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.
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.
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.
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
A summer break in the psalms to focus on Matthew’s gospel story.
What prayers has God answered for you recently? If I am being honest, it took me a lot longer than I expected to come up with something. Not because God hasn’t answered any of my prayers, but because I often don’t even realize that He has. In times of want or need, I ask for God’s provisions (typically with a predicated thought of how I want the prayer to be answered). Once God answers that prayer (usually in a different way than I expected), I move right on to the next prayer, seldom taking the time to rejoice and be thankful for His answer to my previous prayer.
To be honest, I was hoping for a psalm of lament because that is where I feel most comfortable. It is much easier for me to cry out to the Lord than to sing joyfully to Him so this was a bit of a challenge for me. This psalm describes the Lord’s heart, power, majesty and the reason for our hope. It begins with a response towards the Lord followed by reasons why we should sing to Him. We should “make music to Him and shout for joy” because “He is faithful in all he does” and “The Lord loves righteousness and justice.” I am thankful that we follow a devoted God who loves good things.
Sometimes in the throws of life it can be difficult to step back and praise God. Along with that, remembering to give God glory for no reason other than the fact that He is God can be even harder to remember. For me, even when I do take the time to thank God, it is almost always for some way He has blessed me directly. And while it is important to recognize the blessings that the Lord provides for us, there is a profound depth to a relationship with God based in revelry of who He is. Our Creator, our Redeemer, our Savior, our Shelter, our Salvation. It is because of the nature of God that we are who we are, made in His image, and He deserves glory.
Psalm 100 calls us to make a joyful noise to God, to sing to him, to give thanks to him, to praise him, and to bless his name. As I read over this text to prepare this devotion, I loved the sound of it and felt encouraged to obey that call today. I thought: “Yes! I can rejoice in him (verse 1), simply because he is God (verse 3), he is good (verse 5), I belong to him (verse 3), he is my Good Shepherd constantly leading me and authoring my story (verse 3), and I am a beneficiary of his eternal love and faithfulness (verse 5).” But I know myself and I know it is easier for me to respond that way in this very moment than it will be this afternoon, or tomorrow morning, or even in a few minutes when that low-level anxiety over you-name-it will creep in.
David’s been on the run before. Literally ducking and diving to stay alive and out in front of his pursuers. He has felt the intensity of his life not in his own control. He has felt the desperation for rescue and the moments of a peace that passes all understanding. He knows the life he wants, and he has known the hunger of wanting it when all seemed to be opposed to allowing him to have it. Reflecting on those emotions he writes Psalm 70.
We have a huge window in our apartment that we love to open all the time, especially when the weather is nice. So while reading Psalm 147 this morning, I decided to open it and enjoy the 62 degree, sunny weather. Instead of me actually enjoying the weather, the sound of the birds chirping and leaves blowing, I’ve been stressing out over everything that needs to get done today. I’ve been missing the beauty right in front of me.
I have always been confused by political groupies. Of course, I’m not referring to anyone and everyone who takes an interest in politics. No, I am referring to the radical supporters you see from time to time who wear sequined sports coats, face paint and bedazzled top hats-- they look like they are at a U.S.A. themed St. Patrick’s Day parade, not a political meeting. You catch glimpses of them during election seasons, they are in the background at conventions and rallies and are occasionally interviewed by field reporters. When you do hear them talk, they seem to have no reservations about the candidate of their choosing, giving a full endorsement that borders on naivete. But the most amazing thing to me is the amount of HOPE and JOY they seem to have. You can hear it in their voice and how they talk about the future; you can see it in their facial expressions. They have a kind of energy that makes me a little envious actually. Because, I don’t know if I have ever felt such a confidence in anything, ever, that is akin to what they seem to have in the politico they are supporting. They have found something to cling to, to hold on to, and they are placing their full trust in it-- and it shows.
When I read a psalm like Psalm 104, there is a cynical part in me that wants to protest the Psalmist because I know how easy it is to exclaim something like,
“1 Bless the Lord, O my soul! O Lord my God, you are very great!”
Especially when everything is going your way. But, we all know that life is full of mountaintops and valleys. I know that I have a tendency to be more apt to focus inwardly when I’m in a difficult season, and that causes me to resonate more with the woeful psalms that cry out for God to come, to do what he said he would do, and to save his people. As I read this psalm, however, God took me on a journey through the psalmist’s praises that helped give me perspective in my own hardships.
As an achiever and one who identifies so much more with Martha over Mary, I was struck as to what our single role is (to cry out) versus God's role. But why am I to be surprised by this? For isn't salvation us crying out to the Lord in need of a Savior and him hearing us and answering our cries? And just as I tend to forget that grace isn't solely for salvation, but is for my continued sanctification; I forget that crying out isn't solely for salvation either, but is what the Lord wants from me on a daily basis and is also a part of my continued sanctification. He wants me to come to him, he wants me to cry out with my frustration, my pain, my joy. Daily. Because it gives space for us to recognize Him as the good Father and rescuer that he is and for Him to do His thing- his hearing, his answering, his drawing near, his redeeming of our relationship with our family, coworkers, etc.
“Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!”
This phrase is repeated throughout Psalm 118, and I just keep coming back to the part of the verse that says “for He is good”. God isn’t just good in a worldly sense. He’s not good in the way that we think of Mother Theresa. No, for He alone is the Source of goodness. The very reason that we know whether anything or anyone is good is because He has instilled this in us. I am reminded of a quote by C.S. Lewis, an atheist who became a Christian after much deliberation, “My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?”
What has your soul been longing for lately? Think long term. Many of us probably long for that next big step in life: graduation, a big move, new job, marriage, kids, new house, job promotion, retirement, etc. How often are we longing for eternity, to be with the Lord, for the new heaven and new earth? If we’re honest with ourselves, we spend way more time longing for these earthly goals than eternal ones. Spend a little time meditating to determine where your desires and longings lie, be specific.
When I read passages like this in scripture I’m often taken aback by the holiness of God. We bear His image and yet He is still so radically set apart from the way we are even as His people. At times in prayer I’ve been overcome by the reminder that His response to me is different, so much more full of grace and compassion, than I anticipate it will be. Maybe that’s because I often think God is going to respond to my iniquity the same way I want to respond to others while driving in Dallas traffic, full of wrath and a desire for vengeance. Voltaire is said to have quipped, “In the beginning God created man in His own image, and man has been trying to repay the favor ever since.”
Psalm 35 is what is known as an imprecatory psalm. A loose definition of an imprecatory psalm might be: any psalm that calls on God to punish or avenge the author; or, in other words, a psalm that explicitly curses the enemies of the psalmist. I think many of us read psalms like Psalm 35 and are a bit uneasy. Is it ok to feel so “violent” towards our enemies? Doesn’t Jesus say that we should “love our enemies?” Is it ok to hate people-GASP!-and ask God to punish them? Should I pray against my enemies?
I grew up in a culture that is—like the ancient Israelites—much more shame oriented than guilt oriented. Guilt tells us we broke a rule and gives us the energy to stop breaking the rule or to fix what we broke. Shame is very different. Shame tells us that we are getting close to doing or did something that is not in line with who we are.
As we begin this Psalm we hear the despondency in David. Often in our lives we have trials and tribulations and the LORD feels hidden from us. We are walking in sorrow and sometimes self-pity as we ponder the struggles we face. We ask the LORD, where are You? Our burdens feel overwhelming and we feel hopeless in the struggle that is before us or we are in the middle of during a season. We feel like God has forgotten us and that we are all alone in a difficult situation. As the Psalm progresses we read,
Take a moment for some self-reflection. What does power and control mean to you? If you are like me, being personally in control brings comfort. Things can be done exactly the way I want them to be done and when I want them to be done. Whether this is with tasks around the house, work, or relationships, having control is what brings me a sense of peace. Oppositely, when I am not in control, stresses arise. How will things get done? Will they even get done? Is someone else going to do them and receive all the praise?