Lifting hearts to God in thanks and praise.

Saturday Psalm: 32

A Maskil of David.

Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,
    whose sin is covered.
Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity,
    and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away
    through my groaning all day long.
For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
    my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah

I acknowledged my sin to you,
    and I did not cover my iniquity;
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,”
    and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah

Therefore let everyone who is godly
    offer prayer to you at a time when you may be found;
surely in the rush of great waters,
    they shall not reach him.
You are a hiding place for me;
    you preserve me from trouble;
    you surround me with shouts of deliverance. Selah

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
    I will counsel you with my eye upon you.
Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding,
    which must be curbed with bit and bridle,
    or it will not stay near you.

10 Many are the sorrows of the wicked,
    but steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the Lord.
11 Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous,
    and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!

In college I used to sing verse 7; this morning I found a short film based on verse 8; here’s Karl Kohlhase with a beautiful version of the whole psalm, using the first verse as a refrain; here’s a quieter version with Sons of Korah; and here’s a gorgeous version with a bit of introduction by Steve Bell.

Looking at this psalm anew, I am reminded to pause when I read Selah, and think a bit before moving on. My friend Rose posted a quote from Mark Twain on Facebook this  morning: “If you tell the truth you don’t have to remember anything,” and it took a Selah pause to let that sink in. But I think it’s exactly the freedom that the second verse is talking about when it says there is no deceit in the spirit of the one who is forgiven.

After proclaiming that there is happiness in being forgiven, covered, wrongs not counted as iniquity, David goes into the personal account of his pain when he kept silent. Bones wasting away, groaning all day long, strength dried up; have you ever felt that? Here again I feel David has suffered more deeply than I although I have an idea of this feeling.

I appreciate the Selah. After pausing to think on the pain, we turn to the acknowledgement of sin, the uncovering of iniquity. “I did this, and it was wrong. Please forgive me,” is such a great formula for acknowledging sin! David uses a particular phrase in the end of verse 5: you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Not that the sin didn’t happen but the wrongness of it is forgiven. That is how the freedom comes: in full acknowledgement that wrong was done and yet that wrong can be fixed, can be overcome, can be forgiven by love. Has that happened to you? I think it’s very important that the detail of what I did wrong is spelled out to the person I’m asking to forgive me. I can say I’m sorry and yet not be sure that I’m talking about what hurt the other. Also, when I say what I did that was hurtful, the other can trust that I’ve thought about it from both sides. Genuine care can then flow back and forth and love is encouraged.

Therefore, because genuine repentance brings freedom of conscience and lightness of heart, restoring relationship, let the ones who seek God pray to him asap. When you’ve done wrong, be quick to repent! Then the problems that come (because the sin happened, or because others sin, or just because there are difficulties in this life) are mitigated by the relationship with God: he is my hiding place, he preserves me and delivers me. The short film (above) started with the word “ready” and touched off a chord in me that loves this song sung by Rich Mullins.

The last section of the psalm has God talking: I will instruct and teach you in the way you should go and counsel you with my eye on you! This would be creepy if the relationship isn’t right with God, but the next verse speaks to that also: don’t be like an animal that has to be harnessed in order to stay nearby: stay near to God willingly! Verse 10: “Many sorrows…and steadfast love…” it’s not that those who love the Lord don’t have sorrows but that they also have the surrounding love of God through the pain. So be glad and rejoice in the Lord, David says, for through his forgiveness and leading you are upright in heart!

All thanks and praise to God!

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Saturday Psalm: 31

I missed the daily Psalm reflection I did in April, so this morning I thought I would alliterate and look at another.

To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David.

In you, O Lord, do I take refuge;
    let me never be put to shame;
    in your righteousness deliver me!
Incline your ear to me;
    rescue me speedily!
Be a rock of refuge for me,
    a strong fortress to save me!

For you are my rock and my fortress;
    and for your name’s sake you lead me and guide me;
you take me out of the net they have hidden for me,
    for you are my refuge.
Into your hand I commit my spirit;
    you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God.

I hate those who pay regard to worthless idols,
    but I trust in the Lord.
I will rejoice and be glad in your steadfast love,
    because you have seen my affliction;
    you have known the distress of my soul,
and you have not delivered me into the hand of the enemy;
    you have set my feet in a broad place.

Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress;
    my eye is wasted from grief;
    my soul and my body also.
10 For my life is spent with sorrow,
    and my years with sighing;
my strength fails because of my iniquity,
    and my bones waste away.

11 Because of all my adversaries I have become a reproach,
    especially to my neighbors,
and an object of dread to my acquaintances;
    those who see me in the street flee from me.
12 I have been forgotten like one who is dead;
    I have become like a broken vessel.
13 For I hear the whispering of many—
    terror on every side!—
as they scheme together against me,
    as they plot to take my life.

14 But I trust in you, O Lord;
    I say, “You are my God.”
15 My times are in your hand;
    rescue me from the hand of my enemies and from my persecutors!
16 Make your face shine on your servant;
    save me in your steadfast love!
17 Lord, let me not be put to shame,
    for I call upon you;
let the wicked be put to shame;
    let them go silently to Sheol.
18 Let the lying lips be mute,
    which speak insolently against the righteous
    in pride and contempt.

19 Oh, how abundant is your goodness,
    which you have stored up for those who fear you
and worked for those who take refuge in you,
    in the sight of the children of mankind!
20 In the cover of your presence you hide them
    from the plots of men;
you store them in your shelter
    from the strife of tongues.

21 Blessed be the Lord,
    for he has wondrously shown his steadfast love to me
    when I was in a besieged city.
22 I had said in my alarm,
    “I am cut off from your sight.”
But you heard the voice of my pleas for mercy
    when I cried to you for help.

23 Love the Lord, all you his saints!
    The Lord preserves the faithful
    but abundantly repays the one who acts in pride.
24 Be strong, and let your heart take courage,
    all you who wait for the Lord!

It’s good to hear the Psalms sung. When I read them, they are often just words that I have to read aloud or think hard about, but somehow singing them (even if translated or condensed) opens up the meaning in a new way. Here’s a very much abbreviated version by John Michael Talbot and here’s Karl Kohlhase with a more lengthy version. I like how the former is a worship song that many can sing, and I like how the latter is more true to the psalm but makes it even more immediate.

A note about verse 6: I like how Karl Kohlhase translates it, “I hate the worship of idols” rather than hating those who worship idols. It’s hard for us to read the hatred of enemies when Jesus taught that God wants us to love our enemies and do good to those who persecute us. But that’s a sort of better than perfect goal, right? Who can do that? On the other hand we look at David here and elsewhere saying he hates those who don’t fear God. I have come to wonder if the word hate has changed meaning over time. In reading the word in the Old Testament it sounds more like avoid, stay away from, don’t imitate, ignore (which can also be harsh, but not as active as angry hate that means harm).

I’m not really sure if this psalm is working on chiasm principles (movement in and then paralleling back out again) but there’s a definite change in verses 9-13. David starts out affirming God as his refuge and asking for that safety. The refuge even delivers him from a net he is caught in, and verse 5 affirms God’s redemption so that when verse 6 comes along to the hating of idols and ends with trust in the Lord, it is in contrast: the Lord is a mighty refuge who saves even those caught in a net, whereas other idols are worthless. Then verses 7&8 rejoice in the steadfast love of the Lord who has known his distress and delivered him.

Now, in verse 9 after all the rehearsing and rejoicing in the past work of his refuge, David moves to the plea for grace because he is in distress again. What distress! Eye wasted from grief, soul and body also; life spent in sorrow and sighing, strength fails because of iniquity (wrongdoing, sin)—that’s the personal side of things. Enemies reproach him, especially the neighbors, and acquaintances dread him; even people in the street flee! He hears how they plot to take his life. This is really low. He feels he has done wrong and he regrets it, others know what’s wrong and they avoid him (just like he avoids those who worship worthless idols?) and life is miserable. But then:

The change (if this is a chiasm, it’s the turning back out again) comes in verse 14: “But I trust in you, O Lord…” Don’t let me be put to shame, but stop the lying lips, he requests, and then verse 19 returns to praising God for his works of goodness and deliverance in the past. He ends the psalm with a turning outward to many people: “Love the Lord, all you his saints! … Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord!” That’s what I needed to hear today.

All thanks and praise to God!

Brokenhearted

I’m finally starting Ann Voskamp’s book The Way of Abundance, a 60 Day Journey into a Deeply Meaningful Life, which I bought before Easter, but hadn’t started. I haven’t finished her earlier book The Broken Way either, but might read both concurrently. Her introduction starts with this quote:

Men of the breaking hearts had a quality about them not known to or understood by common men. They habitually spoke with spiritual authority. They had been in the Presence of God and they reported what they saw there. —A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God

So I stop there a moment because I remember 2007 when I walked the streets of Medford, MA with a broken heart because my mom had died on Nov. 10, 2006 and strangers were kind to me, one encouraging me to go light a candle in church (I’m not catholic, but I was grateful), and yes, God spoke to me now and then in the quietest of whispers and once in my mom’s own voice in my head. I don’t deny Tozer’s words but I want to add that my experience of walking around broken hearted and thankful for the mom I’d had showed me the kindness of others, even their faith.

Ann talks about watching stars with her kids and explaining that stars are “made from a breaking at their center. Which allows for a process called nuclear fusion, a process that releases an enormous amount of energy, of light.”

Weak is the real strong.

Brokenness is the real abundance.

Breaking—then blazing.

Dying—then rising.

Trust the abundant ways of the universe, the ways of Almighty God.

When my mom died and grief welled up to overtake me, I was given the grace of the idea of thanking God for the mom I had and not regretting her going or grieving the past. I was weak, yes, and dependent and thankful. It was a good way to live, and Ann’s first book, 1000 Gifts affirmed that thankfulness is healing, strong, a right response always. She said, “Thanksgiving precedes the miracle,” and then in The Broken Way, realized that after Jesus gave thanks he broke the bread…the miracle comes in the breaking.

Breaking can feel like dying. Dying to dreams, dying to expectations, dying to self in order to live rightly. But the story doesn’t end there…dreams sometimes come true after all, in ways not foreseen, expectations can change, and self-correction is mature. So thanks be for broken things! (That’s almost a Gerard Manley Hopkins poem!)

All thanks and praise to God!

PoMo: Psalm 30

April is poetry month. I’ve been celebrating by reflecting on a psalm a day. Now that I’ve come to the last day of the month, shall I continue to reflect on a psalm a day? Please leave a comment if you’d like me to or if you have a suggestion for something else. Thanks!

A Psalm of David. A song at the dedication of the temple.

I will extol you, O Lord, for you have drawn me up
    and have not let my foes rejoice over me.
Lord my God, I cried to you for help,
    and you have healed me.
Lord, you have brought up my soul from Sheol;
    you restored me to life from among those who go down to the pit.

Sing praises to the Lord, O you his saints,
    and give thanks to his holy name.
For his anger is but for a moment,
    and his favor is for a lifetime.
Weeping may tarry for the night,
    but joy comes with the morning.

As for me, I said in my prosperity,
    “I shall never be moved.”
By your favor, O Lord,
    you made my mountain stand strong;
you hid your face;
    I was dismayed.

To you, O Lord, I cry,
    and to the Lord I plead for mercy:
“What profit is there in my death,
    if I go down to the pit?
Will the dust praise you?
    Will it tell of your faithfulness?
10 Hear, O Lord, and be merciful to me!
    Lord, be my helper!”

11 You have turned for me my mourning into dancing;
    you have loosed my sackcloth
    and clothed me with gladness,
12 that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent.
    Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever!

Here are the Shiyr Poets with a beautiful (long) version of this psalm, and here’s Elizabeth Enalls with the Psalms Project and lyrics closer to the psalm, and here’s Karl Kohlhase with verses 11 and 12 as a refrain (he dedicates the video to all suffering from sadness and depression).

This psalm is very poetic with couplets where the meaning of each line is either the same in the next line with different words or it is the opposite in the next line, as we see in verse 5. It’s interesting that this psalm is noted as a psalm of dedication of the temple so we see the king of Israel, song-poet David, writing this deeply personal song for others to sing when the temple is ready to be dedicated. I guess because he is the king and a poet, he can boldly sing his own experiences and trust that they are to some extent universal. But for the dedication ceremony, I think verse 4 is most powerful, calling all the saints (sinners-now-saints as the Shiyr poets put it) to praise God.

Verse 5 is the stand alone, stand out verse of this psalm that most people know if they are familiar with this psalm at all. I think it aptly follows verse 4 calling saints to praise God and give him thanks because his wrath (anger against sin) is momentary but his love (favor towards us) is forever.

I have made oblique references this month to struggles that the study of Psalms is helping me with. As we see David face his trials and adversaries with an open heart and loud cry to God, I am encouraged to do likewise, and have fought fear time and again. The unknown has not been resolved, the future I fear has not (yet) come to pass, and yet God has allowed me through this psalm reading to live day by day and affirm that all is well. He who has seen me through so much will continue to guide and guard my life. I can turn to him moment by moment and check in that I am doing what he wants—that I am doing what is right. How thankful I am for this practice of writing about and posting a psalm a day.

All thanks and praise to God!

PoMo: Psalm 29

April is poetry month. I’m celebrating by reflecting on a psalm a day. Join me?

A Psalm of David.

Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings,
    ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;
    worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness.

The voice of the Lord is over the waters;
    the God of glory thunders,
    the Lord, over many waters.
The voice of the Lord is powerful;
    the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.

The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars;
    the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon.
He makes Lebanon to skip like a calf,
    and Sirion like a young wild ox.

The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire.
The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness;
    the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.

The voice of the Lord makes the deer give birth
    and strips the forests bare,
    and in his temple all cry, “Glory!”

10 The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;
    the Lord sits enthroned as king forever.
11 May the Lord give strength to his people!
    May the Lord bless his people with peace!

Here’s My Soul Among Lions with their kickstarter video (that means they haven’t yet raised all the money to record an album, but it’s a sweet video with kids), and here’s Karl Kohlhase with a hymn-like melody with words closer to our text.

I’m writing this morning before church starts, so I’m just linking two versions and thinking about a short reflection. The VOICE of the Lord is very much highlighted in this psalm, and it comes right after a psalm asking God to hear, to speak. It might be odd to people who think of God as invisible, ignorable, absent, silent to read this psalm. What’s he talking about?

The psalm starts with a four paralleled call to ascribe to the Lord glory, and then he does so by talking about the voice of the Lord. Obviously this voice of the Lord is not a human voice and yet if humans are made in God’s image there is a likeness. The voice of the Lord is over the waters brings the biblically literate reader to the second verse of Genesis, where the Spirit of the Lord hovered over the waters as the Lord spoke creation into being. From there the psalm continues giving pictures of how God’s voice is powerful. In light of the power of the Lord, the psalm ends with the prayer to give strength to his people, to bless them with peace.

All thanks and praise to God!

PoMo: Psalm 28

April is poetry month. I’m celebrating by reflecting on a psalm a day. Join me?

Of David.

To you, O Lord, I call;
    my rock, be not deaf to me,
lest, if you be silent to me,
    I become like those who go down to the pit.
Hear the voice of my pleas for mercy,
    when I cry to you for help,
when I lift up my hands
    toward your most holy sanctuary.

Do not drag me off with the wicked,
    with the workers of evil,
who speak peace with their neighbors
    while evil is in their hearts.
Give to them according to their work
    and according to the evil of their deeds;
give to them according to the work of their hands;
    render them their due reward.
Because they do not regard the works of the Lord
    or the work of his hands,
he will tear them down and build them up no more.

Blessed be the Lord!
    For he has heard the voice of my pleas for mercy.
The Lord is my strength and my shield;
    in him my heart trusts, and I am helped;
my heart exults,
    and with my song I give thanks to him.

The Lord is the strength of his people;
    he is the saving refuge of his anointed.
Oh, save your people and bless your heritage!
    Be their shepherd and carry them forever.

Let’s start with this live recording from My Soul Among Lions and then try this from Benjamin Ady with the Psalms Project, or this from Karl Kohlhase.

Have you ever felt that God was silent? Not that he always talks to you like a person in the room, but your normal feeling of his presence is gone, or you read the Bible and nothing stands out to you. In the beginning of this psalm David is crying out for God to hear him, to respond and not be silent because if he is silent David feels he will die! The good side of going through this feeling is that you realize your need of God and your appreciation of his work in your life. It’s comforting to know that most people feel like this at some point, and that the end of the feeling of alone-ness is usually a learning experience, although I would say not the same lesson for everyone.

David goes on to talk about neighbors who speak peaceably with each other but secretly hate each other. This is so common we have a term for it today: frenemies. But David asks God to give them justice because of their disregard for God (not just their attack on others but their disobedience to God who directs us to love our neighbors).

After naming the problem, David goes on to bless the Lord. Is it that he has given the problem over to the Lord to deal with that lightens his spirits? Because now he returns to exulting in the Lord, to announcing the Lord’s refuge and strength, a saving help for his people. The last line, “be their shepherd and carry them forever” is exactly what God is always saying he wants to do.

All thanks and praise to God!

April is poetry month. I’m celebrating by reflecting on a psalm a day. Join me?

Of David.

The Lord is my light and my salvation;
    whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
    of whom shall I be afraid?

When evildoers assail me
    to eat up my flesh,
my adversaries and foes,
    it is they who stumble and fall.

Though an army encamp against me,
    my heart shall not fear;
though war arise against me,
    yet I will be confident.

One thing have I asked of the Lord,
    that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
    all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord
    and to inquire in his temple.

For he will hide me in his shelter
    in the day of trouble;
he will conceal me under the cover of his tent;
    he will lift me high upon a rock.

And now my head shall be lifted up
    above my enemies all around me,
and I will offer in his tent
    sacrifices with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make melody to the Lord.

Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud;
    be gracious to me and answer me!
You have said, “Seek my face.”
My heart says to you,
    “Your face, Lord, do I seek.”
    Hide not your face from me.
Turn not your servant away in anger,
    O you who have been my help.
Cast me not off; forsake me not,
    O God of my salvation!
10 For my father and my mother have forsaken me,
    but the Lord will take me in.

11 Teach me your way, O Lord,
    and lead me on a level path
    because of my enemies.
12 Give me not up to the will of my adversaries;
    for false witnesses have risen against me,
    and they breathe out violence.

13 I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord
    in the land of the living!
14 Wait for the Lord;
    be strong, and let your heart take courage;
    wait for the Lord!

The positive and joyful recording of this psalm by Karl Kohlhase is great, although the picture is odd! (I think it’s supposed to be an angel army protecting the man who is reading God’s word.) Here’s Luke Lynass with the Psalms Project in a more meditative melody. Here’s a worship song by Jason Silver, and here’s Shane and Shane.

Once again my day interrupted my writing and this didn’t get finished until evening. In the between time, we have had an angst ridden day (the teenager wondering what her life is going to be) and a mother-daughter self defense class. That was interesting, for here we see in the psalm evildoers arising and David will not fear, but be confident. It’s good to know self-defense, to be prepared and have ideas of what to do (don’t get me wrong) but that is of secondary importance to a knowledge of God, seeking God in his glory, yearning to be with him. It reminds me of my favorite Rich Mullins song! The teen doesn’t know what will happen after graduation, the homemaker doesn’t know where her family will move, the mom doesn’t even know what to cook for dinner, but all alike can wait upon the Lord. It is always right to seek him in the confidence that he cares.

All thanks and praise to God!