Psalm 47

Read Psalm 47.

I am going to be honest; I initially had a hard time thinking through what I would write about this psalm. This is clearly a psalm of praise. Pretty straightforward. Not something that inspired deep theological questions or challenged me in my faith. As I thought about it more, I began to see the beauty in the simplicity of this psalm. I think it is one we can easily overlook, think “that’s nice”, and then move on. There are so many psalms of praise, what makes this one any different?

I don’t have the answer to that question, but I do know that psalms of praise exist for a reason. How wonderful it is to simply rejoice in the greatness of God? I love that there is no obvious context to this psalm (maybe it was after a great victory, or maybe it was written just because). But it does not matter. The writer here is celebrating God for who He is, a king. What’s also interesting is the writer seems to be praising the Lord not only for what He has done, but what He will do. With the repetition of the word “all”, it points to when God will reign over all peoples (both Jews and Gentiles), finally fulfilling His covenant with Abraham. I’m afraid I often don’t praise God until He has done something for me. And I especially don’t praise Him for what He will do for me in the future.

This has resulted in me thinking about the difference between thankfulness and praise. Essentially, gratitude versus admiration. I find it so much easier to give the Lord thanks, as there is always a specific prayer request or provision that I can cite as being thankful for. In the same way, I often feel praise must be earned; as if it matters more what someone does than who they are. This psalm is an excellent expression of adoration and exaltation towards God, where the focus is more on who God is, rather than how He has benefited us. Like I said before, we don’t know what caused the writer to write this psalm, but that should not matter. In the same way, we should not be withholding our praise from God until He does something we consider praiseworthy. Instead, we should be taking any opportunity to celebrate our wonderful King!

My question is: how often are we simply praising the Lord? Not just giving Him thanks for a blessing received (which we should still totally do). But just taking the time to admire His character, and rejoice in Him. I know for me, it’s not often. And it might be because the concept seems foreign, or awkward, or better suited for a Sunday gathering. The psalmist calls us to sing, clap and shout our praise to God – so not something I often do outside of Sunday worship. But I believe there are so many ways we can be praising the Lord! How different would our attitudes and general well-being be if we took the time to stop and admire God? Would we be less anxious, kinder to those around us, more thankful? Probably! And more importantly, what would incorporating a rhythm of praise do for our relationship with God? So this week, focus on including praise and admiration of God into your day, whether this means literally singing to the Lord, writing praises, mediation, or something else. We worship a glorious God who deserves to be praised throughout all the earth!

- Christine Luter

Psalm 7

Psalm 7

I’ve discovered few things in life that enrage me quite like injustice. My guess is I’m not alone. I recently felt a deep burning anger in the pit of my stomach when learning of a friend who had been wrongly accused, their intentions misunderstood, and punished for no wrongs done. To be sure, as image bearers of God, our having a sense of justice has its origins in the character of God who is just.

Psalm 91

Psalm 91

If I’m being honest with you, lack of security is one of my greatest fears. Not only security for myself, but also others around me. Some of you may remember this, but last year Eric had a bad fall at work and fractured his skull resulting in a pretty serious concussion. It was during this time that my eyes were opened to how much I actually felt like I needed to be in control. I was worrying every second of every day about every move Eric made. He was staying with his parents during this time (since we weren’t married yet) and their house is covered in hard tile. So of course I was worried about his dizzy, concussed self walking on that tile every day with a fractured skull. I was with him as much as I could be, but since I still had to go to work and was living in Dallas, every second I was away from him, I worried. I felt like I was in control of the situation whenever I was with him, but as soon as I left, I had a very hard time trusting that the Lord would keep him safe.

Psalm 20

Psalm 20

Life brings seasons of changes.  Some of the changes are full of joy such as a new grandson, and some changes are difficult such as caring for an aging mother. In the midst of the joy and the struggles there is peace that comes only from standing firmly on the foundation that will not be moved, Jesus Christ our LORD and His Word. 

Psalm 121

Psalm 121

When I read this Psalm, I find myself imagining the scene at the foot of the hills. I see the Psalmist as a protagonist in a cheesy Hollywood trailer. The camera pans out as he states in defiant confidence that his Lord is more powerful than anything that’s in front of him. If I’m feeling creative, I’ll hear some type of slow, epic music as the soundtrack. That’s a buy it on iTunes before it’s available to rent type of movie!

Psalm 3

Psalm 3

I love the simplicity and directness of this psalm. David first explains the context of his prayer. He is fleeing from the army of his son, Absalom, and faces judgment and death from his enemies. However, David quickly combats his enemy's proclamation that "there is no salvation for him in God" by comparing the Lord to a shield. David is rejecting the idea that God has left him, but instead clinging to the truth of the Lord's protection. Not only that, David realizes that his value and worth is found in God alone. This is such a valuable example of how to respond in the face of judgment. So often we listen too much to the world, and not enough to God's truth. As Christians, we know we will face persecution. But David does not entertain those ideas for one second, but immediately states truth. When there are times of doubt, suffering, or oppression, how powerful is it to simply state the character of God? Acknowledging definitively that he is sovereign, loving, and omnipresent.

Psalm 44

Read Psalm 44

Psalm 44 is one of the few psalms that doesn’t end on a particularly hopeful "note," at least not exactly.

 

A Musical Interlude

In music theory, there are two broad categories of chords: major and minor. Regardless of how ignorant you think you are when it comes to music theory, most people are generally able to understand the distinction intuitively. Major chords (and/or keys) are happy, bright and (in general) induce feelings of peace and contentment; while minor chords (and/or keys) are sad, somber and (in general) induce feelings of despair and dread. If we compare the various moods of the psalms to musical chords, we might conclude a few things. There are lots of psalms that have “minor chords” as their refrain. There are lots of psalms that may even be composed of mostly minor chords. But it is rather rare to find a psalm that ends on a minor chord. Generally speaking, most psalms almost always end on a major chord. This makes sense of course. The Christian story, the Christian hope, the Christian song does ultimately end with a rather triumphant major chord and all the associated “feels” mentioned above: i.e. – joy, peace, contentment, etc. Take, for example, the two psalms immediately preceding Psalm 44. In Psalm 42, the psalmist spends 10 verses playing minor chords: crying out to God, arguing with himself about why he is so “downcast.” He struggles to believe that God has his back, he laments (what he perceives to be) the absence of God in his life. And yet, in literally the very last line of the psalm, it ends with a rather hopeful major chord: “Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.” The following Psalm 43, while quite a bit shorter, is very similar: alternating between major and minor chords up to the very last verse, but ends with the same (major chord) declaration: “Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.”

 

Rare, Raw and Real

And then we come to Psalm 44. It actually starts off in a major key as the psalmist remembers the faithfulness of God in days past. But, this psalm is rare in what it does next. In the midst of remembering what God has done in the past, rather than stirring hope and confidence, the psalmist seems to deteriorate into more despair. For all his intellectual certainty in what God has done—in who God has made Himself known to be—the psalmist’s heart simply lacks the necessary resources to reassure himself. In some of the most raw and honest verses in all of the psalter, the psalmist takes an almost accusatory tone before the Lord, as he questions God, doubts God, and is confused by God. And then, as the psalm ends, there is no major chord crescendo, there is no hopeful declaration. There is a minor chord plea, a desperate cry for help. The Message translation probably communicates the tone of the psalmist best:

 

“Get up, God! Are you going to sleep all day?

    Wake up! Don’t you care what happens to us?

Why do you bury your face in the pillow?

    Why pretend things are just fine with us?

And here we are—flat on our faces in the dirt,

    held down with a boot on our necks.

Get up and come to our rescue.

    If you love us so much, Help us!”

 

And then… inexplicably, the psalm simply ends.

 

Getting Honest

I recently attended a songwriting workshop where the question was raised as to whether or not I should write songs that follow the pattern of Psalm 44. That is, songs that question God, or doubt Him or end with a “minor chord” cry for rescue, rather than a “major chord” proclamation of hope. I don’t know if I should write songs like that or not-- maybe I should, maybe I shouldn't (a discussion to be had elsewhere I suppose). But I do know this: if we get honest with ourselves, we could admit, that from time to time, Psalm 44 is our experience of God- like it or not. That our real-life experience of God does not always follow the agreeable pattern of doubt then faith, despair then hope. Sometimes, we’re simply left waiting. Sometimes, our experience of life-with-God is dissonant, uncomfortable and unsure (like a minor chord). Here’s the thing though: God doesn’t give up on us the moment we doubt, or voice our confusion, or even raise a complaint against Him. We worship a God, who in Christ Jesus, bore our insults, our scorn, our spit, and our violence as He was crucified. Do we really believe He can’t handle our doubts and confusion? Or even our frustration? 

 

Dear reader, if today you find yourself in the middle of a “minor key” season (like Psalm 44) where, in spite of all your intellectual certainty in who God is and what He has done, your heart simply lacks the necessary resources to reassure yourself, hopefully you find some comfort in knowing that God’s people have, from time to time, had the same experience (even the most faithful of us, see Psalm 44:17, 18). Moreover, your experience of God does not change who God actually is or diminish His goodness or His love for you in any way. Period. 

 

Postscript

There is a profound mystery here, don’t miss it. Scripture says that we somehow “share in the sufferings of Christ” (1 Peter 4:13). Was not the greatest of all Christ’s sufferings heard in His cry from the cross “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 

 

-- Chaz Holsomback