psalm viii – both low and exalted

I assume you’re sitting down. Do this with me. Focus on your breath. The lungs expanding and contracting. With each expansion and contraction, God’s power is evident. The world is not a system of cause and effect, it is continuously upheld by the stream of God’s providence. No ungoverned moment passes. Back to the breath. Each inhalation and exhalation is divinely given by grace. It is not owed to you, but God gives it. Now realise as you read this, you are conscious of the fact that your whole neural network is not firing on its own power, but by the grace of God. Thinking is not owed, it’s a gift of God each moment. Not a single self-sufficient moment passes. Now onto your chair, which does not support you by innate ability but by God’s gracious providence in the current moment. Now onto the floor, which does not swallow you up because this moment God upholds it. Now onto the Earth, which does not rotate by its own power but is kept in this moment in orbit around the sun along with the rest of the solar system. The universe only exists each second due to God’s constant decision to supply it with being. Nothing has being apart from God, and nothing continues to exist apart from His will.

And yet…we are made ‘a little less than God’. We have been given this creation in Christ, like the second-in-command that carries out the will of the Leader. Nothing belongs to us, yet in Christ all is ours. Not to do with as we wish, but to cultivate according to the will of the One who gives it to us. We are so lowly, but we are God’s exalted instruments.

The key word here is ‘instrument’. We aren’t like a kid given a cheque for $100 from his Grandma at Christmas, mind now set on just how many toys s/he could buy with this new wealth. We’re like the kid sent into town on a bike with $5 to pick up bread and milk for Mum with her money. We use what we’re given and return what we gain back to the One we owe all.

The kid who got bread and milk learns to be more responsible like his/her Mum. And we learn to be more like our Father when we return to Him what He gives us

Lord, our Lord,
how magnificent is your name throughout the earth!
You have covered the heavens with your majesty.
From the mouths of infants and nursing babies,
you have established a stronghold
on account of your adversaries
in order to silence the enemy and the avenger.

When I observe your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you set in place,
what is a human being that you remember him,
a son of man that you look after him?
You made him little less than God
and crowned him with glory and honor.
You made him ruler over the works of your hands;
you put everything under his feet:
all the sheep and oxen,
as well as the animals in the wild,
the birds of the sky,
and the fish of the sea
that pass through the currents of the seas.

Lord, our Lord,
how magnificent is your name throughout the earth!

psalm viii (csb)

<— psalm vii psalm ix —>

psalm vii – questionable request

Lord if I have done this, may my enemy destroy me. Doesn’t David realise to Whom he is praying? What kind of person prays for judgement on themself from the God who can really deliver? Who would make such a questionable request?

The one who most understands to Whom they are praying.

What is David thinking about when he makes that prayer? God alone. How surrendered is his will to God, that he would invite his own destruction if he had defied Him?

How beautiful is the creature who asserts no will of its own apart from God, and desires only to obey and receive what God has for it?

There is no greater surrender than to come to God concerned only for His concerns. That is what heaven will be like, a lock step of our will with God’s.

Now, this is not the whole of the Psalm, because then David does start asking for good things for himself. Protection and deliverance. Yet he prays this in the context of what he prayed at the start. It is not wrong in the slightest to ask God for provision, for He is the only Provider. But the perfect prayer only asks for what God would will to give. No more or less. And the perfect prayer requests what God would deem best, not demand what we think best.

God has no will to vanquish you. He seeks you in His Word with the Gospel of Christ by the supernatural work of His Spirit. You don’t need to pray for destruction like David does, because you know that an eternal stream of forgiveness now flows from Christ along the channel of faith. But David is willing to suffer what would destroy him for the sake of God’s purpose. His will was matched to God’s will.

How does that make you feel? If you despair, lean on Christ. David did not cultivate that attitude in himself apart from God’s inner working and neither can you. Wait and serve patiently and God will give you what you need.

Lord my God, I seek refuge in you;
save me from all my pursuers and rescue me,
or they will tear me like a lion,
ripping me apart with no one to rescue me.

Lord my God, if I have done this,
if there is injustice on my hands,
if I have done harm to one at peace with me
or have plundered my adversary without cause,
may an enemy pursue and overtake me;
may he trample me to the ground
and leave my honor in the dust.

Rise up, Lord, in your anger;
lift yourself up against the fury of my adversaries;
awake for me;
you have ordained a judgment.
Let the assembly of peoples gather around you;
take your seat on high over it.
The Lord judges the peoples;
vindicate me, Lord,
according to my righteousness and my integrity.

Let the evil of the wicked come to an end,
but establish the righteous.
The one who examines the thoughts and emotions
is a righteous God.
My shield is with God,
who saves the upright in heart.
God is a righteous judge
and a God who shows his wrath every day.

If anyone does not repent,
he will sharpen his sword;
he has strung his bow and made it ready.
He has prepared his deadly weapons;
he tips his arrows with fire.

See, the wicked one is pregnant with evil,
conceives trouble, and gives birth to deceit.
He dug a pit and hollowed it out
but fell into the hole he had made.
His trouble comes back on his own head;
his own violence comes down on top of his head.

I will thank the Lord for his righteousness;
I will sing about the name of the Lord Most High.

psalm vii (csb)

<— psalm vi psalm viii —>

psalm vi – despondent humility

It is one thing to read with cold observation about a drenched bed and swollen eyes brought on by a despondent heart. It is another to know the feeling personally and to have experienced the desperation that David feels here. I know I have to some degree, and I know others who have to a far greater degree. David’s answer (as well as Christ’s answer in the Garden of Gethsemane) was a curious mix of emotions. One part despondency and one part humility.

While being in this situation is no lovely experience, it brings us so close the reality that clouds our vision in prosperous times. There is no solace in the world around us. Of course, in times of plenty, there’s plenty of distraction. There’s financial security and good relationships, holidays and fulfilling vocations. Yet when all was stripped away, as it was for David, there was nothing left for him but God. What was true all along for David was now realised without obfuscation, as he looked towards God. The despondent human is the one whose contingency plans have run them adrift, shipwrecked on an island of predators.

David had two paths in his despondency. Pride or humility. Pride claims something of God’s for itself and humility surrenders all. Pride would be to curse God for withholding deliverance, saying to Him that my will be done if His does not deliver fast enough. David instead pursues humility. He begs and pleads, prays and hopes. Simply, he acknowledges God as God. “How long, O Lord?” rather than “Now, Lord!” He can (and should) plead all he likes, but the power and will for deliverance rests in God alone. Yet this did not become true only when all other options were exhausted. It just became clear.

This humility is difficult to exercise in good times, where weeds seem to come up and choke our vision of God’s providence, replacing Him with palatable distraction. I don’t wish this despondency on anyone, but I don’t think it a coincidence that so many remember their hardest times as when God’s nature was clearest. It seems like despondency is the truest occasion for humility, at least for now. Pray that it not only come in sadness, but also when things are bright. And look forward to the End when humility will be natural, and not extruded from us in worldly turmoil. When we will know God is God forever.

Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger;
do not discipline me in your wrath.
Be gracious to me, Lord, for I am weak;
heal me, Lord, for my bones are shaking;
my whole being is shaken with terror.
And you, Lord—how long?

Turn, Lord! Rescue me;
save me because of your faithful love.
For there is no remembrance of you in death;
who can thank you in Sheol?

I am weary from my groaning;
with my tears I dampen my bed
and drench my couch every night.
My eyes are swollen from grief;
they grow old because of all my enemies.

Depart from me, all evildoers,
for the Lord has heard the sound of my weeping.
The Lord has heard my plea for help;
the Lord accepts my prayer.
All my enemies will be ashamed and shake with terror;
they will turn back and suddenly be disgraced.

psalm vi (csb)

<— psalm v psalm vii —>

psalm v – from hell to heaven

It seems that every time I come back to Psalms like these, I identify more and more with David’s enemies rather than David. If evil cannot dwell with God, then I can’t dwell with God. Even thinking that thought is despair. How often do I lie? How often do I boast, if not in word then in thought? As I look at God’s hatred for evil in one part of this Psalm, I see I should be cast out. In this Psalm, you could say, I descend into the flames of hell.

Yet, in the fire I read on. David enters God’s house. How is that possible? By the abundance of God’s faithful love. Christ descends, and a strange thing happens. The flames no longer burn and are cool to the touch. The natural human aversion to fire is strangely missing, as I sweep my hand through it. The flames rage higher as I touch them, frustrated by their inability to reclaim me. Then I see my hand is not my own, but Christ’s, pierced. Through the holes I see the full blaze of the fire contained. My sin, the Devil, the sins of those I love, all trapped within Christ’s wounds. Now I see this Psalm is heaven, too. It is hell that leads to heaven, as the condemnation is replaced with acceptance.

Yet it would not be right for me to go right to heaven without passing through hell, for I would not desire Christ nearly as much. Neither would it be right to remain in hell, and refuse grace. But it is good to descend there at least for a little while, and experience conversion again and again.

I doubt it would do me good to forget the flames, lest I grow accustomed to the cool and think it belongs to me as if it is my property and not to Christ in me, who unites me to Him.

Meditation: Do you see yourself in this Psalm as David (the author) or his enemies? You are both, yet they are not of equal weighting. God promises deliverance from your enemies, external and internal. But don’t jump too quickly to your rescue, and reflect for a while on where you fail. Let yourself descend to hell to be raised back up, or the Gospel will grow mundane.

Listen to my words, Lord;
consider my sighing.
Pay attention to the sound of my cry,
my King and my God,
for I pray to you.

In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice;
in the morning I plead my case to you and watch expectantly.

For you are not a God who delights in wickedness;
evil cannot dwell with you.
The boastful cannot stand in your sight;
you hate all evildoers.
You destroy those who tell lies;
the Lord abhors violent and treacherous people.

But I enter your house
by the abundance of your faithful love;
I bow down toward your holy temple
in reverential awe of you.
Lord, lead me in your righteousness
because of my adversaries;
make your way straight before me.

For there is nothing reliable in what they say;
destruction is within them;
their throat is an open grave;
they flatter with their tongues.
Punish them, God;
let them fall by their own schemes.
Drive them out because of their many crimes,
for they rebel against you.

But let all who take refuge in you rejoice;
let them shout for joy forever.
May you shelter them,
and may those who love your name boast about you.
For you, Lord, bless the righteous one;
you surround him with favor like a shield.

psalm v (csb)

<— psalm iv psalm vi —>

psalm iv – contemplative anger

“Be angry and do not sin” is not something I expected to read today. It’s not something we’re particularly encouraged to do. More likely you would have been told (or more likely inferred) something like, “don’t be angry, for it is sin.” It’s quite natural for us to think this way in our culture and I think this impulse of ours to avoid outward anger is good.

But there is another side of the coin. Anger is not like a bag of garbage that can be tossed away. It is more like a tumour, which does not go away unless it is excised or shrunk, and begins to affect the function of the surrounding organs if left untreated. Anger is not to be denied, but embraced, packaged, and delivered to God.

“Be angry and do not sin” is given the antidote, “reflect in your heart while on your bed and be silent.” Isn’t it ironic that self-reflection is just about the last thing on the mind of an angry person? Yet this is what we’re called to. This is very different to suppression, which simply addresses the emotion and says, “No, I do not want you.” This is an act of self-will, conquering a problem for oneself with one’s own might. The Godly way of anger is to embrace that which is in your heart and reflect silently with God. This Psalm speaks of joy, yet joy is not found by defeating anger. It is found by surrendering the anger to God for His instruction.

If your anger is righteous, then be brought to your knees, for you have felt God’s own anger in your own being. It is only by God’s grace that you have this anger, so direct it wisely to act with constant deference, knowing righteous anger quickly turns sour in your frail hands. This is what it is like to be angry and not sin.

If it is sinful, then be brought to your knees and repent, entrusting to God that you are not the master of your own internal landscape. This is what it is to be angry and not sin.

True joy is for the one who does not hide from God, but contemplates how in all aspects they can surrender their self-will to God’s will.

Meditation: Spend a couple of minutes breathing in and out through your nose slowly, focusing on the sensation of the air in the nostrils with each inhalation and exhalation. This should help to quieten your mind to pray. Make sure to close your eyes.

Sit with God and pray.
“Father, I know I can be angry when I come to you, so long as I surrender that anger to you. Please give me surrender, Father, because I am weak and cannot supply it. Whatever anger I have felt lately, Lord, whether I think it good or bad anger, I bring to you.”

Now, reflect silently on whatever has come to mind, letting each thought come to the surface to be examined, not holding back or dressing up your raw emotions. If nothing is there, that’s fine, the rest of this prayer is always applicable.

Then think, “Lord let me see my situation with Your eyes. I feel like _________ and I want to do ________ in my anger. Yet not my will but Yours be done, Father. I am not my own master and give all I am to you. I have no strength to give you such great surrender, and I want to follow my own path, but I know that Yours is pure. Match my will to Yours, Father, because this is how Christ was and is and it is how I want to be.”

Answer me when I call,
God, who vindicates me.
You freed me from affliction;
be gracious to me and hear my prayer.

How long, exalted ones, will my honor be insulted?
How long will you love what is worthless
and pursue a lie?

Know that the Lord has set apart the faithful for himself;
the Lord will hear when I call to him.

Be angry and do not sin;
reflect in your heart while on your bed and be silent.
Offer sacrifices in righteousness
and trust in the Lord.

Many are asking, “Who can show us anything good?”
Let the light of your face shine on us, Lord.

You have put more joy in my heart
than they have when their grain and new wine abound.
I will both lie down and sleep in peace,
for you alone, Lord, make me live in safety.

psalm iv (csb)

<— psalm iii psalm v —>

psalm iii – impenetrable shield

Fear can be a very reasonable emotion, especially if one is beset by thousands of people on every side. I can only imagine the stress of David’s life. Every external factor should suggest to David that he should fear, yet these external factors do not rule in the inward peace. David desires to be delivered from his external circumstances, but his attitude is not contingent on them. Surrounded by enemies, God is his shield, so he will not fear.

Easier said than done. But if we are to believe the Psalmist, we are to believe that fear does not have the final say regardless of your external circumstances. When David says ‘Salvation belongs to the Lord’, he surrenders his control over the physical environment and political circumstances of Israel. He enjoys peace amongst chaos because his inner life is shielded by God. His retreat behind that shield is a renunciation of his own power, a surrender of ability to affect the external world filled with threats. His cunning, power, persuasion, military prowess and personality are not his shield against the suffering coming his way. Salvation belongs to the Lord, not David. Only God can bring peace amid suffering, for God is the only impenetrable shield.

Meditation: Count your sufferings in this life. These can be external, like a job or kids. They can also be sinful desires and actions, those things which, whenever you are reminded of them, bring you to repentance. See those as the army surrounding you, baying for blood. Imagine their attacks clanging off of Christ who defends you, and think what it would be like to feel peace in the middle of a battlefield like that, because your God stands in front of you. 

Lord, how my foes increase!
There are many who attack me.
Many say about me,
“There is no help for him in God.”

But you, Lord, are a shield around me,
my glory, and the one who lifts up my head.
I cry aloud to the Lord,
and he answers me from his holy mountain. Selah

I lie down and sleep; I wake again because the Lord sustains me.
I will not be afraid of thousands of people who have taken their stand against me on every side.

Rise up, Lord!
Save me, my God!
You strike all my enemies on the cheek;
you break the teeth of the wicked.
Salvation belongs to the Lord;
may your blessing be on your people.

psalm iii (csb)

<— psalm ii psalm iv —>

psalm ii – true refuge

Why do the nations rage and the people plot in vain? It seems like it would be much more sensible for the nations have peace and plot in accordance with God’s will. Yet this is not our experience globally or personally. There is, in fact, a gap between what we want to do and what God wants to do. If we sing ‘Amazing Love’ by Chris Tomlin and sing the words “in all I do, I honour you”, we lie. I often think a sign of spiritual maturity is how frequently you see your own will conflicting with God’s. Yet we are not those at whom God laughs. We are not the nations outside of Him but sitting at His feet, watching Him.

To be a Christian is to no longer be God’s enemy. It is to renounce one’s own self-will and submit to the Messianic King. This is a violent psalm, with wrath, trembling and shattering. But that is exclusively for those resisting the reign of the King. It is those who take refuge in the Son who are happy (or ‘blessed’).

This refuge is not static, though. Imagine two people fleeing to a city to seek refuge as they flee from an oncoming army. The first person, Jack, sets up a shanty on the outskirts of town, just within the city walls. He often nips outside the walls just enough to gather some old comforts and explore, retreating just before he would be captured or killed. The second person, Sarah, makes a beeline to the royal palace and throws themselves at the feet of the king, wishing only to be as far removed as she could from her life outside the walls. Which of these two people knows refuge most truly?

Meditation: Think on the above. Ask as the day goes by “which person am I right now, Jack or Sarah?” If you can, think of the mental attitudes of those two people and how the way they take refuge reflects their trust for the rescuer.

Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth take their stand,
and the rulers conspire together
against the Lord and his Anointed One:
“Let’s tear off their chains
and throw their ropes off of us.”

The one enthroned in heaven laughs;
the Lord ridicules them.
Then he speaks to them in his anger
and terrifies them in his wrath:
“I have installed my king
on Zion, my holy mountain.”

I will declare the Lord’s decree.
He said to me, “You are my Son;
today I have become your Father.
Ask of me,
and I will make the nations your inheritance
and the ends of the earth your possession.
You will break them with an iron scepter;
you will shatter them like pottery.”

So now, kings, be wise;
receive instruction, you judges of the earth.
Serve the Lord with reverential awe
and rejoice with trembling.
Pay homage to the Son or he will be angry
and you will perish in your rebellion,
for his anger may ignite at any moment.
All who take refuge in him are happy.

psalm ii (csb)

<— psalm i psalm iii —>

psalm i – there is nowhere to go

When we imagine ourselves embarking on this spiritual journey, we presume that there is an endpoint. Or, at least, progress markers. If I meditate on God’s Word, eventually I will receive a truly peaceful feeling. Eventually I will feel God’s love tangibly. Eventually I will have a vision of heaven or something like that.

The first step on that journey is to give up entirely.  In fact, the journey is a lie. All that you are, you already are in Christ. All you could have, you already have in Christ. You have been handed all by grace. You have nothing more to gain by your own efforts from God. Just as you were saved by grace, you will receive what God has for you by grace. That may mean you end up seeing some beautiful light like some of the old mystics. Or it may mean nothing happens at all. To embrace the mystic mindset is to be a tree planted by the rivers of water.

You wait, knowing that your roots will always be nourished by the flowing stream. Occasionally some may splash up against your trunk. But maybe not. It is enough to know that you are there with God. It is enough to know that there is nothing in your bark or fruit that sets you apart. In fact, it is to take the focus entirely off yourself. Sit by the river of God’s Word, take in His sustenance, and let Him decide your season. He washes over and through you as you are still. Your mission as a tree is not to sprout legs and find greener pasture, but to sit in patience by the river.

Meditation: reflect on what it means to be a still tree beside the flowing river of God’s Word. Picture the tree’s roots soaking up the river’s providence just by merely being in its presence. There is nowhere to go.

Blessed is the man
Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly,
Nor stands in the path of sinners,
Nor sits in the seat of the scornful;
But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
And in His law he meditates day and night.

He shall be like a tree
Planted by the rivers of water,
That brings forth its fruit in its season,
Whose leaf also shall not wither;
And whatever he does shall prosper.

The ungodly are not so,
But are like the chaff which the wind drives away.
Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment,
Nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.
For the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
But the way of the ungodly shall perish.

psalm i (csb)

psalm ii —>