You should read the Psalms like a balm for your soul. I don’t mean work your way through it like a textbook, I mean to dwell in it like a home. Athanasius spoke of the psalms in such poetic terms that he seemed almost hypnotized by its marvel. For him, it “yielded special treasure” again and again. It was like a “garden that grew every kind of fruit.” Further, the Psalm writers were so indwelt (there is that word again) by the Spirit that they couldn’t help but to speak and sing of the harmonious message of all the Bible that Israel’s God reigns forever and ever.
You have probably heard me talking about singing the Psalms and at this point, if I make another reference to singing the psalms I am afraid you will unfriend me or curse me with imprecations. So, I will spare talking about how psalm-singing changes and forms us into better human beings, flourishing in the poetic garden of Yahweh; I will spare you the talk about how singing the Psalms heal our souls in times of grief, and I will spare you the conversation about how singing the psalms with friends bind us together in a more profound way than anything I’ve ever seen. Again, I don’t want to bother you with my fascination for the Genevan Psalms. I simply don’t want you to think about how the psalms frighten demons in the Bible. That would be too much to talk about and as I said, I don’t want to be that guy that annoys people with all this psalmic talk. It would be too much for you to bear such a friend. So, I won’t say any of those things.
Nathan Clark George has a beautiful tune to Psalm 6.
Keep me safe, God,
Because I take refuge in you!
You have said to Yahweh, “You are my Lord.
There is nothing good for me apart from you.”
As for the holy ones who are in the land,
“They are also majestic. All my delight is in them.”
Those who set a bride-price with another (god) have their sorrows multiplied.
I will not pour out their drink offerings of blood
And will not take their names upon my lips.
Yahweh is my chosen portion and my cup;
You yourself will hold my lot.
The boundary lines have fallen to me in pleasant places;
Yes, my inheritance is pleasing to me.
I will bless Yahweh who has counseled me;
Yes, by night my heart instructs me.
I have set Yahweh before me continually;
Because he is at my right hand I will not be shaken.
Therefore my heart is glad and my whole being rejoices;
Yes, my flesh will dwell in security,
Because you will not abandon my soul to Sheol
Nor will you make your holy one to see corruption.
You make known to me the path of life;
Fullness of joys are with your face;
Pleasures are in your right hand forever.
I took advantage of John Barach’s excellent translation of Psalm 16. I concur with John when he writes that “the word mohar likely refers to a bride-price, money negotiated with a woman’s father but given to the woman.” In other words, those who make bargains with false gods end up with great sorrow. Further, verse 11 generally has “presence” for paniym. I find the translation of “face” to be more faithful to the Hebrew. The benediction of Aaron implies this translation. I prefer the consistency throughout. “His face shine upon you,” rather than “his presence shine upon you.” The idea is that God is turning his sight toward our afflictions and needs and blessing us. I also continue the translation of “Yahweh” for “LORD” which gives us God’s covenantal name. I was pleased to see John Goldingay’s translation of the Old Testament follow this pattern throughout.
- Classically this refers to a liturgical setting; certainly a musical reference (back)
Text: John 16:23-33
When we face challenges, our temptation is to either accept some form of fatalism (“Lord, whatever happens, happens”) or some kind of desparationism (“I can’t believe this is happening! Why didn’t you choose to do this with someone else, God. Am I deserving of this trial?”)
In the Upper Room Discourse in John 16, Jesus says that there will come a time when he will no longer be with the disciples. How would they live in the absence of their Master? When your source of hope is gone what do you do? How do you maintain this life of communion when your Lord and Master is gone? And what our Lord teaches is that your present pain does not define who you will be. Pain is not the final period in your story it is only a comma. What is the turning point then in the prayer life of the disciples?
The disciples—as we have seen—have already asked Jesus many questions. Jesus, when is this going to happen, and when is this going to happen?” Does that sound like us at times? “Lord, just give me a sequence of events in my life?” It’s very instructive that in the four Gospels the disciples ask dozens of questions, but after the resurrection, in the Book of Acts, the apostles seldom asked any questions. Why do you think? Primarily because they were under the guidance of the Spirit of God. And they were living a life of communion with one another.
But before the resurrection, they were filled with uncertainty. Do you ever feel uncertain? Take heart. The disciples felt that way often. Jesus is saying that in the period of resurrection the night of darkness and doubt will become the morning of deliverance and hope. Before the resurrection, we asked in doubt, after the resurrection we ask with certainty.
Do you realize that before the resurrection no one prayed in Jesus’ name? “Jesus’ name is not a mantra or a magical formula, but a historical and theological reality! Have you ever wondered why we pray in the name of Jesus? It’s because His name is now above every name and His name is able to intercede and speak on our behalf. We can only pray in Jesus’ name because he is no longer dead.
Here’s our lesson: Ask boldly.
So, how do we pray? We all bring personalities into our prayer life: some are more passionate, some are more meditative, some are more introspective, some are more formal, some less formal. God hears them all. But here is the theme of post-resurrection prayer: It’s the kingdom of God. If you were to dissect the model prayer of Jesus, you would see that point: “Thy kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven.” If we are to find delight in praying post-resurrectly, then our prayers are to correspond with the priorities of the Kingdom. In other words, our prayers are better grounded when they fall under the mission of God for the world. Sometimes what we are asking in Jesus’ name is really asking in our own name. God will still answer you, but are we missing on a richer answer to our prayer? I believe the answer is yes. God will always answer is, but the question is, “Will he answer us in richly or will he answer from the crumbs of heaven’s table? Now: Heaven’s table is rich and even the crumbs are delicious but are we missing better things from our prayer life because of our lack of boldness, lack of communion, lack of proper priorities? This is a question you and I need to consider today.
What we need is not a casual prayer life, but a fiery one that calls the kingdom of God to crush our enemies and answer our needs. What are we asking? And when we ask are we asking in a pre-resurrection manner? Fatalistically, desperately, weakly, cowardly, hopelessly? When the tomb was silent, we did not pray in Jesus’ name, but when the voice of victory rolled the stone away, we pray in the name of Jesus to whom the kingdom, and the power, and the glory belong.
I remember the first time I heard a congregation sing a Psalm. It was a life-changing experience. My usual emphatic singing was silenced so that I could take in what was happening. I thought to myself: “I would go to war any day with this music in the background.” My friend who accompanied me on the trip called his wife immediately afterward and said: “Honey, these people sing like they mean it.” It’s been about 11 years since that experience and since then I have joined the angelic chorus of psalm-singers each Sunday, at home as often as we are able, with friends any time the opportunity arises and alone when I spot a hymnal near me. I cannot begin to tell you what this practice has done for my soul. It has brought me closer to biblical emotions rather than the sentimentalism of our day. And it has brought me closer to the heart of God. We will gather at 5:30 this afternoon to practice Zion’s songs.
“The Psalms are not only poetry in themselves; they are to be the cause of poetry in those who sing them, together and individually. They are God’s gifts to us so that we can be shaped as his gift to the world.” -N.T Wright
About four times a year Providence Church (CREC) in Pensacola,FL gathers for a special time of singing. In fact, we call it a “Psalm-Roar” to reflect the intense biblical fervor Christians should have when they sing Zion’s songs. We sing from five selected Psalms, eat and drink, and conclude with five more psalms. If you come from a Christian background where Psalm-singing is not practiced and are curious to experience it, we welcome you to join us at Northminster Presbyterian Church in Pensacola, Fl. We will begin at 5:30 PM on Friday (8th of June). If you would like to join us, please let me know. We would welcome you to roar with us! #20thwineandpsalmroar
Psalm 119, Before Thee Let My Cry Near Near
From our 16th Wine and Psalm-Roar
Some people dwell so much on their sinfulness that they find themselves constantly bombarding their status with doubt. Am I really a Christian? Am I worthy? These questions are not atypical of those who grow up in environments where internalized Christianity is emphasized. There is a healthy form of self-examination and Paul informs Pastors (II Corinthians 13:5) to encourage parishioners to examine themselves. At the same time, there is a difference between self-examination and introspection that is not often considered.
It is worth mentioning that God cares about our hearts. Out of it can flow the waters of destruction or waters of peace (Ps. 42). The repentant psalmist cries that God would create in him a clean heart, and that God would restore the joy of his salvation. Here again it is important to notice that this salvation has a face, a joyful one.
Martyn-Lloyd Jones wrote that a depressed Christian is not a good apologetic for Christianity. Whether there are physiological components at the root of this depression or not, it is still not a good presentation of the Christian faith. Depression is a form of despising God’s gifts and goodness. All of us are prone to it, and all of us must fight it. Schmemann once wrote that “Of all accusations against Christians, the most terrible one was uttered by Nietzsche when he said that Christians had no joy.” Joy is not forced, rather it is the natural outflow of a heart saturated with grace.
But aren’t we all sinners in need of repentance? While Simul Iustus et Peccator is true, we can over-stress the clarity of our sinfulness. I am aware of pastors who declare with great boldness the sinfulness of men without declaring with great boldness the sublime fact of the justification of men through the act of the ascended Messiah. This latter part seems to be missing in our day. The doctrine of total depravity has had the effect of depriving many Christians from a life of common joy lived in the presence of the One who has become our joy. While stressing man’s condition as sinful is important, an over-use of this hermeneutical tactic can lead men and women to live lives of doubt and insecurity.
While we invest time in our spiritual journeys to reflect and examine our lives, and to see if there are any wicked way in our thoughts and actions, we must invest an even greater time nourishing the spiritual magnitude of our status before God. When we live our lives in a constant environment of self-mortification we will mortify not only our flesh, but also our joy.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones writes in his insightful Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cures that “we cross the line from self-examination to introspection when, in a sense, we do nothing but examine ourselves, and when such self-examination becomes the main and chief end in our life (17).” When the chief end of man becomes self-examination there will always be a temptation to morbidity and spiritual depression. By constantly “putting our souls on a plate and dissecting it” we are showing the world a severe level of insecurity in our union with the reigning and risen Lord.
There are vast implications for all of this. Two examples will suffice to make this point:
First, introspective people–as I hinted earlier–rarely find time for others’ needs. They have the immensity of their own depraved heart to occupy themselves. I have seen this played out throughout the years and, in fact, I speak from experience. When one delves deeply routinely into the many conspiracies of the heart he will sink in them. The heart is deceitful above all things, even deceiving us to think we only need to dwell in it. The pastor may encourage his people to examine whether they are loving, desiring, and pursuing God as they should. But if this is the theme of his preaching and pastoral ministry he is building a congregation of morbid purists. This is why–I argue–there is legitimacy to those who call us to look to Jesus (Heb. 12:2). But generally when some call us to look to Jesus, they are in fact calling us to look back to our hearts to see whether we are looking to Jesus. Again, this is problematic and only exacerbating the problem. We do not look to Jesus as a lucky-charm, rather we look to Jesus because we reflect his glory and righteousness. Those who are united to Jesus become like Jesus. Those who worship Jesus become like Jesus. We look to Jesus, so that we move from self-examination to living out our faith with joy, peace, and abundant satisfaction (Ps. 16:11).
Ultimately, introspection is deadly. It is not surprising, then, to see those who walk about with defeatist spirits sporting their defeatist introspective theology.
Secondly, this motif plays out in the Eucharistic life of a church. At this point, I criticize even my own Reformed tradition. Though strongly committed to Reformed truth I am also aware that instead of producing joyful Christians, our tradition produces an army of introspective experts.
This is seen most clearly in the Reformed liturgy. Some churches justify their monthly or quarterly communion by stating that the congregation needs a week or more to examine themselves for the day (usually Sunday evening) of the Lord’s Supper. But what kind of vision are we perpetuating for our people? That the Lord’s Supper depends on our worthiness? That the Supper demands an environment of perfected introspection? That the Supper and somberness are part of the same context?
It is my contention that until we are able to undo the decisively introspective evangelical culture we are going to provide ammunition to non-Christians. We must recover a healthy self-examination, but also a redemptive display of over-abundant joy.
Here is a lovely rendition of that splendid Psalm: