Praise the Lord!
Psalm 100: He made us, we didn’t make him.
Psalm 100 is just a few lines long but it’s a good one! The goal of this, what we would think of as a “praise chorus” psalm, is to praise God for being God. No doubt, there are many things the Lord has done for me that should inspire me to praise but once in a while it’s good to remember that God is worthy simply because of Who He is. Strictly speaking, then, there’s never a time when praise is out of order. I say that carefully because I know that my humanity and the events of my life can break the spontaneity of praise. After all, I’m also told to “weep with those who weep.” Still this psalm reminds me that no matter what winds are blowing in my life that God is still God and as God he’s worthy of praise. He’s my Maker and my Good Shepherd. His love and beauty, his faithfulness and grace never cease. So why not? Let’s sing a song of praise!
Take Away: If it’s okay to cry out to the Lord when things are not going our way, it’s also okay to remember that even in the midst of that trial that God is still God and worthy of our praise.
Trust in trial
Psalm 94: God will never walk away from his people.
A friend, who’s in the middle of about five disasters, including a couple of big physical problems of her own, bravely says to me, “I know the Bible says that God won’t let us face more than we can bear.” The unstated side of that is, “I don’t know how much more of this I can take!” In this psalm, a person who trusts in God questions the seeming unending flow of painful events in life. He sees all that’s happening and asks God, “How long will you let this go on?” Then the song writer begins to answer his own question reminding us that surely the “Ear-Maker” hears what’s being said and the “Eye-Maker” sees what’s going on. He states, “God will never walk away from his people.” There are times in life when we’re left with nothing but our trust in God’s love. We believe that he hears our prayers, sees what’s happening, and that he loves us with a never-ending love. At times like that it’s perfectly acceptable for us, on one hand, to proclaim, “I know it’ll be okay because the Lord’s on my side” while, on the other hand to cry out, “Lord, how much longer before you act on my behalf?”
Take Away: It doesn’t offend the Lord when his people cry out to him in painful, dark days.
Long before the American Holiness Movement
Psalm 86: Put me together, one heart and mind; then, undivided, I’ll worship in joyful fear.
I know that David has never heard of second blessing holiness. Jesus’ teachings about heart purity and Paul’s writing on being filled with the Spirit are way out in the future as David writes these words. Wesley, Bud Robinson, and a host of holiness preachers are yet to come. With that in mind, I don’t want to get carried away with David’s cry for an undivided heart and mind. Still, I see here an understanding of humanity. While David isn’t making a theological statement in this Psalm, he does make a human one. He sees division in his heart and he believes God can unify his life. I don’t have to overlay the centuries of theology that are yet to come to identify with that cry of faith. Today, the Christian who struggles with division in his or her life does well to start with this Old Testament prayer, asking God to “put me together.”
Take Away: The Lord can, and wants to, do a deep, transforming, uniting work in the lives of his people.
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.