Study guide for The Psalms of Asaph

The Psalms of Asaph
Thanks for considering The Psalms of Asaph: Struggling with Unanswered Prayer, Unfulfilled Promises, and Unpunished Evil as a group study.

The following sessions are strictly a suggested plan. Feel free to adapt the material to your group’s specific needs and spend as many or as few times together as works for your group. (Although, I wrote curriculum for Wesleyan Publishing House for six years, I never used my own lessons precisely as I had written them. I always adapted the material for the needs of my group. Please do the same.)

And, I would love your feedback as to what worked and what didn’t. With the study guide online, I’m free to adapt it based on your responses. Email me at jim@jameswatkins.com.


Session 1
Unanswered Prayer

Based on Introduction-Chapter 4

Engage

Ask, What was the best thing that happened to you the past seven days? After as many as wish have shared, ask, What was the worst thing that happened during that time?

Asaph, one of Kings David and Solomon’s chief musicians, wrote twelve psalms that honestly expressed his reaction to the best and worst of Israel at the time.

Read Psalm 73:1-16

Ask, Have you ever felt that way?

Review the life of Asaph (See Introduction)

      Aspah was the son of Berekiah, born into the house of Levi, the tribe given the honor and responsibility of serving as priests or mediators between Jehovah God and his people. Scripture notes his duties included being one of the “chief musicians” and playing the “loud-sounding cymbals.”

Explore

Ask members to read the following scriptures and then discuss What good things were happening? (Possible answers are in parentheses.)

Psalm 76:1-3 (Israel was established in peace under King David.)
1 Samuel 6:7-2 (The Ark was returned to Israel.)
1 Kings 6:18-34 (The Temple was built under Solomon.)

Ask members to read the following scriptures and then discuss What bad things were happening?
1 Kings 10:14-29 (Solomon acquired unprecedented wealth at the taxpayers’ expense.)
1 Kings 11:1-13 (Solomon turned from God to idols.)
1 Kings 12:12-19 (Civil war between Solomon’s sons broke up the kingdom.)
Psalm 79:1-5 (Jerusalem and the Temple are totally destroyed.)

Note, And so, Asaph struggled with unanswered prayer, unfulfilled promises, and unpunished evil.

Say, Let’s begin with unanswered prayer. Why is it so unsettling?

Let’s begin with A. W. Tozer’s concept of prayer

      In all our praying . . . it is important that we keep in mind that God will not alter His eternal purposes at the word of a man. We do not pray in order to persuade God to change His mind. Prayer is not an assault upon the reluctance of God, nor an effort to secure a suspension of His will for us or for those for whom we pray. Prayer is not intended to overcome God and “move His arm.” God will never be other than Himself, no matter how many people pray, nor how long nor how earnestly.

      What the praying man does is to bring his will into line with the will of God so God can do what He has all along been willing to do. Thus prayer changes the man and enables God to change things in answer to man’s prayer.

Ask, With Tozer’s quotation in mind, do you think there really are “unanswered” prayers?

Summarize Chapter 2’s illustration of the traffic light. God answers red (no), yellow (slow) or green (go).

Ask, What do you think are some causes for “no” answers?

Ask members to read the following scriptures and then discuss.
Matthew 7:11 (What we are asking is not good for us)
Matthew 5:21-22, 1 Timothy 2:8 (Anger, dissension)
Malachi 2:13-25, 1 Peter 3:7 (Dishonoring spouse)
2 Kings 18:12, Proverbs 28:9 (Disobedience)
James 1:6 (Doubt)
John 15:7 (Estrangement from Jesus)
Isaiah 1:15-16 (Evil)
Matthew 6:5 (Hypocrisy)
Proverbs 16:18 (Pride)
Mark 11:25 (Unforgiveness)
James 4:2-3 (Wrong motives)
Zip, zero, zilch! (We may never know)

Enact

Ask, each member to privately consider reasons for their unanswered prayers. Are you coming upon a red or yellow light? Is there an area that needs work to allow for a green light?

Consider playing Casting Crown’s Praise You in This Storm, a powerful song about unanswered prayer.

Close in prayer submitting requests to God’s love and wisdom.


Session 2
Unfulfilled Promises

Based on Chapters 5-6

Engage

Ask, What was the best promise fulfilled as a child?

Note Asaph had a front-row seat to many of God’s fulfilled promises: the return of the Jews to the Promised Land, population growth, widespread territory, peace and prosperity. However . . .

Explore

Read Psalm 119:81-87

Ask, With what unfulfilled promises are you or your friends struggling?

The author provides some questions to discern if the promise is for us? Discuss each.

Is the promise addressed to a specific individual, a group or the church universal?
Is the promise conditional?
(An ff/then proposition?)
Is the promise in context? What exactly is being promised?
Is the promise for today?
(Jeremiah 29:11 is a favorite verse for many, but it was addressed to the Jews before seventy years of Babylonian captivity!)

Here are two examples of misinterpreted promises:

Read Luke 6:38.
What promises are often made based on this scripture? What exactly is to be given in “good measure”?
(The context reveals it’s not financial gain but forgiveness.)

Read Luke 11:11-13.
What promises are often made based on this scripture? What exactly is the father giving the son?
(The context reveals it is the Holy Spirit.)

Note, Waiting for promises to be fulfilled can be a challenge. How should we wait? (Read verses, then discuss.)

Hebrews 11:1 (Confidently)
Job 6:8 (Hopefully)
Psalm 77:11-5 (Memorably)
James 5:7 (Patiently)
Galatians 6:9 (Persistently)
Exodus 14:13-14 (Quietly)
Habakkuk 3:17-18 (Thankfully)

What is an example in your life where waiting was beneficial?

Enact

Close in prayer asking God to help each know the context and result of the promises and, if they are for us, to wait confidently, hopefully, patiently . . .


Session 3
Unpunished Evil

Based on Chapters 8-10

Engage

Bring enough newspapers for each person in the group or for teams of members.

Say, How many examples of unpunished evil can you find in the paper? You have three minutes! Give a small reward for the person who found the most.

Explore

Say, Unpunished evil is not a new problem.

Ask volunteers to read Psalm 74:9-10, Ecclesiastes 3:16, Habakkuk 1:2-4.

Ask, What is God’s attitude toward good and evil? Ask volunteers to read the following scripture and then discuss.

Psalm 33:5
Psalm 36:6
Psalm 89:14

How does God judge evil? Ask volunteers to read the following scripture and then discuss.

Galatians 6:7
Psalm 7:15-16
2 Samuel 12:7, 10-12, 14

Read and discuss C. S. Lewis’ explanation of evil:

      Evil begins, in a universe where all was good, from free will, which was permitted because it makes possible the greatest good of all. The corruption of the first sinner consists not in choosing some evil thing (there are no evil things for him to choose) but in preferring a lesser good (himself) before a greater (God). The Fall is, in fact, Pride.

Read James 1:12-17

Discuss: What is the source of evil? Of temptation?

How does Satan tempt people to do evil?

Genesis 3:5-6 (Tempting Eve with something good obtained in the wrong way)
Matthew 4:3, 27:39-42 (Satan uses the same strategy at the beginning and very end of Jesus’ ministry on Earth.)

Why doesn’t God seem to overtly punish evil in modern times?
Galatians 6:7, Psalm 7:15-16, Jeremiah 2:19 (He allows for natural consequences)
Romans 3:25-26 (Christ has taken our punishment, although there may still be natural and legal consequenes.)

Why Is God Slow in Bringing Judgment?
Ezekiel 18:23, 2 Peter 3:9 (He doesn’t want “any to perish.”)

How should believers respond to unpunished evil
Psalm 37:1a, 7-8b (Don’t fret)
Psalm 37:1b, 37:8a (Don’t envy)
Psalm 37:8b (Don’t get angry)
Psalm 37:27, Romans 12:21 (Depart from evil, do good)
Psalm 37:7 (Rest in the Lord)
Psalm 37:9-17, 38-40 (God will bring judgment at the proper time!

There is hope for a world that seems to be growing more and more evil:

Read Isaiah 9:4-7

Close in prayer asking that members don’t fret or get angry, but trust that God will bring justice—eventully—to each act of evil.


Session 4
Life is Hard, God is Good

Engage

Consider playing Pam Thum’s song, Life is Hard (God is Good).

Read the quotation by M. Scott Peck

      Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult—once we truly understand and accept it—then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.

Explore

Ask, How did Jesus live a difficult life?

Read the following verses for answers:
Isaiah 53:3 (Despised, rejected, a man of sorrow)
Matthew 12:24, Mark 3:21 (Accused of being satanic, crazy)
Mark 15:16-17, 20, 22-24 (Brutally tortured and killed)

How did the apostle Paul live a difficult life?
Corinthians 11:24-27

Did Jesus promise a life free from difficulties?
John 16:33 (No. In fact he promises “trouble.”

Why does God allow good people to experience bad circumstances?
Romans 8:28-29, 2 Corinthians 4:7-11, Psalms 119:67-68, 71
(To conform us to the image of himself!)

How has God used trouble to make you more Christlike?

Ask group to react to this statement: Life is not designed to make us happy. Life is designed to make us holy!

Many churches greet one another with this exchange:

      Person A: God is good.
      Person B: All the time.
      Person A: All the time.
      Person B: God is good.

Ask, Why do we sometimes doubt that?

Read the opening illustration of Chapter 12.

Did the author love his granddaughters? Why did they question that love?

Read and discuss the following verses:
Deuteronomy 7:9
Psalm 36:7
Zephaniah 3:17
Romans 5:5-11

How does the concept of our ideal TV father differ from God the Father?

Can there be real love without corrective love?
Read Hebrew 12:5-11 (Nope!)

How does God discipline his children?

Enact

Assure group that discipline focuses on future beneficial behavior; punishment on past unacceptable behavior. (God does not punish his children.


Session 5
There is a Purpose

Considering opening today’s session playing Laura Story’s powerful song Blessings.

Ask, For the past few weeks, we’ve studied unanswered prayer, unfulfilled promises. What have you learned?

Read
Job 42:1-6
Isaiah 55:8
Romans 11:33-36

What can I know?

We are not promised answers to the great “why” questions, but we are promised the answers to:

Read and discuss A. B. Simpson’s quotation:

      God uses trouble to teach his children precious lessons. They are intended to educate us. When their good work is done, a glorious recompense will come to us through them. He does not regard them as difficulties but as opportunities. They have come to give God a greater interest in us and to show how he can deliver us from them. Without difficulties we cannot have a mercy worth praising God for. God is as deep, and long, and high as our little world of circumstances.

Read James 1:5-8

How can I grow?

Read and discuss:
Romans 8:28-29
2 Corinthians 3:18b
Ephesians 5:1
2 Corinthians 4:7-10

Who can I show?

Read and discuss:
2 Corinthians 1:3-6

How has God used your unanswered prayers, unfulfilled promises, and unpunished evil to “comfort” others”

Close by reading the eulogy which concludes the book:

      In Memory of Gerry Peters

      Gerry Peters finally has all her questions answered.

      After Lois led her to Christ and she began attending our church, at least once a week, I’d get a call from Gerry. With her Brooklyn directness, she would skip the phone formalities and launch right in with a question:

      “When did Jesus know he was God? Did he know it as a little boy? Or did he only know after God his Father announced it at his baptism?

      “Why did God allow freewill? Why did he allow evil? How can he be in control and still let people do such hateful things?”

      “If we have a sin that we keep doing and we come to God for forgiveness each time, does he know we keep doing it, or has he totally forgotten it? And how can someone who is all-knowing, not know something?”

      My response was always, “Oh, hi, Gerry. That’s a great question. I’ll have to think about that and get back with you.”

      Gerry could ask the most profound questions because of her profound love for Christ. And every conversation ended with “I just love him so much.”

      After her heart failure and subsequent brain damage, her questions became more childlike, but still equally profound.

      “Why did God make me stay here? I just want to go to heaven and be with Jesus. I just love him so much.”

      “Why did God allow my brother to be murdered? Why my brother and not 199 me. I just want to go to heaven and be with Jesus. I just love him so much.”

      “Why did God make me stay here. I just want to go to heaven . . .”

      And my reply was always, “Oh, hi, Gerry. That’s a great question. I’ll have to think about that and get back with you.”

      So, thanks, Gerry, for all your profound and thought-provoking questions. They stretched my thinking. And most of all, thank you for your love for Christ, your pastors, and people of the church.

      Even in heaven, I’m sure she’s still asking questions. Today, however, Jesus himself replies, “That’s a great question.” But he doesn’t have to think about it. He doesn’t have to say, “I’ll get back with you.”

      Jesus answers all her questions. Every one of them. Patiently. Perfectly. Profoundly. And I’m sure she ends each conversation with her Lord by saying, “I just love you so much.”

Enact

Close by asking members to consider the three questions to which we are promised answers:

What can I know?
How can I grow?
Who can I show?

End in prayer for God to provide knowledge, growth and comfort as we confront the questions raised in The Psalms of Asaph.

Copyright © 2018 James N. Watkins Permission is granted to duplicate this study guide for local church use only.

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