Yohanna Katanacho - "Praying through the Psalms"
2:45AM Jul 8, 2020
Jonathan J. Armstrong
Today it is our deep honor to be speaking with Dr. Yohanna Katanacho. Dr. Yohanna Katanacho is academic dean at Nazareth of angelical College and is author of the texts that we'll be discussing today, Praying through the Psalms, available from Langham global library in 2018. Dr. Cotton natural thank you so much for being with us today.
Well, thank you for having me.
natural, we understand that the songs were the subject of your PhD dissertation at Trinity evangelical Divinity School, and you earned a master's degree in Old Testament from Wheaton. How did you decide then to continue this research on the Psalms in this study, praying through the songs?
Well, first of all,
I love Jesus
and I want to follow Him and studying the Bible is part of a loving relationship with my lords, as I live out my faith
in my context and around the world as well.
And, and my faith is
something that is all the
you know, consistent. Sometimes I go through valleys sometimes I go through mountains, I struggle with the Lord. Sometimes I'm joyful. Sometimes I'm sad. And I fell in love with the book of songs many years ago because it can really reflect and embody all of my existence and being but the way I basically ended up writing these prayers came as a result of an experience that I had, after I finished my PhD, went back and started my ministry. I went through very hard times. And I felt abandoned by God, I felt that I am very far from the Lord. And my wise wife told me just leave everything, leave, even the ministry and things like that. And let's just get away and take time have to spend it with the Lord.
And we went to Bethlehem. And in Bethlehem, there
was a conference where it was about prayer, the conference, and we attended the conference in the city of Bethlehem. And the Lord spoke to me in wonderful ways in very strong ways. challenging me to spend more time with Him in prayer. So I said, Lord, how can I do it? What What do you expect from me? And, and I strongly felt in my heart that I need to wake up early in the morning at about 4am because my school You I was very busy and I had a lot of things. And that was the only time available. So I had in my heart to wake up and study scriptures and pray. And the first thing that came to my mind, I said, Where should I start? If I want to pray? And I had, the only thing that dominated
My mind was
Psalms, just go to songs. And so I started, so I put up,
put on my alarm, woke up
early in the morning, and the first day I woke up, started reading. God's presence was there waiting for me. And I felt the Lord speaking to my heart and encouraging me. And two hours just passed by without feeling what was going on. And by the end of these two hours as I was just contemplating one song, meditating over it, I wrote my prayer. And, and I, I wrote my prayer because I want 3d to, to to be sure that I want to pray this with all of my heart. And I want to repeat this prayer throughout the day. But then Several days later, as I started doing this, I felt prompted to post some of these prayers on Facebook. Because I felt like other people might really benefit from praying like like this. And so I posted these prayers on Facebook. And I was surprised by the response I received. A lot of people were touched by these prayers. And, and so I call it Facebook theology, because it's really reaching out to people through prayer. But I didn't want to be distracted from I'm praying because I didn't want that, you know, my prayers will be for the sake of encouraging others I wanted really to spend time with the Lord. So I decided to pause for a while until I finished then I will post
the prayers. And,
and that's what I've done and God has been faithful in speaking to me throughout the Psalms, and the way I did it. I spent about an hour studying every song, looking sometimes at commentaries, looking at certain things, the Hebrew text, and then I will take it one verse at a time and play it and play all the song verse by verse. And then after I pray all the song verse by verse, I would ask the Lord for further inspiration, and I will write an inspirational prayer In response to these prayers that have prayed as I studied the song, and in dialogue with my own context and reality,
Dr. Cut an outro. Thank you so much for sharing a little of your story there. May I ask you what was the method that you used for writing the prayers in this book? So where would you write these prayers? Were these in your office at these early morning sessions? would you would you write them or revise them while taking walks or at coffee shops? What was your place and method for writing these?
It was at my home. And
almost all the prayers were written while my kids were in bed, and I was alone at home. It was about 4am in the morning, between four and 6am in the morning, that's my Most of these prayers were written during that
and it took several months some prayers. It took me several days.
My intention was
to write one prayer for every day. But it didn't always work that way. Sometimes I had to spend four or five days just reflecting on one song and praying it over again and again, until I felt comfortable to write a certain prayer. And and sometimes I would hear several sermons just on that particular song, if I can find them in order to motivate my heart and my thinking in that direction, and one of the people who really helped me is the the the preaching of Spurgeon and I found many of his sermons, you know, online, and whether reading them or sometimes even hearing some of these prayers. Some of his sermons inspired me in new ways. So there were two two companions that that helped me as I was was reflecting some of the writings of augustan and some of the writings of Spurgeon. But of course, David and the Psalms were the main thing and I read all the Psalter in Hebrew. And I basically looked at the some of the English translations and the Arabic translations as I reflected on the Psalms.
Thank you very much, Dr. Cotton natural. Thanks for coming out for your life and ministry is in the context of Palestine, and the The Middle East, would you be willing to share with us? How is it that the context of the Middle East shapes the contents of this book?
First of all, in my context, there is a lot of hate threads. There is a lot of injustices, there is a lot of violence, there is a lot of corrupt
There is a lot of division. And, and I live in the same topography of the Psalms, and so a geography and so, I feel like the culture of David's as well as the geography and the reality is whether the political realities or social realities are very similar. And,
challenged me because many of the prayers that we have We pray that our churches did not reflect the diversity that I found in Psalms, I was not able to cry holy tears when there were people dying or I watch it while I was watching the TV and seeing children suffering. I was not able to express all the anger when I saw in justices, because our church traditions somehow gave certain description to acceptable prayers and prayers that are not accepted. But when I read scriptures, I felt that scripture is provides for me the space to express all of my feelings and emotions, and even my frustration sometimes with even
God Himself. And
like, for example, Song 22 words God, God, why have you forsaken me? I mean, I felt like that so often times, but I can pray like that at church, especially as an ordained minister, as a theologian. And all of a sudden, you know, people expect me to be in in a good shape all the time.
But I felt that, that
I want to be real with the Lord, I want to experience
the blessing of God,
not to pretend that I am blessed all the time.
and so as I want as I struggled with the news, you know, I've heard many times that you, you have the newspaper in one hand, you have the Bible in the other hand, and I felt like okay, I want now to pray the newspaper, I want to pray the news, I want to open the news. And instead of being frustrated, I want to hear what they're saying, and then pose and then take a time of prayer and see So this desire within me started changing my understanding of prayer. And so I started adding to the list of prayer, many things that I didn't consider before. And it was no longer just ambiguous prayers. But it was really prayers in dialogue, with very entities with Gaza, with Syria, with Egypt, with revolutions, with their dictatorships with their basically a elections with political turmoil, and with cultures of hatreds, and with people who are crying with orphans, and so I wanted to bring my prayer to all this reality. And I found psalms is providing all of that and even much more with all their people. Who are at the verge of living their last breath with the people who are sick with people who are happy and rejoicing with weddings. So I found with with people who are contemplating life with people who are looking at the stars, with people who are looking at their moons. And so I felt like with all of these realities, Psalms is inviting me to enter into the presence of God. So it was exciting. And it was emotionally invigorating. For me and I, I really poured my feelings, my mind I wanted to pray with all of my mind with all of my heart and without abandoning the world I'm living in, I want to bring God's world into my world, into this world, rather than abandon this world. And as if I belonged only to someone else, I wanted
the kingdom of God to come
here and now by the grace of God through touching Heaven, in prayer. And, frankly, that expanded so much
my theology expanded so much my
prayer. Because since I was a student, I always wanted to pray my theology. I even took my Greek grammar and went to my room. I remember as a student, and I was praying, the parsing, I was praying, the, the grammar, I was praying the Greek and that was the way in which by praying Hebrew grammar and Greek grammar, that I fell in love with the Word of God. And now by praying the reality that I am encountering, I started To see how God is involved in every breath, in every situation in every political reality, and God has something to say, and to do through me and through his people.
Thank you so much Dr. continental for that vision of what prayer is and its operation. Thank you for sharing that. Dr. cutter Nacho, would you be willing to take us into one of the prayers of the book and perhaps also share some of the personal memories that stand behind the text as you've written it?
That is a
prayer from Psalm 120. Now, some of the prayers a are more inspirational. Other prayers are more following the text.
So there are in some of these songs, basically, I follow sometimes the song itself by and I put in brackets, exactly the verse and I pray something is something else. And then I put the verse following the verses. But there are some times where I was praying a certain song. And there was an idea that captured my heart at that in that particular song. And then I felt the freedom to really pray. The idea that captured my heart not only following the verse, and so they the prayers themselves are diverse within the book of within the with the book, praying through the songs. Now in this particular song, Psalm 120. I was watching TV, and during that week, and I was seeing a lot of bloodshed. I was seeing a lot of suffering for innocent children who were dying, and I felt very depressed. I felt very disturbed. Bye bye The situation I felt helpless. I didn't know what to do. And it was very difficult. And then in this in that same week, I was in a in a conference. And in that conference, there was discussion about the political realities and the, and the history of my country and and the, and the, and how things developed in the last 100 years and what kind of dreams people had. And we had even and one person asked me, What is your dream?
And I didn't know that, like,
what is my dream? But I went home and during that time, it was I was praying the Psalms, a, in consequence, one song at a time and it was the time when I was reading Psalm 120. The songs of ascent and and in depth Song, the writer says, I am peace, but they are for war. And and in that song when I read that, something in my heart moved, and I felt that
God wants me to reflect on
that further. So I wrote this prayer, Lord, I am tired of the journalists who hate peace. And that was related to this six in particular because some people really hate peace. They rush to war, but I am a man of peace, which is in verse seven. Then I felt the freedom to really write my dream. So I will start my adventure towards you or Lord, with a dream in which I anticipate the coming of your kingdom. I dream of a Middle East in which I eat my breakfast in Jerusalem, lunch in Beirut. Dinner in Syria. I drive my car to, to the Gulf, and then enter Africa, all in the same car. I dream of a Middle East in which people choose their own religion without fear. I dream of a Middle East in which there is no bigotry, radicalism and hatred. I dream of a Middle East in which all human beings are equal, whether they wear a hijab,
a kafir, or a keeper.
I dream of a Middle East in which Jews love Arabs, and seek to uphold the rights of the Middle East in which Arabs love Jews. I dream of a Middle East without poverty, hatred, wars or massacres. I dream of peace, peace with God and with all our neighbours. peace with self and with angels. I dream of a Middle East with without weapons, without traffic jams without the illusion, without discrimination because of gender, religion, age or weight. My dream is not an illusion, but a step forward as I follow Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace. My dream is not something that can be fulfilled in a moment. It is a celestial kingdom that comes through many generations, and many sacrifices, prayers and tears. before the dawn, there is darkness before joy, sadness has its victory before laughing, weeping dominates before the dominance of the kingdom of God, the kingdom of the devil reigns all Lord, may your kingdom come and Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. May Your kingdom come through my words, thoughts, decisions, and relationships, turn me into a peacemaker.
the reason I, I see this prayer,
I learned from the book of Psalms,
that many of the prayers in the book of Psalms depict a dream world. Like for example, someone is a dream world. Why do I say that? Because someone is, you know, the righteous will be rewarded, the wicked will be punished.
And this is
the idea of reality. But the reality is not like that. The rest of songs like Psalm three, some for some five, even a serf in Psalm 73 cries out to God and saying, No, I'm even envious of the weekend. It's a Unlike someone, but someone is important, because our dreams, shaped our hopes, shape, our faith, shaped our prayers, shape, our, the way we are transformed by the word of God. So I've learned through prayers, that it is important to make our prayers prophetic, by dreaming of the coming words that will come. And and this is why I
write this prayer because
when I pray about peace, and I dream about it, that dream that prayer starts to shape my emotions, my feelings, my thoughts, my vision, my actions, and my relationship with God. And so it transforms me but it also transforms the church. And transforms the people around me. And so I got really excited after this prayer, because it's not only now my dream, but it's also my vision.
Thank you so much, Dr. cutter nancial for sharing with us prayer and we say amen. May the Prince of Peace bring his peace. Thank you so much. Dr. cutter Nacho, what are some of the exercises that you would assign someone seeking to deepen his or her prayer life?
You know, and
a lot of people
find it sometimes difficult to pray. And prayer is a relationship.
We have a relationship with God.
I found it.
I find sometimes it's difficult to Define faith. But I want to say faith is also a relationship. It's a relationship with God. And the more we know God, the more we trust him. So we need to develop this kind of relationship. So for example, I wake up in the morning and I say, God, good morning. How do you feel today? What do you have for me? So I start talking to God, just in a relationship. And then I say, when I woke up, I say, How do you feel about the traffic jam today? Lord? I'm not very happy about it. How do you think I should respond to it? When I start bringing God into my life like this, I talk to God. In this way. My prayer life will start developing as part of the relationship. But many times when we start, it becomes difficult for us to think like that. So I thought Maybe with many of my students, for example, at the college,
and I say, let's open a song,
read one verse.
And after you read this one verse in the song, if the verse is saying, Lord, You are great. Just have a short prayer about that verse. Thank you, Lord, because you are great. If the psalm stays, you know, and I am suffering, Lord, Lord, I present my suffering to you. Or my brother or my church is suffering. My sister is suffering, Lord, I bring them to you, and follow the song as we pray. So if you saw if you pray, Psalm 117, maybe you have a short prayer,
but imagine you are praying Psalm 119,
then your prayer will be much longer because some people ask me, How do you pray for One or two hours or three hours, I say, Well, I let the text lead me in my prayer.
Imagine that we pray the Sermon on the
Mount. Or imagine that we pray the whole gospel. And we we follow one verse at a time.
And we take a moment of silence.
Let the word of God inform our prayers. Sounds is a great place to start doing that, or other places, it's a little bit harder because we need to develop our understanding of the text. But if we start with songs, and we just pray one verse at a time, and even if we are in a group, actually, we can let every person and I've tried this with many of my students, every person, just read one verse, and if they had nothing to say, just say, Lord, thank you for this verse. And in this way, Our prayers grow. And not only our prayers grow, in fact, we will start
praying for things
we have never prayed for before. And this is what I've experienced. Because, you know, like, if I, like five years ago,
or 10 years ago, if I would record
my prayers, and hear them, most likely I would
be recycling my prayers over and over and over again.
But after I started praying scriptures, I started getting into issues and relationship with God into prayer.
I've never prayed
before a game before before in my life. And so it just expanded my heart, and it brought all of God's theology into prayer. And I found that the best theology is really done in worship. The more we worship in our theology, the more we worship in our lives, the more our prayers becomes parts of life. So if I'm preparing a sermon, I bring my sermon. There's my verse in prayer. Every word, I put it in prayer, and God speaks to me many times, things I've never even considered with reading all the commentaries, all of a sudden, something new comes to my mind, in prayer. I pray my relationship with my wife with my children. I bring it I put it in prayer, before the Lord, my day I put it in prayer before the Lord and and then my life becomes transformed. And whenever I feel weak, I feel upset or angry. It's okay. I can come into the presence of God with my anger. With my frustration with My fear even with my sin, and so I can enter God's presence with my sin, fully safe, because I am under the blood of Jesus Christ. And in the presence of God, God heals me. God accepts me and God transforms me. That gives me thrusts and gives me to be transformed. It doesn't mean many times I feel embarrassed before God. I feel shame when I enter with my sin.
relates to me
in ways that will transform me from being weak into being strong, from being defiled, into being sanctified, and I always trade with the Lord's trade my weakness, and get his empowerment is strength. And trust me in in a world full of hatred, full of angry people full of a difficulties.
I can't imagine
being able to survive for five minutes without the Lord. And so it is important for me to be in touch with the Lord continually. Even now, my mind saying, Lord, may this meeting be a blessing may be a point of transformation for people who here, it's not about my book, praying through the Psalms, it's not about me, it's about God. And it's about the people who here to love the Lord with all of their heart with all of their mind and to follow him. If they follow him. That is the most important thing. And if they follow him, I am fully content and say Fight. I want nothing except God to be pleased.
Thank you, Dr. Khan and Nacho for this incredibly inspiring vision of what prayer is and how it can transform our lives. Thank you so much for sharing that. Dr. cutter nacelle, if I can close with a question that we've been asking all of the participants on this program and that is this, how can Christians today pursue the Unity for which Jesus prayed in john 17?
Okay, wow. And I just finished writing a draft of a book, actually, on the gospel of john. It's called reading the gospel
of john through Palestinian
I sent the draft to intervarsity. And if they agreed to publish it, then may god use it for His glory. But in short, you know, you asked me a short question. I'll try to give a short answer. It's not easy. But in short, and john 17 the prayer of Jesus is part of the book of the hour or glory, which is from john 13 to 21. in that section, God transforms our identity and gives us seven in new identities. We are people of love john 13. We are people of the Spirit, john 14 and 16. We are people of divine john 15. We are persecuted people. And then that john 16 as well. We are people of prayer and unity, john 17. We are people of the cross, john 18 and 19. We are people of resurrection, john 20 and 21. So I want to understand the idea of unity. In the mission of God, as our identity is being transformed, so I can just take the prayer of unity without being in the mission of God, without being people of love, people of spirit, people of divine and people who are moving towards people of the cross, and people of resurrection, bring the kingdom of God into this world through our prayer. So prayer is part of a holistic relationship in the mission of God. So how can we do that? And I like what Roseanne has has done. The whole church, taking the whole Gospel to the whole world, the whole church, young people, older people, men, women, Palestinians, Israelis, Americans, Germans, Japanese orients the whole church working together, taking the whole gospel, not only news about being transformed, but it is actually the whole gospel, whether it's the social gospel, whether the personal gospel, whether the kingdom of God in all of its totality, coming the whole Gospel to the whole world. And as we do this together, then we are transformed by the unity of mission, by the unity of love, by the unity of the Spirit. And as we have the unity of mission, the unity of love, the unity of the Spirit, we move closer to the unity of doctrine, and closer to the unity of common organization. But without the unity of love, the unity of mission, the unity in the vine, it will be hard to embody the unity of doctrine and the unity of, of even organization. But I thank God for the diversity in unity. And for me, john 17 is a continual reminder of the story of the mission of God. And that we are part of that mission. It is here, but not yet. And so we work by God's grace, in that reality not only through orthodoxy of prayer, which is thinking rightly about how to pray, also practice of prayer, which is praying with all of our brothers and sisters with from all denominations, but also with I will add Leslie, which is very dominant in songs, something called ortho pathless and ortho petals is not common in a lot of people. Also petals, it means suffering brightly, for the sake of the kingdom of God. And so we need to learn how to suffer rightly, in our prayers. And that's exactly what Jesus did. Because this prayer about unity, it was part of a time of suffering, rightly in the mission of gods.
It's been our privilege today to be speaking with Dr. Johann Icahn, financial and academic dean at Nazareth ev angelical College and author of the text that we've been discussing today praying through the songs available from Langham global library in 2018. Thank you, doctor, cutter Nacho so much for your time and insights this morning. Thank you, and may the Lord