Psalm 84: “A Korah Psalm”
This is one of the Psalms written by the sons of Korah. Actually, there’s a lot of information on Korah and his descendants. These psalm writing “sons” are really descendants of the Levite named Korah who challenges the leadership of Moses and Aaron way back in the book of Numbers. He dies at the hand of God in that rebellion, but it seems his descendants continue on and here we see that they’re among the Levites David assigns to be worship leaders. It’s good to remember that even though there’s spiritual failure in our past (or that of our family) that we still have opportunity to be well used by God. Great-great grandpa might have challenged God’s chosen leaders (or might have been a slave owner or been hung a horse thief) but that doesn’t make us of any less value in God’s sight. This kind of thinking sounds pretty old hat to me and my fellow Americans. We’re all individualists anyway and think it’s wonderful to be able to say, “I did it my way.” To people through most of history, the “my way” approach is unheard of. They see life from the group’s point of view and speak in terms of “our way.” That means that their culture sees grandpa’s failures as the failure of all those descended from him. In their way of thinking, the stigma of failure is passed down from generation to generation. Every time we glance at the top of a Psalm and see that it comes from Korah’s clan we’re seeing redemption at work! In more current terms, these psalms remind me that God forgives my past failure and is very willing to use me as a worker in his Kingdom today.
Take Away: God is the God of Second Chances.
Heaven will surely be worth it all
Psalm 84: These roads curve up the mountain, and at the last turn — Zion!
The psalmist is thinking about journeying to Jerusalem to worship at the Temple. Oh how the pilgrim looks forward to being in the Temple of God. He can’t help but think of how blest are those whose serve in that place day by day. However, there’s more than even that here. The song writer finds himself thinking about people who are living their lives in the Lord, journeying with him along the dusty roads and through the lonesome valleys of life. Not that there aren’t some blest times along the way because there are some “cool springs” that refresh the weary traveler. Then, there’s one last mountain to climb, one last curve to navigate; and then Zion comes into view. That “lonesome valley” journey is quickly forgotten as beautiful Zion is seen. What a powerful picture he’s painted. Today, I thank God for walking with me on my life journey. I thank him for the blessings of cool springs along the way and for his faithfulness to me even in the lonesome valleys. For me, and for most of us, the blessings far outnumber the trials. But whether or not that is true for you in particular we all have this hope: one of these days we’ll climb that last mountain and round the final curve and our Zion will come into view. As the old gospel song says, “Heaven will surely be worth it all.”
Take Away: We are a people with hope; hope both in this world and in the world to come.
Telling it like it was
Psalm 78: He…commanded our parents to teach it to their children.
Asaph’s longest psalm tells the story of Israel’s failure and God’s faithfulness. In the opening part of the psalm he states that its purpose is to tell their story so that the next generation will learn to trust God. Honestly, from Israel’s point of view this isn’t a very flattering story. Each verse of the song describes a failure of Israel and how God responds with compassion to rescue them from some mess they’ve gotten themselves into. I don’t know about you, but when I’m telling the “next generation” about God I usually skip the “I failed” part and jump straight to the “God helped” part. Maybe that’s a mistake. It might be that I’m unintentionally saving face instead of teaching others to trust God more. Of course, there are things in all our pasts that must be told carefully and at the right time, but there’s likely a time for the telling. If I’m not careful I give the impression that I wised up and decided to give my heart to the Lord. In doing that, I make God into a concerned bystander in my story, wringing his hands, hoping I’ll turn it all around and then pleased that I’ve done so. It really isn’t that way. It’s God who graciously reaches down into the mess I’ve made, bringing redemption. Yes, I have to cooperate with him, but he’s the one who ought to get all the credit. I need to be sure that “my story” is truly “God’s story.” A part of that is my, at the appropriate time and place, honestly admitting my failure. That gives God the glory and also gives hope to that one in the “next generation” who already has some spiritual failures of his or her own.
Take Away: It’s God who graciously reaches down into the mess I’ve made, bringing redemption.
Helping God be God
Psalm 73: I nearly missed it…I was looking the other way, looking up to the people.
Asaph is one of David’s choir directors and the writer of eleven of the psalms. The Bible also mentions the “sons of Asaph.” These are probably people who are disciples of this talented worship leader. Asaph and David are kindred spirits and the themes of their psalms are similar. In this song Asaph declares the goodness of God and talks about how the Lord patiently led him even when he was “totally ignorant” of what was going on. It’s the opening part of this psalm, though, that gets my attention today. He declares the goodness of God but then confesses that he nearly missed seeing that goodness. Why? He was too busy looking at people to see God. Asaph’s attention was drawn to the seeming success of others, then, as he considered their success he saw that some were wicked people and he began to question God as to how it could be that wicked people enjoy such success. The truth is that I can fail to see God because I’m enamored with the success of others. I can also fail to see him because I am too busy telling him what I think he should do. In trying to help God out I place myself in danger of losing sight of him altogether. I need to remember who God is and that he can handle the inconsistencies of life. My main job is to keep my eyes on him and live in obedience to him. It’s not my job to point out things I think he may have overlooked.
Take Away: Always remember that the Lord can handle the seeming inconsistencies of life – we can leave such things in his hands and keep our eyes on him.
Looking back, remaining faithful
Psalm 71: I’ll keep at it until I’m old and gray.
David’s story is one of the “complete” stories of the Bible. We know him as a child and then journey with him through his rich, eventful life to old age. This psalm is written in his later years and the long shadows of this evening portion of his life are evident in his words. The early part of the song is retrospective. David remembers his childhood and God’s blessings. Then, skipping his full life, David asks the Lord to continue blessing him in his senior years. There are no more wars for him to fight, no more giants to be slain, but David is now in a fight that he will not win. Is God only interested in young, energy-filled people? Will David, as his vitality slips away, be put on the shelf and forgotten by not only man, but by God too? David knows that’s not going to happen. Even as an old and grey headed man he enjoys the faithfulness of God. These days he isn’t out taking on the enemies of God in battle, but he has plenty to say. People need to be reminded of the story of God’s goodness and they need to know what it means to really worship. Gray headed or not, David sets out to lift the Lord, showing the way to praise and worship.
Take Away: The way to conclude life is to continue setting an example of trusting and praising the Lord.
Be still and know…
Psalm 65: Silence is praise to you.
“Silence is praise to you.” What an interesting phrase to be found in the world’s most famous book of songs. Songs are about, well, sound: music and singing, instrumentals and key changes. Now I’m told that it doesn’t always take some meaningful praise song to have meaningful praise. David, that famous song writer and harp player, says that silence can be full of praise. One of his examples is found in nature. Not only does he see praise in the crashing of the waves but he also sees it when those things “come to a stop.” Also, he hears songs of praise in the stillness of the dawn or as dusk settles on the land. Silence is a missing element in most of our lives. I tend to treat silence as a small child treats darkness. In other words, I want a “night light” of sound; maybe the radio playing in the background. My prayers are filled with the sound of my own voice and when I run out of things to say I think that means my prayer is finished. David reminds me that silence is a perfectly acceptable form of praise. Learning to worship in silence is a powerful lesson to learn. It’s an element almost completely absent from our public and even personal worship experiences.
Take Away: Those who learn to worship in silence have learned a powerful lesson of worship.
Real men sing together
Psalm 63 I’ve worked up such hunger and thirst for God.
I often picture David as the shepherd boy out tending his sheep in some tranquil pastoral setting. I see him playing his harp and composing songs of praise to God with only a congregation of sheep hearing his music. That, I think, is more myth than fact. I’ve recently read the psalm King David wrote after being confronted with his adultery with Bathsheba. Now, in the 63rd Psalm I find him out in the Judean wilderness, as he and his loyal band is on the run from his enemies. The setting is far from tranquil and his audience is not sheep, but warriors Can’t you imagine this rough and tumble fighting force gathering around the campfire to listen to their fearless leader play the harp and sing his latest composition to them. I think that’s exactly what happened! In this case, David’s song is one of transparent praise to God. He tells the Lord, “I can’t get enough of you,” proclaiming, “God — you’re my God.” As David and his rag-tag army sit around the campfire they sing, not “kum-ba-ya,” but “here I am to worship.” I don’t think I’d want to be the person who wanders into that camp to tell these warriors that it’s kind of sissy to sing such songs, and if I did, I’d probably want to have a current life insurance policy! Seriously, it’s nice to be reminded that real men can really worship.
Take Away: Heartfelt worship can be a very masculine endeavor.
Some lessons are learned the hard way
Psalm 51: Going through the motions doesn’t please you.
This Psalm probably ranks in the top four or five best known psalms and it comes from the worst event of David’s life. He’s sinned against God in his affair with Bathsheba and then tried to cover it up by engineering the death of her husband. His evil plan never has a chance. All the time God is watching as the whole ugly thing unfolds. God sends his man, Nathan, to confront David and when he repents he writes this psalm as his prayer of confession. Its theme is “God’s loving grace.” David pleads for mercy and forgiveness and asks for a changed heart. There’s no, “I’ll try harder” in his cry to God. He realizes that his greatest need isn’t better performance but that he be made new from the inside out. I think the most powerful insight of the psalm is David’s realization that God isn’t nearly as interested in performance as he is in motivation. The Lord isn’t as interested in our behaving in some proscribed way as he is interested in our hearts. When the heart is right, performance (within human limitations) will follow. Otherwise, performance becomes for us, not a source of righteousness, but a source of pride.
Take Away: A changed heart results in changed behavior.
Better for our kids than Disneyland
Psalm 48: Then you can tell the next generation.
This Psalm is one in praise of the City of God, Jerusalem. This, I’m told, is a place where worship abounds, and with good reason. Within its walls is the place of worship, the dwelling place of God on earth. This city is protected by the Lord even when powerful enemies come to destroy it. Every time the song writer looks at Jerusalem, Zion, he’s overwhelmed with the goodness of God. Then he suggests a specific course of action. He says people ought to carefully measure the city and count its towers. He wants them to make careful record of everything about this City of God. Why? So they can recount it all to their children. In other words, it isn’t enough for them to simply rejoice in the here and now in all God has done for them; they’re to record it all and then tell their children and grandchildren about it. We Christians have our own stories of God’s grace in our lives and churches, our families and our nation. It’s good for us to rejoice when God delivers us from some near disaster. However, we need to be more on purpose in passing our stories along. Surely with all the technology available I can make a video or record a mp3 in which I tell the whole story, detail by detail. Of course, beyond that, we need to have such conversations with our kids. For instance maybe on vacation we can make a stop at the church where we attended as children and, there, in the sanctuary, tell our kids about what happened and why. It may not be the same as Disneyland, and it doesn’t have to replace such a destination, but it just might have a greater impact on our kids than we realize.
Take Away: Tell your story to your kids, and tell it often.
Looking to the Lord in the midst of the storm
Psalm 42: Fix my eyes on God – soon I’ll be praising again.
When Peter walks on the water he does just fine until his attention is drawn away from the Lord and onto the storm. It’s then that he begins to sink. Hundreds of years before that, the sons of Korah write this Psalm dealing with the same issue. As is abundantly clear with the drowning Peter, they don’t suggest that God’s people go about pretending all is well. We’re to admit that we’re down in the dumps and maybe even feeling neglected by God, about to be crushed. The solution they give us is the very same thing we learn from Peter’s unforgettable experience on and then in the water: we’re to fix our eyes on the One who loves us and promises to be with us. Toward the back of our Bibles we find the writer of Hebrews telling us, again, to “fix our eyes on Jesus.” Since we find this truth here in the Psalms, and then see it powerfully illustrated by Peter in the gospels, and then are taught the same truth again in the book of Hebrews you’d think that we’d have such a firm grasp on it that it would be part of our spiritual DNA. However, this lesson has to not only be learned, but then relearned; again and again. I think I forget it because I tend to attempt to be self-sufficient. I want the Lord to be impressed with me, so I try to handle it myself. Or, the problem is that I’m so “now oriented” that I can’t see the bigger picture of God’s faithful provision for me even in the storms of life. Either way, the answer is given here. When I look to the Lord, even in the harshness of life, in the words of Korah’s sons, “soon I’ll be praising again.”
Take Away: If we “fix our eyes” on anyone or anything aside from the Lord we’ll end up being let down and disappointed.