Psalm 144:2

“He is my steadfast love and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer, my shield and he in whom I take refuge, who subdues peoples under me. ” -Psalm 144:2

“The divine attributes and promises are fortifications to a believer, far exceeding those either of nature or art.” -M Henry

God gives us physical help–through protection of an army, through the skillful hands and mind of a doctor, through wise friends who give us insight and guidance.   But, in the end, the Lord alone is the best and most comprehensive help.  Our first thought should be of Him.

Psalm 144:3 God Esteem

” LORD, what is man, that thou takest knowledge of him! or the son of man, that thou makest account of him! ” -Psalm 144:3

A Christian perspective can be an odd thing–sometimes it leads me to weight two seemingly opposite things and call them both true.

For instance, Psalm 144:3 brings me to a  humble appraisal of my own worth.   David’s got an earnest and worthwhile question here:

Why does He bother with the likes of us?

Even more, not only does He bother with us, He makes an accounting of us individually.  The root of the word account here means literally “to weave, plait, fabricate” –surely this is no casual knowing that our Lord is after.

God chooses to interweave Himself into our lives with one big caveat– if we will let Him.  Either way, He knows us intimately so that’s not His motive and that’s not the question. But He’s designed things in such a way that we can choose or reject His desire to interpenetrate us with His Spirit.  He’s no party crasher.

But, if we let Him, He’s willing to take the commonplace elements of our lives and mould them into something strikingly beautiful, all of which is a testimony to His skill,  His craftsmanship.

What dissonance!  In one sense we certainly are of “little consequence,”  in the grand scheme of  His Universe, and  we are guilty of elevating ourselves in our egocentric hearts and minds.   The result is a distorted concept of self-worth, an inaccurate hubris.

On the other hand, the Lord of All Creation values each of us in ways that are completely over-the-top and undeserved.  He cherishes relationship with us,  and this cherishing alone is enough to transforms our own sense of worth completely–not self-worth, but God worth.

Our worth is not merited; it is merely because He said so.

Psalm 144:1-2 What to do with War?

“Blessed be the LORD my strength, which teacheth my hands to war, and my fingers to fight:
My goodness, and my fortress; my high tower, and my deliverer; my shield, and he in whom I trust; who subdueth my people under me.”  -Psalm 144:1-2

There is a piece of me that is offfended by the first line here;   although I know this is David’s psalm–David who is known for his courage in war and success in battle–there is a little piece of a 1970’s mindset that says peace, peace–why should I be glad to a God who teacheth hands to war?

In some ways, it brings me back to the conversation from yesterday about Pantheism. One of the many problems that I have with Pantheism is that it doesn’t adequately address and explain the continual state of conflict and war we face in this world.  People like the thought of all things having spirits and honoring all things, which is well and good upon first glance and makes for a warm fuzzy, but can we really take this worldview and apply it to the world in ways that realistically fit life?   My cat does not respect the spirit of the bird she tore to pieces, my children regularly run over each other’s feelings, and I’m certain that terrorists would wish to destroy our culture if allowed to.  No amount of discussion about “honoring life” would make sense to this bunch, so I find myself back at the first line again….

I am very thankful that the Lord teacheth hands, hands that defend me, our family, our children, hands that preserve liberty and fairness, to war.  It’s also noteworthy that David took no pleasure in his own skill, instead giving it all up to the  blessing of the Lord.

And when I fight my own enemies—within me, without me, because when you think it through the enemies are all around whether we like it or not—I am glad that He teacheth my hands to war against these lies and difficulties in ways that are skillful and effective.

Do I like war?  No.  I think people confuse the issue.  No one “likes” war, unless you have given yourself over to evil destruction.  Instead the question should be, “Is there purpose in this war….is it a necessary thing?”  and if so, thank God for the people willing to throw themselves into that path–David, or soldiers of today–for it is not an easy path to tread.

“We ought not to receive so great a boon as strength to resist evil, to defend truth, and to conquer error, without knowing who gave it to us, and rendering to him the glory of it.” -Matthew Henry

Pantheism–Creation and the Creator Inseperable?

This quotation makes me wonder if Frank Lloyd Wright was a Pantheist. Pantheists see God in everything–literally.  In some ways, it’s an easy perspective to define, at least on the surface.  Wikipedia has this to say about it:

“Pantheism is the view that the Universe (Nature) and God are identical,or that the Universe (including Nature on Earth) is the only thing deserving the deepest kind of reverence. The word derives from the Ancient Greekπᾶνpan) meaning “All” and θεός (theos) meaning “God” – literally “All is God.” As such Pantheism promotes the idea that God is better understood as a way of relating to nature and the Universe as a whole – all that was, is and shall be – rather than as a transcendent, mental, personal or creator entity.[2] Pantheists thus do not believe in a personal or creator god. Although there are divergences within Pantheism, the central ideas found in almost all versions are the Cosmos as an all-encompassing unity and the “sacredness” of Nature. “

I think it’s also where Emerson, Thoreau and the other transcendentalist got lost along the way to God.  On one hand, there is no doubt about it, the creation is marvelous, awe inspiring.  Not even an atheist can deny that there is something within each person that responds to nature in a spiritual fashion, even if only “instinctively.”   We can agree all day long about the beauty of nature and our need to be good stewards of the environment.  I love to hike, study nature, garden, and cultivate the spark of  life with my hands.

But, there are problems with the larger realities of Pantheism to be sure.  When we start to equate the creation with the Creator, and if you take this so far as to suggest that they are one and the same, then you need to address the next logical point–such a perspective also suggests the universe, though beautiful and intricate, is also rather indifferent at minimum and possibly downright cruel.

You don’t have to examine nature long to see that the relationship among inhabitants is generally interdependent, but in a hostile way.  Cats chase mice, dogs chase cats, and the food web, chain or whatever you’d like to label it, is a sad reality.  Though most Pantheists I’ve met are environmentalists and pacifists, their belief seems to run aground when followed to the logical conclusions.   Even if we take man out of the equation completely, the creation seems to embody a combative spirit.  Left to its own devices, the crabgrass on my lawn would overrun my flower beds and creatures would continue to feed off each other.  In this sense, I think the message of Pantheism is that nature is a tough taskmaster—the weak succumb to the strong, the strongest prevails…

Is the study of Science part of Pantheism?  For some, I would say yes, that their fascination with Science and the Creation dominates their lives and become the lens through which they see everything.  Science is a rather cold bedfellow I think.

Pantheism and Christianity do have some common ground however–they both marvel at the glory of  Creation.  This is where they part paths however, as the Christian sees a hand behind the brush of the artist.  For Christians, the masterpiece points clearly to artist, the energy, thought and designer of all.   But with Pantheism, the masterpiece evokes a bunch of  muddy questions:

How did all of these beautiful things get here? Does every animal have a spirit and every plant too?  It seems like vegetarianism only addresses a piece of this issue.  How do we differentiate between the different levels of life?  If all are equally valuable, then we should really not be eating any plants either.   And taking humans out of the question, animals still eat animals.  What does Pantheism have to say about this heartless system?

In contrast, Psalm 145:10 declares that “All thy works shall praise thee, O Lord.”

Viscount Dillion comments further here–

“It is a poor philosophy and a narrow religion which does not recognise God as all in all. Every moment of our lives, we breathe, stand, or move in the temple of the Most High; for the universe is that temple….

O God! everywhere we see thy love! Creation, in all its length and breadth, in all its depth and height, is the manifestation of thy Spirit, and without thee the worlds were dark and dead. The universe is to us as the burning bush which the Hebrew leader saw: God is ever present in it, for it burns with his glory, and the ground on which we stand is always holy.” – “Francis” (Viscount Dillon).


Psalm 145:5–Pondering “Praise God”

I’ve been studying Psalm 145 for about a month now.  On the surface, there is nothing particularly compelling about it, but every time I wake and consider it, it opens up more for me again.  It’s like a pop-up book with many layers and flaps.  Here is yet another “flap” I’m considering this morning:

I will speak of the glorious honour of thy majesty, and of thy wondrous works.  -Psalm 145:5

Several commentators, including the one I’ve reference below, point out that the intent of  David’s word for  “speaking”  here indicates not a passing mention, but an  elaborate detailing, an elucidation, to consider at length:

“I will muse” is better than “speak,” as being the primary and more usual sense of the Hebrew word. It suggests that these glorious qualities of God’s character and deeds should be not merely talked about and extolled in song, but be deeply pondered, laid close upon our very heart, so that the legitimate impression may be wrought into our very soul, and may mould our whole spirit and character into God’s own moral image. – Henry Cowles

This makes sense–we are to meditate, to ponder, to think at length upon His majesty and wondrous works. We are to do this in such a through fashion that they shape and impress themselves upon our very spirit.

I think back to my often spartan “praise God” comments slipped in among the seemingly more important details of this or that which God has had His hand in.   Certainly He deserves more, so why does my flesh firmly resist more extensive elaboration and praise?  “Praise God” seems like the most rudimentary acknowledgment.  The Lord of All deigns to work among the commonplace details of our lives, He bothers to fashion them into His image–surely we should have much to say about that!  We are like a child who tears through a present, throws a perfunctory “thank you” out to no one in particular, while reaching for the next one….

Lord help us–help me–from treating You cavalierly.   Grant us an awareness of Your gifts all around us.  May we not tear through them, but marvel at length, looking carefully and thoughtfully as we uncover each one.  May we see Your intricate hand at work and marvel at length upon Your majesty.


Psalm 145:1 Watching, Waiting, Warring…for now Praise…for ever.

Lovely little passage here where William Pushon elaborates on Psalm 145:1 and the eternal nature of praise:

I will extol thee, my God, O king; and I will bless thy name for ever and ever.  -Psalm 145:1

“Praise is the only part of duty in which we at present engage, which is lasting. We pray, but there shall be a time when prayer shall offer its last litany; we believe, but there shall be a time when faith shall be lost in sight; we hope, and hope maketh not ashamed, but there shall be a time when hope lies down and dies, lost in the splendour of the fruition that God shall reveal. But praise goes singing into heaven, and is ready without a teacher to strike the harp that is waiting for it, to transmit along the echoes of eternity the song of the Lamb.

In the party-coloured world in which we live, there are days of various sorts and experiences, making up the aggregate of the Christian’s life. There are waiting days, in which, because Providence fences us round, and it seems as if we cannot march, we cannot move, as though we must just wait to see what the Lord is about to do in us and for us; and there are watching days, when it behoves us never to slumber, but to be always ready for the attacks of our spiritual enemy; and there are warring days, when with nodding plume, and with ample armour, we must go forth to do battle for the truth; and there are weeping days, when it seems as if the fountains of the great deep within us were broken up; and as though, through much tribulation, we had to pass to heaven in tears. But these days shall all pass away by-and-by – waiting days all be passed, warring days all be passed, watching days all be passed; but

`Our days of praise shall ne’er be past
While life, and thought, and being last,
And immortality endures.'”
-William Morley Punshon, 1824-1881

Psalm 145–Making our own song of praise

David had blessed God many a time in other Psalms, but this he regarded as his peculiar, his crown jewel of praise. Certainly David’s praise is the best of praise, for it is that of a man of experience, of sincerity, of calm deliberation, and of intense warmth of heart. It is not for any one of us to render David’s praise, for David only could do that; but we may take David’s Psalm as a model, and aim at making our own personal adoration as much like it as possible: we shall be long before we equal our model. Let each Christian reader present his own praise unto the Lord, and call it by his own name. What a wealth of varied praise will thus be presented through Christ Jesus!”  -Spurgeon

Spurgeon recognized that the Lord is blessed by the diversity of our praise.  Because our praise is chiseled out of our own experiences–our own times of struggle, humility, and victory–no one else can really write our psalm or sing it as well as we can.

It’s an interesting challenge.  What would I say in my psalm to God?  As Spurgeon noted, it does seem like it will be long coming and long worked upon.  But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t begin it now…our lives are in a sense a praise unto Him, works in progress, for sure, but works nonetheless.

Psalm 145:8 Steadfast Love and Tender Mercies

The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.  -Psalm 145:8

My own love vacillates like the tide–it is dependent upon my mood and circumstance.  In contrast, His love is solid, steadfast.

The LORD is good to all: and his tender mercies are over all his works. Psalm 145:9

Tender mercies–this phrase more literally means “cherish, as the womb does a fetus.”  It is easier to see the injustices of the world and of our own little worlds, much harder (at least for me), to step out in confidence and say “The Lord is good to all.

His goodness must be quite a different thing than our own, just as His love is steadfast while our own vacillates with the events of life and our moods.  Oh, to be good to all and steadfast in love!  Oh to be able to see and trust those qualities in Him, to frame our world with that reality.

Perhaps that is what David is after when he starts this psalm wtih “I will extol Thee O God.”
To extol is to raise up, lift up, promote, heave up, to be highly active.
“I will extol thee, my God, O King.”  We are to make ourselves highly active in extolling our God and His true character–the characteristics reflected in His world, not in our inconstant and fallible mind and heart:

“They shall abundantly utter the memory of thy great goodness, and shall sing of thy righteousness. ”  -Psalm 145:7

Matthew Henry makes a great point here:

“He would give glory to God, not only in his solemn devotions, but in his common conversation. If the heart be full of God, out of the abundance of that the mouth will speak with reverence, to his praise, upon all occasions. What subject of discourse can we find more noble, more copious, more pleasant, useful, and unexceptionable, than the glory of God?”

Calling in truth, forgiveness, spiritual laws and Psalm 145:18

“The LORD is nigh unto all them that call upon him, to all that call upon him in truth. ”  -Psalm 145:18

How encouraging to know that God is nigh–near in place and time—to those who call upon Him.   There is a big BUT in there though; we have to call upon Him in truth.

Truth is a dicey concept, frought with loopholes and riddled with our own pride.  If truth is relative, the whole game gets called off.   If my subjective view of the world is legitimate just because it’s mine, well that makes for less conflict and disagreement initially, though I don’t think that’s the case in the long run.

Unlike most of my generation, I don’t think truth is relative or subjective.   Sure, we can have legitimate preferences–tastes about what we like and don’t like–those things can be subjective.  But, when it comes to the spiritual laws of the universe, I believe they are as set in stone as arithmetic facts and natural law.   The earth will rotate at a certain speed, night will come at such and such a time, these kind of “laws” we depend upon.   Without such laws, little would get done and life would be too chaotic to plan.

In a similar fashion, I believe in spiritual laws and that they are absolute.  I’m not the judge of them, but nonetheless they exist and make our emotional and spiritual lives dependable.   They make it so that we don’t have to live in emotional or spiritual chaos chasing this theory or that teacher.   We can rest in the dependability of what has been revealed.

Getting back to the verse–what does it mean to call upon Him in truth?   The word truth here means stability, trustworthiness, verity, certainty, assurance.  Maybe it means being open to God–setting aside your preconceptions (and if you grew up in a church but don’t feel close to God, you may have many preconceptions that you aren’t even aware of).  It means approaching God with humility, with a willingess to really hear Him, hear His thoughts and plans for things, not just come to Him with your “stuff” (though He wants that too).  It means coming to Him with a heart willing to consider and trust His essential character, then from this flows a willingess to consider new things He may reveal to you.

One thing He’s shown me in His word lately is the spiritual concept of forgiveness.   I’m struggling with this one because I’ve got a hurt that I’ve tried to reconcile unsuccessfully (thus far).  How to forgive when the person isn’t sorry?  I’m not exactly sure yet, but I’m open to whatever He has to share with me regarding forgiveness.

The children’s memory verse for the week comes from Mark 11

“And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”

It’s tough stuff, isn’t it?  From it we learn the spiritual truth that our forgiveness by God is somehow interconnected with our willingess to forgive others.  Seems almost unfair, though I know it’s not.  It is a difficult truth to look at though–especially if you can’t quite forgive another person.

Lord, help me to forgive those who fall short.   Help me to call upon You in truth, even when that truth calls me to difficult things.   Help me to trust that I can forgive someone who isn’t sorry, because I know that You wouldn’t ask me to do something that was impossible or unattainable.   If anyone else reads this and has a similar difficulty, would You shine Your light on that area of unforgiveness and enable them to forgive fully.  Show us more about how to forgive others, knowing that You forgave those who treated You with cruelty and abuse.  Amen.

Prayer

As we are working through a book on prayer right now, it’s a worthwhile project to collect any psalm verses that comment upon prayer.

I am uncertain of the exact relationship of praise to prayer.  Is praise a type or form of prayer or praise an altogether different thing?

What is the relationship between reading the Word and meditating upon it and prayer? If I read the Word and intermingle thoughts of prayer and praise while reading , is this also not a form of prayer?

I wish I had time to go back and read that little book–Practicing the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence.  A woman in our study group reminded us of this book, and I think my own prayer style is more along these lines–fluid, conversational, informal.

Philip Yancey also wrote a book on prayer.  If I’m remembering correctly, I failed to finish it.  Maybe this is a good time to dig that book up as well.

As I get older, I find myself less inclined to bend my ways, to twist them to conform to other’s ideas.   There is a fine line between a stubborn heart and knowing who you are.   Always, I want to be open to growing and broadening my understanding, but I also don’t wish to fix anything that’s not broken.  Is my prayer life in need of revolution?  strengthening?  fortification?  Is my fluid style just a lazyness, an unwillingness to quietly sit before the feet of God with no agenda?

I have a friend who is Buddhist.  She would say that prayer involves detachment–from thoughts, from the world around us.  Is prayer clearing your mind, cleansing it?  Or is prayer filling it and sharing those thoughts with God?

These are hard questions and I’m not sure it can’t be all of these things at different points and seasons in time.   The psalms are certainly diverse–they praise, plead, whine, condemn, wonder, and reflect upon God in a myriad of ways.  And when Christ taught his disciples to pray,  I don’t see a spirit of detachment there either.  In the Lord’s Prayer, there are thoughts of our Father, our sins, other’s sins, requests to protect us and keep us, but I don’t get a sense that we should desire to suspend ourselves from ourselves.  Do you?

Must prayer be a formal thing with eyes closed and no distractions, or do I think prayer can be open eyed, spontaneous thinking and asking, that flows from text to mind to text to God to thought to God?  Does prayer involve detachment or attachment or both?

What do you think?