psalm xxx – I shall be moved

I will extol You, O Lord, for You have lifted me up,
And have not let my foes rejoice over me.
O Lord my God, I cried out to You,
And You healed me.
O Lord, You brought my soul up from the grave;
You have kept me alive, that I should not go down to the pit.

Sing praise to the Lord, you saints of His,
And give thanks at the remembrance of His holy name.
For His anger is but for a moment,
His favor is for life;
Weeping may endure for a night,
But joy comes in the morning.

Now in my prosperity I said,
“I shall never be moved.”
Lord, by Your favor You have made my mountain stand strong;
You hid Your face, and I was troubled.
I cried out to You, O Lord;
And to the Lord I made supplication:
“What profit is there in my blood,
When I go down to the pit?
Will the dust praise You?
Will it declare Your truth?
Hear, O Lord, and have mercy on me;
Lord, be my helper!”

You have turned for me my mourning into dancing;
You have put off my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness,
To the end that my glory may sing praise to You and not be silent.
O Lord my God, I will give thanks to You forever.

- ps xxx (nkjv)
Now in my prosperity I said,
“I shall never be moved.”
Lord, by Your favor You have made my mountain stand strong;
You hid Your face, and I was troubled

How often have I said “I shall never be moved” and been cut down? Countless. But who doesn’t want to be unmovable? How impressive is the hero who does not suffer? How attractive is the self-sufficient man or woman whose misery is short-lived and unproblematic? How unattractive is the stressed mother who lashes out at her children or the distant husband who seeks intimacy outside his marriage? How unattractive is the person who is moved by the world and driven like a barnyard animal to their trough of choice as though it holds salvation?

But this is reality: we shall always be moved in this life. Vulnerability will always exist for us here and it cannot be conquered by force of will or proper mindset. Our minds claw onto the good gifts of this life: intimacy, security, entertainment, and strangle them for the nectar of eternal life that they cannot provide. When we do that, we grasp the perishable gift and say “I shall never be moved”, only to find it comforting for a moment. God is the only one who may say “I shall never be moved” and it is our place to accept the uncomfortable reality: “I shall be moved“. 

Being moved is a scary thing. I don’t want it. I want detached freedom from any and all suffering and difficulty. I want to feel nothing when things are difficult like a Buddha meditating atop a secluded pillar in the desert. But that is not the life God has for us. It was not the life of Christ who could very well have entered our experience and never be moved if he wished. It is to be a post-Edenic human to be moved and to be hurt. To be perishable and to worry. But it is to be a Christian to turn from the inward, moving turmoil to the eternal, immovable God. It is to be like Christ to take the full brunt of this shifting sand of a world and say “I will be moved, but God will never.” You cannot deal with this life, but Christ has overcome the world for you (jn 16:33). Your weakness is real, but His strength is so much more. He can make you the bravest warrior and the most competent counselor because it is up to Him, not you, what you are capable of.

His help will come and go. That’s how it feels, anyway. But He is ever present with you. Take a break for a second from the endless list of doubts and fears to look once more at the God who has done all for you. He is not there to guilt you for being so movable, nor is He just a resource to tap for some divine inspiration. The resurrected God is in your midst (matt 28:20) promising an end to this pain and His perpetual presence. Weeping is temporary because God says so. You are loved because God says so. Nothing this world offers you will ever compare or sate you so much as a constant clinging these promises of the unchangeable God. 

<— psalm xxix psalm xxxi —>

psalm xxix – storm God

Give unto the Lord, O you mighty ones,
Give unto the Lord glory and strength.
Give unto the Lord the glory due to His name;
Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.

The voice of the Lord is over the waters;
The God of glory thunders;
The Lord is 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,
Yes, the Lord splinters the cedars of Lebanon.
He makes them also skip like a calf,
Lebanon and Sirion like a young wild ox.
The voice of the Lord divides the 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 everyone says, “Glory!”

The Lord sat enthroned over the Flood,
And the Lord sits as King forever.
The Lord will give strength to His people;
The Lord will bless His people with peace.

- ps xxix (nkjv)

The ‘voice’ of the Lord in this Psalm is a moving thunderstorm. It clatters over the ocean, up and around Lebanon’s highest mountain, south through Israel and finishing just below there in Egypt’s territory. Thunderstorms don’t terrify the way they used to. When this Psalm was composed, the ability to survive was determined by the weather. A nation built on farming knows they are not gods, but at the mercy of God. How fearsome is God in this Psalm, the one enthroned over the Flood. Even the trauma of a destructive, chaotic flood is under the dominion of God. This is the God of thunder and lightning, of destruction and power. 

And yet, this is also the God that lay as a baby in Mary’s arms, cooing softly. That thunderous, mouthless voice was transposed into the cry of a human child. How different are the pictures we get of God when we contrast these truths. If you were to tell someone this enthroned God of Psalm 29 made Himself vulnerable and subject to beatings and death for those who hated Him, they would call you foolish. It simply would not fit, logically speaking. Rightly so, as Paul said himself: “…the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe” (1 cor 1:20). We must accept that God can and is both these things, the omnipotent God and the lowly Man. But how are we to address this God who may either be to me a storm-god or a saviour? 

God’s most complete revelation of His own character and desire toward you is in the Incarnation, life, Death, Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus Christ. Salvation has been won for you that you need never look to God except through the eyes of one united to Christ. You sit in the safe Temple, where the thunder clatter overhead has been transposed into the soft words of the Saviour, no longer threatening. Outside the Temple of Christ, you only can see the storm clouds of God. He is to you a chaotic entity you must fear and appease lest he strike you down. But inside the Temple of Christ, the clatter turns to honey and the chaos to lowliness. The God of the storm is seen for who He is there, and that is the God who is for you.

The storm is there to prod you and disturb you, to make you see your vulnerability to the elements. It prods you into the Temple, where the air is light and voices are soft. This was the point of the storm all along, to drive you indoors to the calm where God wanted us since Genesis 1.

<— psalm xxviii psalm xxx —>

psalm xxviii – silence is hell

To You I will cry, O Lord my Rock:
Do not be silent to me,
Lest, if You are silent to me,
I become like those who go down to the pit.
Hear the voice of my supplications
When I cry to You,
When I lift up my hands toward Your holy sanctuary.

Do not take me away with the wicked
And with the workers of iniquity,
Who speak peace to their neighbors,
But evil is in their hearts.
Give them according to their deeds,
And according to the wickedness of their endeavors;
Give them according to the work of their hands;
Render to them what they deserve.
Because they do not regard the works of the Lord,
Nor the operation of His hands,
He shall destroy them
And not build them up.
Blessed be the Lord,
Because He has heard the voice of my supplications!
The Lord is my strength and my shield;
My heart trusted in Him, and I am helped;
Therefore my heart greatly rejoices,
And with my song I will praise Him.

The Lord is their strength,
And He is the saving refuge of His anointed.
Save Your people,
And bless Your inheritance;
Shepherd them also,
And bear them up forever.

- ps xxviii (nkjv)

Do not be silent to me,
Lest, if You are silent to me,
I become like those who go down to the pit.

A silent god is the worst kind. A silent god cannot comfort or promise; it cannot protect or absolve. How can you entrust yourself to the void of silence and what good would it do? A silent god is a type of hell, a foretaste of a Word-less abyss; a perpetual famine of the Word (amos 8:11-13). We have no silent God, and the Psalmist knows.

The Psalmist knows that the Christian God is one Who speaks. He Who spoke all into existence (gen 1) continues to speak as He upholds the cosmos by His Word (heb 1:3). Our universe is Word-powered and Word-sustained. Silence on God’s part would be non-existence on our part. 

But our own words, inferior as they are, try to rewrite this Word to fit our purpose. Since the Fall, we have sent our own words out and tried to create and sustain reality for ourselves; this is only pollution. We scream out the pollution of “this life is all there is” and it doesn’t make it any more true, though the self-deceit it brings is palpable. Because of the hostile nature of this world, we cannot even see truly the Creator’s fingerprints on each aspect of creation. We may get glimpses, but we may only turn to the Scriptures for certainty; for the clear Voice. If all creation is white noise, the Word is a pure signal that conveys the truth.

In it we see Christ. He, who bought you, endured the silence the Psalmist anticipated and dreaded. He, the Word Himself, bore for us the fullness of silence on the cross. He knows the depth of that disconnection and the pain of every man, woman and child who ever prayed in their heart “God, I am lost. Please don’t be silent”.

He went to the pit that the Psalmist most feared and conquered it. The spectre of death was engulfed by Light and forever crippled. We no longer need fear the pit nor try to pollute this world with our own words because of it. We have the promises of Christ, the clear Word, who by the working of His Spirit we can hear.

What could be more important than hearing this Voice of the Word? It was for this reason the Spirit was given (john 16:13). Not to give us some experience of God apart from the Word but to permeate these physical words on the page with spiritual power, so He may convey to you salvation. He created by His Word, and He recreates you by His Word. He is never silent, and you will receive the clear Word of eternal life when you read this Psalm or any other. 

Do not be silent to me,
Lest, if You are silent to me,
I become like those who go down to the pit.

<— psalm xxvii psalm xxix —>

psalm xxvii – seek My face

The Lord is my light and my salvation;
Whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the strength of my life;
Of whom shall I be afraid?
When the wicked came against me
To eat up my flesh,
My enemies and foes,
They stumbled and fell.
Though an army may encamp against me,
My heart shall not fear;
Though war may rise against me,
In this I will be confident.

One thing I have desired of the Lord,
That will I seek:
That I may dwell in the house of the Lord
All the days of my life,
To behold the beauty of the Lord,
And to inquire in His temple.
For in the time of trouble
He shall hide me in His pavilion;
In the secret place of His tabernacle
He shall hide me;
He shall set me high upon a rock.

And now my head shall be lifted up above my enemies all around me;
Therefore I will offer sacrifices of joy in His tabernacle;
I will sing, yes, I will sing praises to the Lord.
Hear, O Lord, when I cry with my voice!
Have mercy also upon me, and answer me.
When You said, “Seek My face,”
My heart said to You, “Your face, Lord, I will seek.”
Do not hide Your face from me;
Do not turn Your servant away in anger;
You have been my help;
Do not leave me nor forsake me,
O God of my salvation.
When my father and my mother forsake me,
Then the Lord will take care of me.

Teach me Your way, O Lord,
And lead me in a smooth path, because of my enemies.
Do not deliver me to the will of my adversaries;
For false witnesses have risen against me,
And such as breathe out violence.
I would have lost heart, unless I had believed
That I would see the goodness of the Lord
In the land of the living.

Wait on the Lord;
Be of good courage,
And He shall strengthen your heart;
Wait, I say, on the Lord!

- ps xxvii (nkjv)

Whose face do you seek? Perhaps it is the face of a partner; that they would look at you with warmth and love. Perhaps it is the face of a colleague; that they would look at you with admiration and respect. Or the face of a pastor; that he would have confidence that you are a worthy addition to your church. Perhaps it is a parent; that they would look at you without worry and with pride. Or maybe the face of your child; that they would see you as their nurturing benefactor. Whose face do you want to see lit up by your presence? Or are there none. Have you numbed yourself to others so much that nothing gets in or out; that the faces around are blurred and ignored to save yourself the pain of their judgement?  

The face of Christ is different to the faces of other men and women. It is a face that only offers and doesn’t demand. It is a face scarred by thorns, a perpetual reminder of the love He has for you. This face demands nothing but gives all. It is the face of the One who saves, not the one who needs you to provide anything. This gift of Christ is a hard one to swallow, given how most of our relationships are a constant back-and-forth of expectations and judgement. Christ is an oasis Whose face emits nothing but love, so God forbid you treat Him as your judge and executioner.

But the world full of expectation and judgement in which we live is not to be avoided. We don’t win by what has been called “spiritual bypass”: resorting to the constant practice of spiritual disciplines to avoid the real world around you. This was not Jesus’ practice. No, he was active outwardly while being secure inwardly. The anonymous author of the Theologica Germanica speaks of the “inner” and “outer” person in this way: inwardly, we are set with Christ in the heavenly places and completely secure in His unmerited love. Outwardly, we are active in love towards other people. But this is not obligation, just as it was not obligation for Christ to love. It is the flowing of that inward life out and towards other people, not to seek their approval but to transmit to them the experience of being completely accepted by Christ. It was this infinite wellspring of His identity which Christ drew on the cross to bear the shame and violence and we now share from that fountain as we are united to Him.

Seek only the face of Christ for no other determines your value but His.
Then go out and serve those faces for whom Christ died with the same selfless, joyful, unburdened love.

<— psalm xxvi psalm xxviii —>

psalm xxvi – prayer of (in?)sincerity

Vindicate me, O Lord,
For I have walked in my integrity.
I have also trusted in the Lord;
I shall not slip.
Examine me, O Lord, and prove me;
Try my mind and my heart.
For Your lovingkindness is before my eyes,
And I have walked in Your truth.
I have not sat with idolatrous mortals,
Nor will I go in with hypocrites.
I have hated the assembly of evildoers,
And will not sit with the wicked.

I will wash my hands in innocence;
So I will go about Your altar, O Lord,
That I may proclaim with the voice of thanksgiving,
And tell of all Your wondrous works.
Lord, I have loved the habitation of Your house,
And the place where Your glory dwells.
Do not gather my soul with sinners,
Nor my life with bloodthirsty men,
In whose hands is a sinister scheme,
And whose right hand is full of bribes.

But as for me, I will walk in my integrity;
Redeem me and be merciful to me.
My foot stands in an even place;
In the congregations I will bless the Lord.

- ps xxvi (nkjv) 

If I heard someone pray this prayer, I’d think them a hypocrite. It would smack of the Pharisee in Luke, boldly proclaiming his righteousness: “God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector” (lk 18:11). But it’s right here in the Psalms, so how do we understand it?

Well, it is the prayer of the Messiah. It is the prayer of the Christ who truly can pray it. It is the prayer of Jesus who right now goes about the heavenly altar (heb 9:11) in innocence. He is the vindicated one who has redeemed mankind in one fell swoop and that includes you. He approaches the Father and says to Him, “See here the offering I have made for this man and this woman! See how I have included them into Myself. I am your Son, and now so too are these sinners. They are My brothers and Your children.”

What’s more amazing is that you, this brother or sister of Christ, are by all accounts in yourself: a hypocrite, an idolatrous mortal, the wicked, the evildoer. The Son of God by no means was forced to become one of us; to come along and dwell among us. We are the wicked the Righteous should well avoid. Yet, instead of destroying the wicked (us) or fleeing the wicked, He chose a third way: He would make us righteous. The Son would clothe Himself in our humanity, redeem it from its wickedness, purify it, sanctify it and pass all those benefits along to us by the blood of the cross (col 1:20). You are seated with Him in heaven (eph 2:6), a son like the Son at the royal banquet of Christ. Vindicated, as the innocent Man who is the subject of this Psalm.

So you may pray this Psalm with a happy heart. If it feels disingenuous, I’m glad. That means you know to say such things of yourself in yourself would be a falseness like that of the Pharisee. But you may say them of yourself in Christ, for He has made you these things. When you see Him face to face (1 jn 3:2), you will see that clearly. For now, we look at our status before God with the eyes of faith (heb 11:10), knowing that Christ has vindicated us and made us part of the new creation.

<— psalm xxv psalm xxvii —>

psalm xxv – wait

To You, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
O my God, I trust in You;
Let me not be ashamed;
Let not my enemies triumph over me.
Indeed, let no one who waits on You be ashamed;
Let those be ashamed who deal treacherously without cause.

Show me Your ways, O Lord;
Teach me Your paths.
Lead me in Your truth and teach me,
For You are the God of my salvation;
On You I wait all the day.

Remember, O Lord, Your tender mercies and Your lovingkindnesses,
For they are from of old.
Do not remember the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions;
According to Your mercy remember me,
For Your goodness’ sake, O Lord.

Good and upright is the Lord;
Therefore He teaches sinners in the way.
The humble He guides in justice,
And the humble He teaches His way.
All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth,
To such as keep His covenant and His testimonies.
For Your name’s sake, O Lord,
Pardon my iniquity, for it is great.
Who is the man that fears the Lord?
Him shall He teach in the way He chooses.
He himself shall dwell in prosperity,
And his descendants shall inherit the earth.
The secret of the Lord is with those who fear Him,
And He will show them His covenant.
My eyes are ever toward the Lord,
For He shall pluck my feet out of the net.

Turn Yourself to me, and have mercy on me,
For I am desolate and afflicted.
The troubles of my heart have enlarged;
Bring me out of my distresses!
Look on my affliction and my pain,
And forgive all my sins.
Consider my enemies, for they are many;
And they hate me with cruel hatred.
Keep my soul, and deliver me;
Let me not be ashamed, for I put my trust in You.
Let integrity and uprightness preserve me,
For I wait for You.

Redeem Israel, O God,
Out of all their troubles!

Waiting is something we do when we need someone else to fulfil our need. We wait at the bus stop for our way into town and we wait for our food to arrive at a restaurant. The experience of waiting expectantly to receive what we have been promised is quite mundane and commonplace most days of our lives. However, spiritual waiting is… difficult.

Because it’s of a different nature than those other kinds of waiting. If your bus is late, it is frustrating. You may even need to arrange another form of transport if it’s very important you arrive on time for a meeting. If your food is late, you may complain or perhaps leave the restaurant and go elsewhere. For spiritual matters, there is no Uber and there is no McDonalds next door. There is only one Source of fulfilment, and He is not beholden to your schedule. Yet we take refuge in false sources whenever we fail to wait. 

Failing to wait is to indulge in what we think we need to be happy instead of waiting for God to provide that. It is retail ‘therapy’, porn, absenteeism, whatever your anaesthetic of choice may be. It is to go to another source in place of the Source. This is usually not conscious, but it is sin. It is a hatred of waiting on God, and seeking fulfilment outside of Him. This is, of course, a lying fulfilment. It is the serpent’s forked tongue tantalising your eyes and ears with the empty calories of worldliness.  What if you didn’t take those things? What if you just sat and remained unfulfilled? Then you would be waiting on God. Christ, on his road to the cross, had the whisper in his ear of the devil saying, “You need not travel into this valley of the shadow of death. Wait not for God, take action and dominate!” Yet he didn’t. He waited where none of us would.

This is spirituality at its core. It is to keep your eyes on the Source and ignore the sources that vie for your love. It is to trust that what you need is what God provides at this very moment, and that is all. This is not to be emotionless. Christ was in agony as He waited on the Father, obediently walking to His death. And Christ has waited in your place. He is your perfect Saviour who knows temptation intimately. Cling to His finished work for you, and that this very moment you are seated with Him in the heavenly places (eph 2:6), your future secure. Wait on the Source. The end is near.

How does it feel to know that it is only at God’s dispensation that you receive what you need? How do you narcotise this scary fact? With what worldly treats do you find ways to indulge in earthly sources and not the true Source? I encourage you to a consciousness of this as you live your life (particularly when you hit a stressful time) and to wait on God.

<— psalm xxiv psalm xxvi —>

psalm xxiv – ascent

Who can ascend Golgotha? Who can climb the crag to the Place of the Skull, where Christ ascended. Bruised, He climbed willingly to His place of humiliation. How ecstatic was the evil one as he sent his legions to assail his constant Rival?

But yet Christ climbed and was stricken, enduring all for our sake. The King of Glory Himself, in the least glorious position. See the Incarnate God ascend to the cross, the place where His own creation points and ridicules Him. Yet He kept in Himself favour towards us all.

And from the cross, Christ shouts out into the decrepit, steel-gated hearts of His image bearers: “It is finished!” (Jn 19:30). Never did He break from His mission, and never did our barbs restrain His affection. For the soldier who pierced His hands and feet, He felt immense love. For the baying crowd, mercy. What else is there to be said about this God of ours, that we can’t see in Christ’s ascent to the cross? The King of Glory has come in!

All He has done, He has done for you and in your place. Now is the hard part. Now you are to ascend with Him, to whatever cross is prepared for you in this life. You will be tested as He was. But you have failed and will fail. You will turn to your accusers and curse them. You will drop your cross and dart backwards that you might hope to be lost in the crowd. You will curse God for putting you through this. Who can ascend the hill of the Lord, indeed?

You, oddly enough. You can. Not because you’re particularly patient or gifted. Not because of anything about you, actually. Christ didn’t pick you up for your great character and love for others, I can tell you that with certainty.

You are Christ’s new creation (2 cor 5:17). He has made you holy (1 cor 6:11) already. He has already designated He will never forsake you. You will ascend the Golgotha to your own cross, because, however hard that may be, Christ has gone before you and done it already. And every time you drop your cross to run away or swing around and curse your oppressors, the resurrected Lord appears at the top of Golgotha and says, “I know.”

And the strangest part about this is that Jesus’ words will do something to you. You’ll do something completely unreasonable. You’ll voluntarily pick that cross back up. And you will ascend Golgotha through blood and shame because there is no alternative for you. Christ is too lovely to run away from and too precious to abandon. You will ascend the hill by God’s drawing. You will ascend the hill more and more as the humility of Christ shapes you into Himself. A lifelong ascent of Golgotha.

It is only daunting when you think that you are to ascend it by your own strength. It is only a joy when your eyes are so fixated on the Lord at the top of the hill, that you completely forget yourself as part of the equation and ascribe every step to the work of Christ. In this you fulfill every moral stipulation in this Psalm, and you ascend the hill of the Lord. 

The earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness,
The world and those who dwell therein.
For He has founded it upon the seas,
And established it upon the waters.

Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord?
Or who may stand in His holy place?
He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
Who has not lifted up his soul to an idol,
Nor sworn deceitfully.
He shall receive blessing from the Lord,
And righteousness from the God of his salvation.
This is Jacob, the generation of those who seek Him,
Who seek Your face. Selah

Lift up your heads, O you gates!
And be lifted up, you everlasting doors!
And the King of glory shall come in.
Who is this King of glory?
The Lord strong and mighty,
The Lord mighty in battle.
Lift up your heads, O you gates!
Lift up, you everlasting doors!
And the King of glory shall come in.

Who is this King of glory?
The Lord of hosts,
He is the King of glory. Selah

psalm xxiv (nkjv)

<— psalm xxiii psalm xxv —>

psalm xxiii – growing in dependence

In our human lives, growing up involves the gradual shift from dependence to independence. But the reverse is true for us as we grow spiritually.
(john kleinig, grace upon grace, 34)

The perennial problem for the Christian is thinking subconsciously to oneself: “How can I become a more independent sheep today?” This is only natural. That’s how your job works. You ask questions until you’re good enough at your job that you don’t have to burden others with your questions. Competence and independence are linked. When you learnt to ride a bike, you succeeded when your mum or dad let go.

Your relationship with God is exactly the opposite. As with the brilliant quote that I began with from John Kleinig, we are to grow in dependence on God. We are to rely less on our ability and more on Him. That means that ‘spiritual success’ looks very different than regular success.

Spiritual success is to earnestly say to yourself “I cannot do this.” It is an emptying. It looks the opposite of regular success. It is the man sitting in an empty apartment crying out to God after his wife cheats on him. It is the mother who prays to love her son who has betrayed her. It is the pastor deathly afraid of public speaking walking up to the pulpit on Sunday morning. It is faith without sight. I hate to even use the word ‘success’ because there is no correlation with worldly gain. It is to recognise what you truly are: unfit for task. A sheep that can’t be independent.

And this Psalm teaches us the joy of dependence. The joy of being a sheep is that you don’t have to get caught up in your own sheepliness. A sheep is in no way prepared to strike out on its own to find good land to settle in. It can’t fight off predators. It certainly can’t pass through the valley of the shadow of death. It would be a stupid sheep to try.

The sheep need only to say “I am a sheep, and You are the Shepherd”. That is spiritual ‘success’. Dependence. Stop trying to be an independent sheep and trot behind the Shepherd. How? The same way a sheep hears a regular shepherd. Hear him speak. Hear the Father speak His Son to you in the power of the Spirit, and God will teach you dependence.

The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord

psalm xxiii (nkjv)

<— psalm xxii psalm xxiv —>

psalm xxii – the second safe state

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? 

A seemingly blasphemous prayer. How dare David accuse God of forsaking him? How dare I pray this Psalm to the God who sustains each individual cell of my physical body? The God who upholds my existence? And how dare Christ pray this Psalm on the cross (matt 27:46)? He’s meant to be Word of God enfleshed! Of anyone, He should know better!

A perfectly reasonable train of thought this is, I guess. But we miss one thing. That implanted in this sentence is the key to its validity. My.

This is no anonymous god who Christ, David, you and I cry out to. We are not shouting our frustration and weakness at the wind; at the hidden God. He is my God. He is known. He is revealed. In that tiny, two-letter word is the key to the entirety of this Psalm and the entirety of the Scriptures.

Pagan deities did not speak and continue to not speak. The anonymous god of “there’s someone out there watching over me” is no God at all. And when someone screams out “WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME?” to an unknown god, there is no faith at all. There is only anger. But with the beautiful little word my we have the entire gamut of God’s revelation of Himself. The garden of Genesis, the deliverance of Exodus, the promises of Deuteronomy.

But more than that. The promise of Christ. His birth. His life. His promise. His death. His resurrection. He who died on the cross is my God.

And because my God is known, I know that there is nowhere I can take my trouble but to Him. In the word my is the knowledge that God is for you. He is not against you, because with me and with Christ you can say He is my God.

God has given Himself to us in Christ. So much so that Christ identifies purely with our pain that He knew the extreme disconnect that this world can bring from God. As true God, He endured the weight of our sin. As true Man, He did it in such a way that we can be assured He took no easy way out. So Christ cried out David’s words that had been prepared for Him to say in the Psalms 22, as one of us. There on the cross is my God. Christ calls out in faith, because He calls to the God He knows.

And this is why I call this Psalm the second safe state. The pure joy in humility of Psalm 21 was the first. This is the second. It may seem unsafe to be so dissatisfied with God. To be so angry and accusatory. But hidden in the words my God is a confession of faith. Regardless of the externals of life, you inwardly cling to God when you call Him yours. There is no safer place to be, than distressed and putting yourself in the hands of my God. It doesn’t feel safe. Neither did the cross feel safe. Yet the cross was where love was revealed to its extreme in the self-donation of God in Christ. Take your struggle to God, do not sanitise your words. You don’t sanitise so you can come to your God. You come to God to be sanitised. Unload all you have to Him, just do it with the constant refrain of “my God” and you can’t go wrong. There is nothing you feel that He has not felt and your lack of trust in Him was nailed to the cross with Him 2000 years ago.

Nothing in my hands I bring
Simply to thy cross, I cling
– rock of ages

My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?
Why are you so far from my deliverance
and from my words of groaning?
My God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
by night, yet I have no rest.
But you are holy,
enthroned on the praises of Israel.
Our ancestors trusted in you;
they trusted, and you rescued them.
They cried to you and were set free;
they trusted in you and were not disgraced.

But I am a worm and not a man,
scorned by mankind and despised by people.
Everyone who sees me mocks me;
they sneer and shake their heads:
“He relies on the Lord;
let him save him;
let the Lord rescue him,
since he takes pleasure in him.”

It was you who brought me out of the womb,
making me secure at my mother’s breast.
I was given over to you at birth;
you have been my God from my mother’s womb.

Don’t be far from me, because distress is near and there’s no one to help.

Many bulls surround me;
strong ones of Bashan encircle me.
They open their mouths against me—
lions, mauling and roaring.
I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are disjointed;
my heart is like wax,
melting within me.
My strength is dried up like baked clay;
my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth.
You put me into the dust of death.
For dogs have surrounded me;
a gang of evildoers has closed in on me;
they pierced my hands and my feet.
I can count all my bones;
people look and stare at me.
They divided my garments among themselves,
and they cast lots for my clothing.

But you, Lord, don’t be far away.
My strength, come quickly to help me.
Rescue my life from the sword,
my only life from the power of these dogs.
Save me from the lion’s mouth,
from the horns of wild oxen.
You answered me!
I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters;
I will praise you in the assembly.
You who fear the Lord, praise him!
All you descendants of Jacob, honor him!
All you descendants of Israel, revere him!
For he has not despised or abhorred
the torment of the oppressed.
He did not hide his face from him
but listened when he cried to him for help.

I will give praise in the great assembly
because of you;
I will fulfill my vows
before those who fear you.
The humble will eat and be satisfied;
those who seek the Lord will praise him.
May your hearts live forever!

All the ends of the earth will remember
and turn to the Lord.
All the families of the nations
will bow down before you,
for kingship belongs to the Lord;
he rules the nations.
All who prosper on earth will eat and bow down;
all those who go down to the dust
will kneel before him—
even the one who cannot preserve his life.
Their descendants will serve him;
the next generation will be told about the Lord.
They will come and declare his righteousness;
to a people yet to be born
they will declare what he has done.

psalm xxii (csb)

<— psalm xxi psalm xxiii —>

psalm xxi – the first safe state

It is hard to read this Psalm, knowing that next we read Psalm 22, which Christ quoted on the cross in His despair (matt 27:46). What a contrast these Psalms are! We go from jubilation and triumph to death on a cross. Let us not forget that, while Jesus was the Man of Sorrows (isa 53:3) who prayed Psalm 22 on the cross, He was also the Man of Joy, bringing the love of the Father to all. He could sing this Psalm as well as the next. Both are Godly states: deep joy and deep sorrow, because they are united by a common theme. They take us out of ourselves and to the provision of God.

Psalm 21-22 are a two-parter for us, to explore what Christ knows: humanity in its victory and loss. Abundance and desolation. Here in this Psalm we have the extreme joy of the Psalmist. In times of joy, we tend to forget the source of our joy. We set our minds on the created gifts of God instead of the Creator Himself.

David nor Christ made that mistake. Their reaction to triumph was not to look inward and be filled with self-satisfaction. No, they looked outward and upward to the Father in praise and thanksgiving.

This is the first “safe state” for a Christian. One where all the joy of victory and hope is returned to the Father in humble thanksgiving, knowing Him to be the Source of all goodness we ever experience. This is the only way to enjoy things as a Christian, to see behind Created things the God who provides. From that vantage point springs a joy that is innocent and pure.

Christians throughout history have suffered greatly from the misapprehension that joy brought about by created things is an evil vice, of preferring the created over the Creator. It was for this reason that monks would take vows of poverty and chastity, denying creation for the sake of the Creator. Instead, we are to boldly take up created things, seeing in them God Himself who provides all. This is the first safe state of the Christian: innocent joy in God’s provision. Joy that claims nothing for its own.

This is the joy of a justified soul.

Lord, the king finds joy in your strength.
How greatly he rejoices in your victory!
You have given him his heart’s desire
and have not denied the request of his lips. Selah
For you meet him with rich blessings;
you place a crown of pure gold on his head.
He asked you for life, and you gave it to him—
length of days forever and ever.
His glory is great through your victory;
you confer majesty and splendor on him.
You give him blessings forever;
you cheer him with joy in your presence.
For the king relies on the Lord;
through the faithful love of the Most High
he is not shaken.

Your hand will capture all your enemies;
your right hand will seize those who hate you.
You will make them burn
like a fiery furnace when you appear;
the Lord will engulf them in his wrath,
and fire will devour them.
You will wipe their progeny from the earth
and their offspring from the human race.
Though they intend to harm you
and devise a wicked plan, they will not prevail.
Instead, you will put them to flight
when you ready your bowstrings to shoot at them.

Be exalted, Lord, in your strength;
we will sing and praise your might.

psalm xxi

<— psalm xx psalm xxii —>