Psalm 63 – I Will

You are my God. I worship you.
    In my heart, I long for you,
    as I would long for a stream
    in a scorching desert.

I have seen your power
and your glory
    in the place of worship.
Your love means more
than life to me,
    and I praise you.
As long as I live,
    I will pray to you.
I will sing joyful praises
and be filled with excitement
    like a guest at a banquet.

I think about you
    before I go to sleep,
    and my thoughts turn to you
    during the night.
You have helped me,
    and I sing happy songs
    in the shadow of your wings.
I stay close to you,
    and your powerful arm
    supports me.

All who want to kill me
    will end up in the ground.
Swords will run them through,
    and wild dogs will eat them.

Because of you, our God,
    the king will celebrate
with your faithful followers,
    but liars will be silent. (Contemporary English Version)

Regulars to this blog know that I believe the Old Testament Psalms to be a vast untapped resource of devotion and prayer for many Christians. The biblical psalms provide believers with words for prayer, song, and thought so that we might remain close and connected to the Lord.

I Will Worship

Worship involves gratitude to God for God’s inherent love; and praise to God for divine works done in the world.

God’s people, gathered together for worship, affords a wonderful opportunity to express gratitude and praise, as well as listen to the stories of others who have experienced the gracious works of God in their lives.

Therefore, both personal and corporate worship is needed. Personal worship, even if engaged daily, will inevitably lead to a truncated understanding of God and God’s Law without corporate worship – because we need the encouragement and the accountability of others for mature spiritual growth. In addition, to only participate in corporate worship, without attending to daily personal worship, leads to a bifurcation between Sunday and our Monday-Friday workaday existence.

Worship isn’t so much an event, as it is a life. So, it makes sense to have healthy rhythms of personal and corporate worship which enable us to glorify God in our neighborhoods, families, workplaces, and faith communities.

I Will Pray

In those dark times when we don’t know what to pray, how to lament, or what to say to God; in the joyful times when we want to proclaim praise, give thanks, or express our blessings and longings; in every season of our lives the psalms help give voice to our relationship with the God of all creation.

Today’s psalm was originally uttered to God when David was roaming in the wilderness avoiding King Saul’s malevolent intent. David prayerfully expressed his yearning, desire, and hope to connect with God and be guided by the Lord, step by step. David praised God in an awkward and adverse circumstance, longing to be satisfied with spiritual food and drink.

I Will Sing

Just as we are to pray the psalms, we are to also speak the psalms out loud with singing. The Psalter Hymnal of old, as well as many contemporary praise and worship songs, are words from the psalms, meant to help, encourage, and give voice to our own current experiences.  

Inspired by the psalms, take a few minutes today to sing and/or listen to songs such as, “God You Are My God” by Michael W. Smith, or check out a compilation of music from the psalms, like, “The Psalms Project,” which aims to put all 150 psalms to music. Maybe even craft your own tune to today’s psalm and sing it to the Lord.

I Will Think

Specifically, the psalmist mentions thinking about the Lord before retiring for sleep, as well as turning to God when awake during the night.

In today’s modern (and postmodern) society, anxiety and racing thoughts are ubiquitous – the result of overthinking and fixating on particular troubling thoughts. Contemplating God through reflecting on the psalms can be a way of taming the out-of-control thinking, while positively engrafting sound theology into the inner workings of our brains.

There’s a reason why the daily lectionary has a reading from the psalms every day. It is one of the best sources for practical spirituality and heartfelt worship, as well as transforming the way we think.

I Will Stay Close

Whatever we do, whatever we say, and wherever we go, let the psalms help form and shape within you a profound spirituality which helps foster a deeper connection with the God we long to know more and more. 

May our celebrations be raucous and robust because the God of the psalms has showed up and given grace and mercy to our troubling circumstances.

Soli Deo Gloria

John 18:33-37 – Worship Christ the King

14th century painting of Jesus standing before Pilate by Italian artist Duccio di Buoninsegna

Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

“Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”

Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”

Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

“You are a king, then!” said Pilate.

Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” (New International Version)

In Christianity, to worship God means we praise the person and work of Christ and are also spiritually formed through that adoration. Christ the King Sunday focuses our worship on Jesus Christ’s reign over the entire world. It is a proclamation that everything and everyone in all creation is subservient to King Jesus. Furthermore, it is an invitation to actively enjoy Christ’s gracious and benevolent rule over us.

Jesus came to this earth to bring connection and intimacy to God and humanity. We all have relationships in which we want to be closer.

  • A parent might be dissatisfied, and sad, that one of their children is estranged from them, because they want intimacy.
  • A spouse may want to have a more relationally intimate marriage, having been distant for too many years.
  • A teenagers or twenty-something might want to get closer to that special someone. 
  • A friend might be keeping their distance. And although you have conversations with them, they only let you in so far.

We want to go deeper, and it isn’t happening because the other party is not willing.

In this we reflect the image of God within us because God feels that same longing and desire to move deeper and closer to us. The Lord desires intimacy, yet we might keep treating him like he is some untouchable monarch like Queen Elizabeth – as if there is no chance of really getting close, and we wonder if there is any real power there to make a difference. 

However, God is not a ruling figurehead, and does not want a casual superficial relationship with us. Christ’s kingship moves closer to people, not further away. Everything Jesus did on this earth was to bring people closer to God because God wants a personal and familiar relationship with us. 

Jesus does not want us estranged from God, and he has gone to the greatest lengths possible to make that close relationship possible and real through the cross, resurrection, ascension, and a kingly reign which is near to us. The kingdom of God, with Jesus as King, is a kingdom of closeness and fellowship with the divine.

Christ the King Sunday appropriately challenges us to consider what it means to say that Jesus Christ is the Lord of our life. Jesus Christ, as our Lord and King, means much more than God calling the shots and issuing commands; it means Christ uses his lordship to satisfy his longing to be with us.

Our Gospel lesson for today plunges us into an event we associate with Holy Week. Christ has been arrested by the conniving of his enemies. Since the religious authorities could not put anyone to death, they bring Jesus to the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, in the hope he will do their dirty work for them. 

Jesus condemned to death, painting by the Benedictine Sisters of Turvey Abbey

The scene takes place early in the morning at Pilate’s palace. Pilate doesn’t like the Jewish authorities because they put a dent in his career plans through their constant complaints about him to his supervisors in Rome. For purely political reasons, Pilate decides he will satisfy their demand and interview this Jesus who they claim is an enemy of Rome.

The prisoner, Jesus of Nazareth, is brought to Pilate. He is a mess. Christ’s clothes are stained with dirt and blood. His face is bruised and haggard. He has not slept all night. Pilate has heard of Jesus, and so he’s curious to make a personal evaluation of him. Jesus looks nothing like a king to Pilate.

Pilate, in contrast, looks the image of a worldly leader with his power suit on and all the strength of Rome behind him. He hardly has time for this sideshow, this pathetic presentation of leadership in front of him. Jesus looks like nothing more than a kingly wannabe. There is nothing from Christ’s outward appearance that gives any impression he is qualified to be a leader of anybody. We can almost picture Pilate rolling his eyes, saying “so you are the King of the Jews?”

What follows is a strange, convoluted conversation about kingship and truth with a contrast between this world and a world to come. Repeatedly, Jesus makes it clear his kingdom is not of this world. Two thousand years have passed since that dialogue between Jesus and Pilate, yet the same issue remains.

The issue is this: Jesus is calling all of us to follow him – to put his Kingdom first in our lives. In Pilate, we have a symbol of worldly power, which is arbitrary, unprincipled, self-serving, and brutal. Pilate knows the right thing to do but chooses the path of least resistance. He caves to the political pressure, denying the truth which is right under his prominent Roman nose.

Earthly power seeks its own ends. It wants to hold onto control and call the shots. Conversely, Christ’s kingly power is used to serve, to wash feet and meet needs, to move closer to people. Earthly kingdoms use violence to conquer and maintain order and control its subjects. In stark contrast, Christ’s kingdom uses love to transform and unify people around Jesus so that the subjects are with the king and enjoy his rule and reign.

Christ’s kingdom is not of this world. It is counter-cultural and counter-intuitive to how every other leadership structure works on earth. It is an upside-down kingdom that seems like it won’t work or make sense: The way up is down; to be great is not to work for a high position, suck up to the boss, and climb the ladder of wealth and success. Rather, it is to embrace humility and be a servant.

In God’s kingdom, the way to pursue truth is not in forming original ideas and expressing opinions but is found in a person. Truth-seeking disciples will listen to this one voice of Jesus, and filter-out all others. It is a voice calling for submission to his lordship, and to do so because it brings us into an intimate relationship with God.

The Light of the World, by English artist William Holman Hunt, 1852

The message of our crucified Savior reigning as King in our lives is not that, having suffered for us, Jesus will somehow keep us from facing difficult times. Instead, Jesus faced a horrible death so that our own tough times can triumph with God’s power to save us and move deeper into our lives. God’s presence and promise is what sustains us, not the avoidance of suffering. Christ as our King means God is with us.

Black Friday and Cyber Monday are almost upon us. This season demonstrates a contrast between two kingdoms. The kingdom of this world calls on us to demonstrate our worth and gain meaningful relationship through grabbing control and obtaining stuff. The pressure in seeking the perfect gift at the perfect price in the hope that if we can bag it, wrap it, and get it under the tree, then we will be perfect, and the perfect family Christmas will happen, and relationships will be great, and everyone will act like I want. Right!?

In contrast, the kingdom Jesus describes assures us we don’t have to prove our worth through endless accomplishments and generous gifts. We don’t need to have the perfect Christmas experience to gain our deepest relational needs. Because, in our baptism, we have been accepted; we are sons and daughters of the living God; and we do not need to achieve greatness through financially and emotionally bleeding ourselves.

In his conversation with Pilate, Jesus said: “My kingdom is not of this world.” When Christians say Jesus Christ is our King, we acknowledge we are his subjects and that we march to the beat of a different drum. The heart of this relationship is our dependence on Jesus who came that we might have life and have it in abundance.

On this Sunday, followers of Jesus Christ boldly state our confidence that, at the end of time, Jesus will come again as King and Ruler of all. 

Blessed are those who see the truth by faith and not by sight. Blessed are those who say “Jesus is the King and the Lord of Life” without rolling their eyes or with a selfish agenda but with a sincere conviction that they belong to Jesus and want to be ever closer to him who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

Almighty God, everlasting heavenly Father, you break the power of evil and make all things new in your Son Jesus Christ, the King of the universe. Our confidence is firmly in you, Lord Jesus, knowing you will redeem all things and make all things new. 

We affirm that our security is not in personal abilities, clever plans, or lucrative jobs; our security is in you alone. Your creation still groans with the pain of living in a fallen world. But you have conquered sin through your love, and it is to your love we rely upon. May all things in heaven and on earth recognize the glory of your kingly rule and never cease to praise you. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Psalm 84 – Sacred Space

How lovely is your dwelling place,
    Lord of heavenly forces!
My very being longs, even yearns,
    for the Lord’s courtyards.
My heart and my body
    will rejoice out loud to the living God!

Yes, the sparrow too has found a home there;
    the swallow has found herself a nest
    where she can lay her young beside your altars,
    Lord of heavenly forces, my king, my God!
Those who live in your house are happy;
    they praise you constantly.

Those who put their strength in you are genuinely happy;
    pilgrimage is in their hearts.
As they pass through the Baca Valley,
    they make it a spring of water.
    Yes, the early rain covers it with blessings.
They go from strength to strength,
    until they see the supreme God in Zion.
Lord God of heavenly forces,
    hear my prayer;
    listen closely, Jacob’s God! Look at our shield, God;
    pay close attention to the face of your anointed one!

Better is a single day in your courtyards
    than a thousand days anywhere else!
I would prefer to stand outside the entrance of my God’s house
    than live comfortably in the tents of the wicked!
The Lord is a sun and shield;
    God is favor and glory.
The Lord gives—doesn’t withhold! —good things
    to those who walk with integrity.
Lord of heavenly forces,
    those who trust in you are genuinely happy! (Common English Bible)

I want to be where God is.

That works out quite well, since I believe God is everywhere, anyway.

Yet, there are those special sacred spaces for us, and holy places where we especially sense and perceive a connection with the divine.

That’s why the psalmist’s heart was set on the pilgrim’s way. He was longing for the chance to go to that sacred place of basking in spiritual grace.

I know the feeling. There are times when I begin itching to go to a particular place, a hermitage, which I try to get away to, at least once a year. In 2020, with the coronavirus raging, that didn’t happen. And now, this year, with so many current responsibilities, I’m not sure when it’s going to happen. Yet, happen it must.

Even though we don’t always have the opportunity in traveling to a sacred site, having small spaces set aside just for divine connection can make a real difference. After all, we don’t need to walk a thousand miles to a grand cathedral in order to meet that deep spiritual need. It could be as simple as walking a few steps to a special chair, perhaps with small rituals of lighting a candle or incense, playing contemplative music, and/or having objects, such as a cross, which enables us to enter that connection with God.

“Your sacred space is where you can find yourself again and again.”

Joseph Campbell

Unhappiness can settle in rather quickly when we go for long stretches without a break, not properly attending to our spirit in special ways. Loneliness, and feeling as if no one understands, are normal responses when there is disconnection.

Unfortunately, we aren’t always aware of what’s happening within us. Then, all of a sudden, we wake up – as if having been in the lower deck of a boat – and discover we are in the middle of the sea, unable to see the land. The disconnection becomes palpable.

I strongly urge walking. It has more than physical benefits. The spirit also needs some movement to remain healthy and happy. Do a pilgrimage around your neighborhood of prayer walking, or purposely trying to notice things you’ve never seen before. If limited, do what you can. Even a stroll around the living room can have a therapeutic effect.

The point is to have a sense of God’s presence. For the psalmist, it was taking the journey to Jerusalem, ascending the temple mount, along with other worshipers, praying and singing along the way. It was about enjoying the process of getting to the temple, reveling in the experience of being in the temple, and descending the mount with a heartful of peaceful satisfaction – knowing that, deep down, everything is going to be okay because God is with me.

Just a single day in the sacred space is better than a thousand days elsewhere. I picture it something like enjoying those rare days when our girls and their families, with grandkids and dogs in tow, are with my wife and I for a meal. It doesn’t happen often. Yet, when it does, all the loud hubbub becomes sacred time. I take off my shoes because I realize I’m on holy ground.

Indeed, all of life is sacred and holy. And yet, those special times and places help us remember how sacred and holy life really is.

Just as good nutrition, hygiene, diet, and exercise are part of the continuum of care for the body, a personal sacred space for prayer, meditation and spiritual thought is part of the spiritual self-care that can enrich and support our practices of regular worship within a community of faith, as well as service to the world.

And we must never lose sight that the most sacred space we each have to maintain is our own heart, where the light and life of Christ resides. The fruit of the Spirit come from a humble life surrendered to God’s guidance and healing. That can happen as we visit sacred places and create sacred spaces in our lives.

Lord, let me dwell for a moment on your life-giving presence. I open my heart to you. I can tell you everything that troubles me. I know you care about all the concerns in my life. Teach me to live in the knowledge that you care for me today, will care for me tomorrow, and all the days of my life. Amen.