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Sunday, September 2, 2012

Affirmations, Psalms, & Structural Similarities: Does God Want Us to Pray This Way?

Photo by Jennifrog. Her page is here.
King David, Psalmist

Like a lot of cancer patients, I'm doing affirmations.

Yesterday I suddenly realized that many Biblical psalms are identical in structure and content to affirmations.

I wonder if the similarity between the Biblical psalms and affirmations offers any insight into the intentions, and the theological worldview, of the authors of the psalms. I wonder if this similarity is any indication of the theological correctness or efficacy of affirmations.

In short: Does God approve of affirmations? And does the affirmation-like structure of many psalms offer any answer to that question?

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What are affirmations?

Affirmations are brief, declarative sentences. They are in the "present tense, positive, personal and specific" (source).

Affirmations are used by a variety of people facing various challenges. They can be used by sick people battling an illness, by survivors of traumatic events, or by athletes training for an event.

Below are some examples.

A cancer patient might make use of the following affirmations:

I trust in the power of love to heal my body.

I trust in the love given to me by my doctors (family, friends, etc.) to help my body heal itself.

My body is learning to relax in the presence of pain. (source)

Adults who were abused as children might help themselves recover from the lingering impact of that abuse by repeating the following affirmations:

I am a good person.

I am made in God's image.

I am intelligent.

Today I will put all negativity behind me.

I am loved. (source)

Athletes training for an event might use the following affirmations:

I am prepared.

I am going to win.

I feel better than ever.

I am confident.

I recover properly.

I am eating right. (source)

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Why do people make use of affirmations?

For some, affirmations are believed to work on a purely physical level. If you tell yourself that you are beautiful, that message will make you feel good, and feeling good will improve your physical appearance. If an athlete tells himself that he works out regularly, that attitude will become second nature for him, and he is more likely to work out regularly and to benefit from his workouts.

For others, affirmations have a magical quality. Affirmations align you with a supernatural source of power and make things happen through a process that can't be observed or measured. This approach is typical of New Age thought.

Affirmations, for some Christians, is a form of prayer. This is typical of Unity Church and its publication, "Daily Word."

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Again, affirmations are

Declarative sentences

In the present tense

That state a specific, positive, desired result

They are personal.

Affirmations are, in short, like many Biblical psalms!


Psalm 23, the most famous psalm, is one affirmation after another!

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Psalm 121, my personal favorite, is also a series of affirmations, although most are in the future tense, not the present tense:

My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord watches over you—
the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all harm—
he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.

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Not all psalms are affirmations. The most common psalm theme is lament. Others are songs of praise or thanksgiving.

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We have records of Jesus's disciples only ever asking him how to do one thing – how to pray. In the Lord's Prayer, Jesus doesn't exactly follow the model outlined above.

His opening statements are affirmation-style, declarative sentences: "Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."

In subsequent sentences, though, Jesus does not state a desire as a declarative sentence. Rather, his sentences are imperative requests: "Give us this day our daily bread. Forgive us our trespasses. Deliver us from evil." Jesus doesn't say, in affirmation or psalm style, "You give us our daily bread."

2 comments:

  1. Never underestimate the power of thought. It's the one thing you can control. :)

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