaven? We need to be honest about our self-assessment. Do our local congregations truly look like all the distinct facets of the surrounding community? Different races, different economic statuses, different ages?
I can think of no greater example in our current age than that of the late Billy Graham. His ministry always focused upon preaching and praying that people from all over the world would know Jesus. Millions upon millions the world over heard the simple yet profound message of Billy Graham, the message of the Bible, the gospel, the glory of God that Jesus forgives sinners. Throughout his ministry, he literally preached all over the world, every single continent. He was even asked to preach the gospel in communist Russia in her darkest hours. And in his later years, he was asked about the success of his ministry and the work of revival, and he responded with this statement. He said:
The secret is not me. So many people think that somehow I carry a revival around in a suitcase, and they just announce me and something happens—but that’s not true. This is the work of God, and the Bible warns that God will not share his glory with another. All the publicity that we receive sometimes frightens me because I feel that therein lies a great danger. If God should take his hand off me, I would have no more spiritual power. The whole secret of our meetings is spiritual—it’s God answering prayer.
I wonder if we really believe in the power of prayer or do we just use it as a, “Oh, I lost my car keys.” Do we truly want to see the nations come to Jesus? That’s point one, that we should pray for conversions, all peoples and nations.
We Should Pray for Conversions by Pleading the Promises of God
Our God is loyal to fulfill the covenant promises from of old.Second and final point: we should pray for conversions by pleading the promises of God. The promises that are found back in verse 2: “For great is his steadfast love toward us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever.” So in verse 2, the Psalmist tells us why the Lord is to be praised, and it’s because the steadfast love of our God is great toward his people. Praise is to be given unto the Lord due to the fact that he is a God who has been steadfast in his covenant promises and faithful in his love to his people. These two attributes combine to make a covenant reality that God’s love is always faithful.
Even when we are faithless, he remains faithful. Our God is loyal to fulfill the covenant promises from of old, and it’s a clear expression of his kindness in bringing in the Gentiles, like many of us in this room, into his covenant family.
John Owen said it well when he said that “effectual prayer for the Christian is pleading the promises of God.” To plead the promises of God is to know the promises of God. So when we’re learning how we should pray, we must look to Scripture and specifically the Psalms. Professor Blair Smith describes the Psalms as an authentic expression from us to God as praying the Psalms enables us to be stripped of our hypocrisy. As we pray for the conversion of the nations, we should plead verse 2, that God would continue a steadfast love and faithfulness to his people. We should pray that people from every tribe, tongue, and nation would know this steadfast love and faithfulness of our God. It says something of our heart if we don’t have these desires in our prayers, that all kinds of people would know of God’s covenant faithfulness.
Psalm 117 shows us that in order for our desires to be transformed to that of Christ, then we must look to the Psalms that we might pray boldly, that we might pray humbly, that we might pray biblically with the will of our Father, the gospel of grace, his glory, and the kingdom at the very center of our affections.
What are your desires this morning? Psalm 117 shows us that Christians should have the desires of Christ. Desires that Jesus prays in John 17, when he prays to the Father, “O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” So Christ and his commission that he gives to his church clearly articulate that it should be the desire of all believers that all kinds of people would commune with God. May that be the desire of our hearts. May we plead the promises of Psalm 117, that every knee would bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.
Some of you had the great privilege to sit under some of Dr. Kelly’s teaching and preaching. If you were with him for an hour or 10 minutes, this probably came up: he is passionate about prayer meeting. Dr. Kelly adamantly believes that the reason our country and more specifically the American church is in the state that it’s in today is because prayer, specifically midweek prayer meetings across the nation, have ceased to exist. Are we praying churches?
Then a couple years ago, our very own Dave Latham preached a sermon. I loved an illustration he used because it was on throwing the fast ball. In a former life, I was a pitcher in Little League, and I threw a knuckleball and a fastball. I threw the slowest, flattest forcing fastball, but it was accurate. I love Dave Latham’s illustration, an exhortation: “Preach the gospel, throw the fast ball. Preach the fast ball, pray the fast ball.” The outward and ordinary means of grace. It’s not complicated, but it is hard work.
Before we close this morning, you may be wondering what happened to Peggy and Christine. Their story doesn’t end starting a prayer group, but that would not be a bad place to end up. The Lord used these two ladies to spark a spiritual revival that swept through the Hebrides Islands for almost three years. And you remember their concern for the young people, for the future generations of the church? Well, one evangelist, Duncan Campbell, reports that approximately 100 young people were at a dance one evening as the revival began to take off. And he recorded this in his own words.
Over 100 young people were at the dance in the parish hall and they were not thinking of God or eternity. God was not in all of their thoughts. They were there to have a good night when suddenly the power of God fell upon the dance. The music ceased and in a matter of minutes, the hall was empty. They fled from the hall as a man fleeing from a plague. And they made for the church. . . . Men and women who had gone to bed, rose, dressed, and made for the church. Nothing in the way of publicity. . . . But God took the situation in hand. He became his own publicity agent. A hunger, a thirst gripped the people. Six hundred of them now are at the church standing outside. . . . And then the doors are open and the congregation flocked back into the church. . . . Now the church is crowded—a church to seat over 800 is now packed to capacity. It is now going on towards midnight, and I [Duncan Campbell] managed to make my way through the crowd along the aisle toward the pulpit. I found a young woman, a teacher in the grammar school, lying prostrate on the floor of the pulpit, praying, “Oh, God, is there mercy for me. Oh, God, is there mercy for me?” She was one of those at the dance. But she is now lying on the floor of the pulpit crying to God for mercy.
Are we praying for the conversion of the nations, pleading the promises of God, the promises that are yes and amen in Jesus Christ? These sisters, they praised the Lord. They prayed for conversions of the nations. They pleaded the promises of God back to God. May future generations describe us as prayer warriors as we wear our knees out, as we earnestly look to Jesus that he would be pleased to use us to make many disciples of Christ.
Let’s pray together.
Oh, Father in heaven, we’re so thankful that there is mercy for us because of the gospel. You’ve called us to worship you, that is our purpose in life. And we can only do that properly because of Jesus’s finished work. Lord, would you give us your very desires, that our local churches would be prayer warriors? Lord, would you make us faithful? Would you make us obedient? Not for us, but for the glory of God and the advancement of your kingdom. We ask this all in Jesus’s name, Amen.