Scripture uses many images drawn from the world at the time of its writing which can sound strange to us, but are really quite beautiful. They can also stir our own prayers to great petitions for ourselves and our families. Psalm 144 is a psalm of praise, thanksgiving to the Lord for His good, and this petition in verse 12. “Let our sons in their youth be as grown-up plants, And our daughters as corner pillars fashioned as for a palace;…” Not something we would usually pray, but think of the strength, beauty, and goodness being asked for for our children, young men being mature, strong, useful, and daughters beautiful, functional and worthy of a kingdom. We would not use these same expressions, but consider what is being asked for, and raise these up as great intercessions to our Lord.
The Psalms give voice to so many of our human emotions. They express what it means to be human, and to be in a world separated from the fullness and perfection of God. The account of creation in Genesis one and two, which many treat as a myth, expresses the purpose and desire of our God who created us. There was perfection in the things of that time, and a perfect and open relationship between man and his Creator. Ever since we sinned and broke that relationship there has been a deep longing for restoration which has expressed itself in many ways even though most people do not recognize it as such. The voice of the Psalmist in 42 cries out, “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.”(vss.1-2) All of our efforts expressing our creativity, our charity in helping others, our desires for world peace, are all our longing for the creation we lost, and our desire for its restoration. The more we recognize this the more we are brought to our knees in humility and worship, seeking the only true God who can bring that restoration.
“I will exalt you, my God the King; I will praise your name for ever and ever. Every day I will praise you and extol your name for ever and ever. Great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom. One generation commends your works to another; they tell of your mighty acts. They speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty– and I will meditate on your wonderful works. They tell of the power of your awesome works– and I will proclaim your great deeds. They celebrate your abundant goodness and joyfully sing of your righteousness. The LORD is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love.” These are words from the first eight verses of Psalm 145. One of the blessings of the Psalms, and many parts pf Scripture, is that we take these words as our own. We repeat them as our own prayer. “I will exalt you, my God the King; I will praise your name for ever and ever.” Our eyes are turned to Him, and our hope for each day rests in Him. “Great is the LORD and most worthy of praise.”
When one reads the Psalms they find them steeped in history. The psalmist recounts events from Israel’s deliverance from Egypt, their wilderness wanderings, and much more. They live in the context of what God did among their people over the hundreds of years past. These are their lessons for life. These provide the guidance, and corrections for life in the present. They recounted both the good and the bad. There is in our country the crusade to remove many of the statues of confederate Civil War figures. These represent an era of racism, slavery, and the domination of one people over another. Of course it was a terrible time, and we never want to see it repeated. But maybe we still need the reminders of what man is capable of, and that we can still commit those evils in small and sometimes large ways. The 18th century British statesman, Edmund Burke, said that “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it”. We repeat it because the same sins are in us as they were in others centuries ago. Maybe we need to listen more closely to the lessons of the psalmists.
Psalm 121 asks and then answers a question. “I will lift up my eyes to the mountains; From where shall my help come? My help comes from the LORD, Who made heaven and earth.”(vss.1-2) This is one of the so called Songs of Ascent. The city of Jerusalem is situated on a high hill, and pilgrims would sing these palms as they were going up to worship at the Temple. It was a rocky path, but their eyes were fixed on the Temple and the Lord they would worship there. There eyes were looking up. They knew their help came from the Lord. Is this not a song for life as we make our ascent through the various paths before us? Our tendency is to keep our eyes down, only seeing the four walls in which we live, or the uncertainties of the days ahead, but God has reached out to us. He has called us to come to His Temple. He has verified His call by many acts of grace. Lift up our eyes. Our help does come from the Lord who made heaven and earth.
I have a hymnal on my desk with 600 hymns in it. There is an on-line hymnal I use with several thousand hymns. Music plays a large part in the expression of our faith. Even if we are not good in singing, music elevates our spirit, and focuses our attention on the center of our worship, Jesus Christ. Music is present throughout the Scripture as an expression of praise. “Sing to him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy”, the Psalmist says.(33:3) Music has a way of reaching deeply inside our soul, and connecting us in a very real way to our Lord. “Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet, praise him with the harp and lyre, praise him with tambourine and dancing, praise him with the strings and flute, praise him with the clash of cymbals, praise him with resounding cymbals. Let everything that has breath praise the LORD. Praise the LORD. “(Ps.150:3-6) Keep a song to the Lord in your heart today.
I thought it might be good to end the week on a note of praise. Psalm 149:6 tells us, “Let the high praises of God be in their mouth,…” Let the words of Psalm 96 be your own. “Sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth. Sing to the LORD, praise his name; proclaim his salvation day after day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples. For great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; he is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the nations are idols, but the LORD made the heavens. Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and glory are in his sanctuary. Ascribe to the LORD, all you families of nations, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength. Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; bring an offering and come into his courts. Worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness; tremble before him, all the earth. Say among the nations, “The LORD reigns.” The world is firmly established, it cannot be moved; he will judge the peoples with equity. Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let the sea resound, and all that is in it. Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them; let all the trees of the forest sing for joy. Let all creation rejoice before the LORD, for he comes, he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples in his faithfulness.
The Book of Psalms gives us wonderful expressions of lives lived in relationship to the Lord. Whether they are Psalms of praise, or cries for help, they address a Lord known to be near at hand and caring about individual concerns. They speak of a relationship where God is absolutely sovereign, where His will is to be sought and obeyed, yet recognizing that that path is the one leading to the best life for the Psalmists. The person “whose delight is in the law of the LORD, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither– whatever they do prospers.”(Ps.1:2-3)The Psalms speak of the affairs of individuals and of nations, of the God who made us and we are His. (Ps.100) Nations today are in such a rush to create secular societies, something that would have made no sense to the Psalmists. Fair treatment and justice are important in the Psalms, but never separated from a life lived with the Lord. “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; love and faithfulness go before you. Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence, LORD.”(Ps.89:14-15) Yes, blessed are those who have learned to acclaim You.
We love the Psalms. It is a book of 150 separate expressions of faith. Some are crying out to the Lord. Others asking for help, or vengeance. Some recounting the history of the people. Many others sing out in praise, and trust in the Lord. Some are prophetic. They are all the varied expressions of the heart. It is a joy to read one or more at a time because we can identify with many of the words expressed. Did you ever think of writing your own Psalm? It is a wonderful exercise. You don’t have to be a good poet, or eloquent in speech. You just need to express your own heart toward the Lord. It can be praise and devotion, or need and frustration. It is your heart to the Lord, your Father. “Hear my cry, O God; Give heed to my prayer. From the end of the earth I call to You when my heart is faint; Lead me to the rock that is higher than I. For You have been a refuge for me, A tower of strength against the enemy. Let me dwell in Your tent forever; Let me take refuge in the shelter of Your wings.”(Ps.61:1-4) Give it a try. It will draw you closer to your Lord.
In their better times, ancient Israel was faithful to the Lord. They worshiped, they sought the Lord’s direction for their nation, and they followed it. Aliens from foreign nations would sometimes come and join Israel. Their laws taught them how to treat aliens with kindness. The aliens might come because they saw the good way in which Israel lived. They desired something better for themselves. When foreigners came they were guided in the ways of the Lord. Israel was willing to accept and respect foreigners, but they were not willing to change the values by which they lived, values that had been given them by God for their good, and that had worked for their blessing. Unfortunately, they began to accept the values and religions of these foreign peoples, mixing wrong practices with their own. It would take some years, but destruction always followed. How easy it is to forget the lesson of the Psalmist: “The plans of the LORD stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations. Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, the people he chose for his inheritance.” (33:11-12) Take some time today and read all of this Psalm.